Rifle businesses prepare for their customers hitting Wal-Mart | PostIndependent.com

Rifle businesses prepare for their customers hitting Wal-Mart

Rifle merchants have until next fall to get their ducks in a row, plus their tires, softball bats, screwdrivers, apples and other sundry retail offerings.Wal-Mart is slated to open a 145,000-square-foot superstore on the south side of Interstate 70 next year, and economic development experts urge existing stores to start planning their strategies at least a year in advance.”We’ve been meeting since last October,” said Cathy Shull, executive director for the Fort Morgan Area Chamber of Commerce.Shull said a Wal-Mart superstore is expected to open in her town in January. One bit of advice offered to merchants in Fort Morgan is to avoid head-to-head competition with Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.”Close out those (product) lines, and pick something that’s not in direct competition,” Shull said.Wal-Mart officials recently announced its new store in Rifle will include a grocery store, one-hour photo lab, vision center, pharmacy, automotive tire and lubrication service and garden center.The Arkansas-based retailer’s entry into Rifle is seen as a threat to some stores, but a possible boost to others. “I hope it will be positive for us,” said Monica Miller, co-owner of Miller’s Dry Goods in downtown Rifle.Miller’s optimism is based on projections from the Rifle Chamber of Commerce that Wal-Mart will keep residents in town who currently travel to Wal-Marts in Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction. Wal-Mart is also expected to attract shoppers from Silt to Parachute, plus Craig, Meeker and Rangely.”People from Craig and Rangely are already coming through Rifle on their way to Wal-Marts in Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction,” said Kris Swanson, a Rifle Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council board member. “Why shouldn’t they stop here?”When Wal-Mart opened its doors in Glenwood Springs in the 1980s, retailers worried they would be put out of business. To give existing merchants all the help they could, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and city of Glenwood held workshops to teach business owners what to do to stay in business. One message was that if a store plans to add hours, expand product lines or change the way it does business, it should do it well before Wal-Mart comes to town so that shoppers will become acclimated.Shull, from Fort Morgan, will pass on to Rifle merchants what she has learned about competing with Wal-Mart during a chamber-sponsored public meeting at the Fireside Inn at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 1. A key message will be for business owners to get back to the basics, and to look at their stores from an outsider’s point of view.Brian Lucas, who has owned Fort Morgan Hardware for about seven months, has studied how Wal-Mart does business. He sees Wal-Mart’s strengths and weaknesses, and plans to run his business accordingly.Lucas has already discontinued selling appliances and housewares, because he can’t compete with Wal-Mart on price. Wal-Mart often prices items with slim profit margins just to get shoppers into the door, in hopes they will buy more expensive items, often on impulse.”So don’t compete with Wal-Mart where they choose to dominate,” Lucas said.To compete with Wal-Mart as a whole, Lucas said he gets his customers in and out of his store quickly, and offers excellent service. “We’re going to be the best we can be,” Lucas said.Lucas has also looked at areas where his store offers better products and service than Wal-Mart. At Wal-Mart, customers can only buy packages of nuts and bolts, but Lucas will sell them one at a time if that’s what they want. Lucas also sells rope and chain by the foot, while Wal-Mart sells it in packaged lengths.Lucas cautioned store owners not to get caught in the trap of competing with Wal-Mart in pricing items. “Understand what they do, then dovetail with their strategy,” Lucas said.Swanson and Rifle officials have high hopes Wal-Mart will generate much-needed sales tax dollars, and attract shoppers to town who will stop at other stores and businesses as well. Swanson points to a Rifle Chamber of Commerce survey that showed 85 percent of the city’s retail sales dollars are being lost to Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction.”Some people are going to Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club on a weekly or biweekly basis,” Swanson said.When Rifle residents travel to other towns to shop, they also buy gasoline, meals and other things they could be buying in their own hometown.Swanson and others downplay the effect that Wal-Mart’s arrival will have on existing businesses. “I’ve only heard a couple of negative comments,” said Marsha Kent, the chamber of commerce president.Comments are apparently few, because there are so many items that either can’t be bought in Rifle, or residents perceive can’t be bought.”You can’t buy kids clothes in Rifle,” Swanson said. “Ben Rex has a few, but it’s not a clothing store. If you want tennis shoes, you can’t get them here.”Need a television set, microwave oven or other appliances? “You can’t get them, other than (at) the pawn shop,” Swanson said.Computer and electronic offerings are few.Some Glenwood Springs business did go out of business when Wal-Mart came to town, but Swanson said the two towns can’t be directly compared. “Glenwood Springs had a more developed economy,” Swanson said. “We don’t have that many businesses that are in direct competition with Wal-Mart. … We can complement Wal-Mart.”Swanson and others indicate it’s debatable whether Wal-Mart will have much impact on existing stores because shoppers are already going to Wal-Marts in Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction anyway.Regardless of what some store owners want, Rifleites are clamoring for a Wal-Mart. Swanson said the chamber survey asked residents what type of store they wanted most, “and a department store or discount store was the winner ten to one.”-Although Wal-Mart will increase shopping traffic in Rifle, which could translate into more sales for other stores, there will probably be some losers.City Market spokesperson Rhonda Toland said Wal-Mart started competing with her store four years ago. “Our plans are to keep growing our company,” Toland said from her Grand Junction office. “Competition makes everyone better businesspeople.”Toland said the mom-and-pop and independent grocers have been most affected by Wal-Mart.Rifle’s other grocery store is the independent Columbine Market, which also operates a store in Gypsum. A store official declined to comment regarding Wal-Mart’s plans to open in Rifle.

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