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More businesses owners speak out: What to do if Wal-Mart arrives?

Larry Fisher,

Ski and Bow Rack

1) How long have you been here?

• What type of business do you have?

• How long have you been in business?

“Moved here in 1980 to run the ski school at the ski area. I was ski school director for five years. I started the Ski and Bow Rack in 1985.

“I just want to reaffirm Mike Haynes comments that I agree with completely. Solid, well-thought out reasons.”

2) What type of threat do you think the operation of a Wal-Mart or other big box poses to your business? Why?

“Whenever there’s a change in the business community, there will be advantages and disadvantages. But, like my high school track coach used to say, ‘Learn to roll with the punches.’ That’s the best way I could say it. There are going to be advantages and disadvantages to any change, and how we adapt to those changes will depend on whether a business thrives in the environment or succumbs to the problems.

“However, I believe that any business has a right to start up in a particular town as long as they receive no special treatment that any other business hasn’t also been granted.”

3) What do you intend to do now and in the immediate future to minimize or deal with the threat that you see? Why?

“At this point, I can’t tell what future changes I might need to make. I’m sure there will be some.

“Assuming a Wal-Mart does come in, I don’t see it as a threat, but a challenge to better the way I do business.

“We tend to carry better quality, better product, but there will always be someone willing to pay a cheaper price for a cheaper product, whether that’s here or not, they’re going to find it and buy it there.”

• Do you intend to change your current business plan or create a new business plan? Why?

“No.”

• How do you envision this affecting the number of people you currently employ or your ability to hire in the future? Why?

“I don’t see it affecting the number of people I currently employ or the expansion plans. At this point, I don’t see a need to change.

“Until I see the customers telling me what they’re looking for, and that changes, I don’t plan on changing. I don’t see a complication.”

• Do you envision it affecting your current pricing practices? Why?

“No.

“I feel the effect of the pricing structure that big boxes make; therefore, we’ve dealt with it anyway, without one being here.”

4) What do you believe the overall impact to the local business community will be? Why?

“I expect there to be some changes, but until it happens, I’m not smart enough to know what the exact affect will be on individual business.”

Morgan Murri,

Pagosa Country Center

1) How long have you been here?

• What type of business do you have?

• How long have you been in business?

“I’ve been here six years in Pagosa Springs, doing business that entire time.

“My business partner and I own the Pagosa Country Center complex which houses ALCO, Nello’s, Mountain Home Sound & Security, Aspen Tree Veterinary, Visitors Center, CDC office, UPS Store, Quantum Travel, Mountain Spirits Liquor, Shang Hai, GOAL Academy, Pagosa Pics, Photo’s By Griz, H & R Block, ReSport, The HUB, Funky Trunk and DSP Pizza. We also own The Hub Bike Shop with Scott Slind and I am the owner and founder of GECKO.”

2) What type of threat do you think the operation of a Wal-Mart or other big box poses to your business? Why?

“Certainly the direct business threat to several of our tenants is obvious, our larger concern is the threat they have to the overall fabric and character of our community. The real threat is what you don’t see in black and white and what may or may not read in the paper. Here is a simple example. We have had a consultant in town for two days providing us a business model and cost analysis on converting our shopping center to Solar Power. The plan makes a lot of sense, is the right thing to do, both financially and in support of our ethics and environmental concerns. But, we cannot risk the capital to move forward when we have to prepare to survive the financial impacts Wal-Mart will have on our business.

“Another real example, our tenants and owners of Pagosa Pics are in a situation that many in town may also be in. They are a new business; they have survived the challenging first year. It is time for us to review their lease and secure there future. On paper and in their hearts they want to commit to us for a long period of time, they want to purchase more equipment, grow and hire another employee but they can’t take that risk, they can’t make a commitment to prosper knowing that if Wal-Mart opens they are immediately out of business.”

3) What do you intend to do now and in the immediate future to minimize or deal with the threat that you see? Why?

• Do you intend to change your current business plan or create a new business plan? Why?

“We are doing everything we can, on all fronts to minimize the damage. This starts with educating everyone we can on the facts, and what really happens when Wal-Mart comes to town. Stopping them is our first priority. Next is ensuring we are doing all we can to continue to be the best location in town for small business.

