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Preliminary survey data suggest Breckenridge businesses doing OK

Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE – The good news is, Breckenridge retail sales are faring well this year when compared to last year. The bad news is, the number of retailers who participated in a voluntary study last month is too few to make a valid conclusion.

The program, which was implemented by the town finance department and the Breckenridge Resort Chamber earlier this spring, asked merchants to disclose their gross earnings on specific summer weekends.

According to the resort chamber’s director, Corry Mihm, sales tax receipts from the state often arrive six to eight weeks after any given month, making it difficult to quickly evaluate the economic health of the business community. By submitting gross retail sales data immediately, the town and the resort chamber are able to determine how different sectors in town are faring and make changes accordingly.

Resort chamber officials are able to make such changes quickly, as was proven in the days following Sept. 11. Based on surveys conducted in the weeks following the terrorist acts that indicated people were wary of flying, marketing and advertising officials here abandoned some plans and quickly pursued the so-called drive market – those potential customers within a day’s drive.

“That change was unique,” said Steve Lapinsohn, owner of Main Street Outlet and a supporter for the program. “The need for those changes was pretty obvious. And as a result, we did better than any other ski resort.”

If sales throughout the town are seriously lagging weekend after weekend, resort chamber officials won’t have to wait six to eight weeks to find out before they can modify marketing plans to lure more people to town. But getting that information depends on participation in the program.

So far, only 18 businesses in four sectors – grocery, lodging, retail and restaurants – have voluntarily submitted their data to the town, said finance director Judy Ferris. Eight of those were in retail, seven in lodging, two in restaurant and one in grocery.

About 450 businesses are members of the resort chamber. Two hundred of those offer tourist-related goods or services – as opposed to title companies and hair sylists – and were asked to participate in the survey.

Of the eight retail merchants who submitted information over the Independence Day weekend, six experienced an increase in growth when those numbers are compared to last year’s figures and adjusted for inflation. Of the seven who were able to submit data from 1997, six experienced an increase in business this year.

“Anecdotally, talk in this town is that 1997 is when life was good if you were a business owner in Breckenridge,” Ferris said about that date being used as a reference point.

Of the eight merchants who submitted sales data for the July 19 weekend, three experienced an increase in business, while five indicated they had a loss. Of the four who could provide information from a comparable weekend in 1997, three experienced sales growth, Ferris said.

She admitted that eight merchants is hardly representative of the retail community. It represent 4 percent of retailers and about 11 percent of the retail and commercial activity.

“It’s kind of a stretch to take that small population and take it to the broader scheme of things,” she said. “We need about 35 percent of the retail community to participate to feel confident about extending and predicting results.”

Merchants who haven’t participated have cited two issues they have with participating, one being a lack of time.

Lapinsohn and others said the process takes about five minutes and is no more than any business owner would do to tabulate sales at the end of the day anyway.

“It’s an easy thing to do,” Lapinsohn said. “I think the perception is, “I’m too busy; I’ll let other people do it.’ But there’s no time to it.”

Another concern is the confidentiality of sales figures. But, Ferris said, those numbers aren’t available to the public any more than are individual sales in the town’s monthly report.

The information garnered so far isn’t enough to deliver valid results, Mihm said, and she encourages other businesses to participate in the program.

“We have good days that have the potential to be real good,” Ferris said. “And we have OK days that are less predictable. But it’s too early to say with this small population.”

Those interested in participating in the program can call Mihm at (970) 453-2913, ext 411, or Judy Ferris, at (970) 453-3169.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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