Inside the Chamber column: The more things change the more they stay the same |

Inside the Chamber column: The more things change the more they stay the same

Karen and Doug Christner

My good friends Doug and Karen Christner taught me everything I needed to know about retail.

In the 1980s they opened a store called “The Music Box” in the Glenwood Springs Mall. They sold records and tapes.

When Wal-Mart came to town they saw those items being discounted and recognized home entertainment needs were changing. So they became “Design Audio/Video,” and Doug started installing big screen TVs and in-home sound systems before moving on to full-scale media rooms. The Christners didn’t just react to change, I like to say they outsmarted it.

This got me to thinking: In a world that seems to be changing at the speed of light, how can businesses anticipate and embrace change instead of merely reacting to it? Does it mean throwing away everything we know?

Let’s talk retail. OK, one word that strikes fear into every small retailer’s heart: Amazon.

Arguably the biggest retail gamechanger in recent history, you’ve probably heard about Amazon drones, which will soon be delivering merchandise within hours of it being ordered. How in the world do you compete with that?

If you break it down to what Amazon is really good at, despite its high-tech capabilities it operates on a few basic age-old principles: convenience, customer satisfaction and repeat business.

These are all things a small retailer can emulate. In Glenwood Springs we entertain 2 million tourists a year, and one thing is certain: Tourists like to shop for things they can feel and touch and that will re-create a memory when they go back home. So what uniquely Glenwood product or experience can you create in your store? Could it be as simple as old-fashioned customer service?

In my opinion, we have a number of retailers who like the Christners could have written the book on customer service.

These are the retailers who reach out to past customers, anticipate their needs and above all deliver on their store’s promises. It isn’t that they spend money to keep customers happy — it is that they truly understand their customers from their individual points of view.

Our tourism marketing department has done an extensive study on the demographics of our guests (and has written about that in this column). So instead of spending time on that I’d like to stress how important it is to pay attention to local demographics.

Baby boomers, young families between 30 and 50 years old and the Hispanic market are the fastest growing segments of our population. Retirees are not far behind. How many of our businesses truly understand these customers and look at things from their point of view? How many understand the values and expectations of these markets?

If you look at our larger retail counterparts, you can gain some knowledge about how they view demographic changes as opportunities. To illustrate this point, let’s examine the grocery and automotive industries. You will find ethnic specialties, signage and bilingual clerks at local grocery stores to meet the tastes of Hispanic families. You’ll also find an ever-growing selection of organic, non-GMO and “whole” foods to meet the demographics of health-conscious millennials and baby boomers.

Grocery chains are giving their customers what they want and paying attention to their buying habits by sending coupons for products they typically buy. They also give customer “rewards” to show appreciation and keep their customers coming back for more.

The automotive industry has always paid attention to trends. My family felt they had finally “arrived” when my Dad bought a 1962 station wagon — the answer to transportation needs of growing families of the ’60s. Then came minivans for suburban carpoolers, economy cars to deal with the cost of fuel, and electric cars to deal with environmental concerns.

The biggest recent automotive industry change came with the advent of Bluetooth, GPS and Sirius radio. When you stop to think about it, these things have absolutely nothing to do with a car’s performance on the road. But for millennials this technology is essential. In fact for this generation being connected is just as important as having wheels.

The newest automotive technology includes automatic braking, blind spot mirrors and backup cameras.

These advances have to do with one basic principle that hasn’t changed since the Model-T: safety. Safety is a factor that resonates with everyone and shows how the auto industry stayed true to its mission to keep people safe on the road.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Despite a world of constant change, basic values remain constant. Instead of selling what we think people need, we should listen, learn and pay attention to what they want.

We should acknowledge past customers and reward them. We should remember that certain values are constant, that integrity is important and that our word is our bond.

As we go forward into this brave new world it could be that the basic values and principles that have transcended generations are what will sustain us.

As for Doug and Karen, they saw digital coming. They retired young and are spending happy winters in Mexico.

Marianne Virgili is president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

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