“Unfortunately, in so many ways, this is further damaging ‘downtown’ as we are circling the wagons and reminding people that if Wal-Mart comes our uptown location is going to become even better and even more the place to be. While we have and will always state loud and clearly that we believe and understand that ‘town’ is downtown and that for us to have a great community downtown has to thrive if we are all in survival mode and the town leadership has thrown in the towel on downtown what choice do we have.

“It is truly sad and completely confusing to us. Further consolidating business ‘outside’ of the downtown corridor is completely counterproductive to what needs to happen for Pagosa Springs to thrive and further dividing our community in so many ways. If anything was clear at the recent town forum it was the ‘us’ and ‘them’ divide in our community. That our leadership is taking the largest possible step to deepen this divide rather then bring us together astounds me.”

• How do you envision this affecting the number of people you currently employ or your ability to hire in the future? Why?

“This gets to the heart of the issue and reinforces what we’ve said above. Going out of business or closing isn’t the real issue. Losing prosperity is. When the hurricane is coming nobody is out in the garden. Right? When we are in survival mode how do we have time to continue to grow GECKO and give students scholarships, promote events that bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to town, participate and provide volunteer time to the TTC or the CDC? How do we spearhead the group to get the USA Pro Cycling Challenge to our community? All of my volunteer time will be consumed with surviving the storm. I am one member of the community. Apply the multiplier. How many of us will have to pull back, get uninvolved.”

• Do you envision it affecting your current pricing practices? Why?

“That doesn’t really apply in my case.”

4) What do you believe the overall impact to the local business community will be? Why?

“The business community will be hurt far worse in the subtle ways we’ve stated above. Loss of community involvement, loss of volunteer time, loss of events, loss of philanthropy, loss of prosperity. It is pitiful.”

5) What else would you like to add?

“It is very important to add that what I am saying is true and supported by evidence throughout our community. Prosperity is already being radically curtailed. Businesses are already making plans to reduce risk and expansion instead of taking it. GECKO is already putting ideas for future events on the back burner.

“Wal-Mart doesn’t come to compete they come to dominate. How far back is our town leadership willing to go? This is not ‘fear based,’ this is reality and fact based information with actual examples across the country. End of story.”

Dan Park,

Alpen Haus Ski Center

1) How long have you been here?

“33 years.”

• What type of business do you have?

“Ski and snowboard rental, ski clothing, and cross country equipment sales.”

• How long have you been in business?

“32 years.”

2) What type of threat do you think the operation of a Wal-Mart or other big box poses to your business? Why?

“I find it interesting that the word ‘threat’ is used in several questions in this survey because the Town Council doesn’t appear to recognize the proposed Wal-Mart as a threat to any small business in town. As small business owners we have researched the effects that Wal-Marts have had on other communities our size and the fact is that Wal-Mart kills small business. Trinidad, Colorado had a similar population to Pagosa when the Wal-Mart opened there and within one year 70% of their downtown businesses had closed. Wal-Mart has the ability and the predatory nature to manipulate prices and undercut any business they choose to target. We are in the tourist industry and would like the people of this community to understand that the tourist business provides a huge tax base and job base to our community. Our customers return year after year because they appreciate the beauty and unique small town atmosphere in Pagosa, Wolf Creek Ski Area and the amazing natural amenities like the hot springs. We have worked hard to maintain this customer base and keep our customers coming back and will continue to do so. We would like our elected officials to know that our customers are 99.9% against bringing Wal-Mart to Pagosa. For the past 2 weeks we have had a survey available for our customers, asking if they are in favor of, neutral, or against Wal-Mart coming to Pagosa Springs. As of today we have 140 signatures from around the country. 1 was in favor, 1 was neutral, and 138 were against. Indeed, many lament the day Wal-Mart came to their town because it did destroy the small town business diversity. To quote a customer renting skis this afternoon, ‘Oh no! A Wal-Mart would ruin the atmosphere.’”

3) What do you intend to do now and in the immediate future to minimize or deal with the threat that you see? Why?

“We intend to continue to work with Pagosa First to provide positive options and alternatives to the current problems that people in Pagosa are facing. As well as, fight to prevent Wal-Mart from coming to Pagosa and making sure that if they do come they will get no government subsidies or tax abatement’s. We intend to do these things because Pagosa Springs is a very unique place and because of that our customers return year after year. We would like to see the community focus on the outdoor adventure aspect that is a natural draw to our community. This is a wonderful supportive small town where people really do care about their neighbors and support all the local charities. Let’s find a way to maintain these unique attributes through creative approaches rather than hoping a corporate giant like Wal-Mart is our solution.”

• Do you intend to change your current business plan or create a new business plan? Why?

“No.”

• How do you envision this affecting the number of people you currently employ or your ability to hire in the future? Why?

“It could certainly affect the number of employees we hire if the Wal-Mart store negatively impacts merchandise sales.”

• Do you envision it affecting your current pricing practices? Why?

“We have worked very hard to offer a product to our customers that is affordable and yet provides the level of quality that can ensure a quality mountain experience. Always low priced ski gear doesn’t always mean you will stay warm, dry and fog free.”

4) What do you believe the overall impact to the local business community will be? Why?

“We believe that many of the small businesses in town will close or be forced to downsize. 70 percent of all small businesses in the United States are struggling today, so if we ignore the damage that Wal-Mart does to small business we do so at our own peril. We believe this is true because Wal-Mart is a predatory retailer that manipulates pricing to undercut all competitors. It’s like inviting a pro wrestler to Pagosa High School to take on our best wrestler and expecting a local win.”

5) What else would you like to add?

“The fact that we have had to enter this discussion at all is the larger issue. We already had a task force that had made recommendations on the big box issue, and their decisions were based on much investigation and research. Our elected officials should have behaved more prudently on behalf of the citizens and businesses in Pagosa Springs. Had they, (the elected officials), chosen to entertain the opinions of their larger base and the task force, The SUN would not be compelled to ascertain the threat to local businesses that have been supporting the town and county for many years.”

Terry Smith,

Terry’s Ace

Ranch and Home Supply

1) How long have you been here?

“I have lived in Pagosa Springs since 1980. I moved here while working for Ray Lumber Company from Phoenix, Arizona. They were a partner in ‘Pagosa In Colorado’ which is now the Pagosa Lakes area.”

• What type of business do you have?

“I own and operate Terry’s Ace Ranch and Home Supply. Our company has also operated Circle T Lumber Company and American Southwest Log Homes as we have changed our business models over the years in reaction to local and regional economic conditions.”

• How long have you been in business?

“We have been in our current location as a hardware store for eight years.”

2) What type of threat do you think the operation of a Wal-Mart or other big box poses to your business? Why?

“I can answer the question relative to Wal-Mart as other big boxes would present a different set of challenges from the Wal-Mart format. I don’t know if I totally understand what the finished format of this Pagosa store will be like, but I suspect that at minimum 50 percent of the store that we will compete with will be groceries. Beyond that, we feel that there will be 30 percent or less of what we do in our store that will compete with the Wal-Mart format. On these categories we would plan to see some kind of slowdown just out of curiosity. There might be significant cuts into our sales in important segments of our store in the first year, but we would plan to regain those sales after the newness would lessen. So, I think we would see sales slow downs of about 30 percent on about 30 percent of what we do. Other big boxes might more directly compete with more of what we do.”

3) What do you intend to do now and in the immediate future to minimize or deal with the threat that you see? Why?

“We have been working for over a year to ready ourselves for this competition. We took it seriously that a large format retailer was looking at real estate here a year ago. It was a location only five blocks from our store. I’m sorry that site didn’t work out. We began to change the format of our store to do things differently than we ever had. We looked at the format of some large Ranch and Home retailers and decided that they were doing great in a lot of markets where Wal-Mart is located, even next door. We just decided that we would try to grow our product offerings while working in our other departments to improve selection, quality, brands and price where we could, so that we could become something so completely different from anything a large corporation could do. We have been a member of the Ace Hardware Coop since the mid ’90s. They have lots of plans and pricing strategies to help our kind of store go head-to-head with anyone. We started changing all this a year ago, mind you, and are only a few months away from completing the makeover. We decided that where Ace could help us lower prices we would start the process and no matter what happened we would be a better retailer for the Pagosa Springs market.”

• How do you envision this affecting the number of people you currently employ or your ability to hire in the future? Why?

“I don’t think that the Wal-Mart will make a dent in our team member force. We have to cut hours in the winter. Gee, I wonder if there business will be slower then? Oh yeah! We intend to continue placing growth strategies on our business. I would hope to add people during the busy season.”

4) What do you believe the overall impact to the local business community will be? Why?

“I hope the overall impact is not a negative one. I have been reluctant to speak out. My Dad always told me not to get involved in politics. A lot of the people that have been outspoken about the Wal-Mart entry in our market are good friends of mine. They are people I hold in high regard. I just feel like approaching it from a positive perspective. I have asked my employees to and they believe in what we are doing 100 percent. Fear never got me anywhere. I know that I got into action and have been trying to do what I can to be a better retailer. I hope that the town will step forward with the economic growth partners in the area and provide free counseling and financing programs to help small businesses strategize. I, for one, would be willing to help anyone with what I know. The last year I spoke in front of a class here locally for entrepreneurs. There was some serious learning going on there. I just believe were there is a will, there is a way. My hope is that Pagosa Springs finds a real economic engine as a result of all this and not just cheaper toilet paper for a particular council member.”

Lvonne Wilson,

Home Again

1) How long have you been here?

• What type of business do you have?

• How long have you been in business?

“I’ve been in Pagosa for approximately 27 years and opened my store 15 years ago. I mostly sell home decor items and lately have expanded to general gifts, jewelry and clothing.”

2) What type of threat do you think the operation of a Wal-Mart? Why?

“Devastating. I think it will be to most retail businesses, but that won’t exclude other types of businesses as well. I’ve read studies that it effects newspapers as well as radio stations as well, given that they rely on the small business’ advertising dollars. I’ve had so many customers stop by in the last few months telling me that they will continue to support me, which I really appreciate the loyalty, but the problem is, we’re a people of convenience, there’s no doubt about it. So, while they are shopping for groceries it will be very easy to pick up their ‘extras’ that they would have purchased from me before Wal-mart. We retailers live off a much smaller margin than a lot of people seem to think. Those of us that have had to survive the last few years of the down turn in the economy know how crucial those margins are.”

3) What do you intend to do now and in the immediate future to minimize or deal with the threat that you see? Why?

“My family and I have had some very serious discussions of just closing down. Again, I don’t think people realize what small percentages that our stores bring in, that we live on. I feel that I’ve gotten fairly creative in my inventory to survive the last few years and it’s been interesting and challenging to do so. But surviving a Wal-mart is a whole different deal. I haven’t found many towns, much less stores, that have been able to do it successfully. I still have to give it a lot of thought.”

• How do you envision this affecting the number of people you currently employ or your ability to hire in the future? Why?

“I want my customers to have a personal touch and a consistent face so I am usually the one manning my store. It would be very hard for me to cut back, but I have some wonderful people working for me and I would absolutely hate for them to lose their jobs. I also work my store so much so that I can afford to pay well, when I do have someone work for me.”

• Do you envision it affecting your current pricing practices? Why?

“No, not really. I’ve always tried to keep my prices very reasonable. In fact that’s the most consistent comment that I get from my customers. They’re always surprised at my prices. I don’t see that I can do much better than I’m doing now. I’ve always tried to offer great customer service, so I don’t know how I can improve much on that, but I’m always open to suggestions.”

4) What do you believe the overall impact to the local business community will be? Why?

“As I said before, I think it will be devastating. All of the local businesses have great camaraderie. We’ve always really tried to work with each other, referred people back and forth, tried not to step on each others toes regarding vendors. It’s actually a great community to be a part of and I would call most of the business owners in this town a friend. I don’t want to see any of them disappear. It’s sad really, to think of any of us not surviving.”

5) What else would you like to add?

“The last thing I really want people to think about when they spend their dollars is: Who is this helping? By spending with a local merchant your are helping the charities in this town. I took a survey with 10-12 business owners in town, on the average we’re donating $5,000-$10,000 to local charities every year. What will happen to those charities? This has always been a very generous community, I would hate to see that end.”

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