Squaring off against the big boxes | PostIndependent.com

Squaring off against the big boxes

John Lindsey will have a front-row seat to watch his coming competition rise out of the ground.

Lindsey, who lives in Glenwood Springs, is the president of Big John’s Building and Home Center.

His store is located on Devereux Road, which sits in plain view of the acreage where Lowe’s Home Improvements plans to open a store in July 2005.

Lindsey is mindful that the coming of Lowe’s Home Improvements will affect the fortunes of his company, so he’s been proactive in bracing for the coming of the 175,000-square-foot megastore.

“This has been a 15-year process,” he said of his store’s constant renovations and upgrades. “I knew someday there would be a big-box close by.”

In addition to trying to upgrade his home improvement store, Lindsey said he’ll continue to look for ways to retain and even increase his customer base.

“Basically, we’ll need to change our category mix,” he said. “You need to find a niche that’s available. When I arrived, it was the do-it-yourselfer. Now we’ll have to take a look.”

Providing better service than Lowe’s is also an important goal, Lindsey figures.

“I do believe our service level is high,” he added.

According to a new study commissioned by Glenwood Meadows shopping center developer Miller Weingarten and prepared by Denver-based consulting firm Coley/ Forrest, hardware stores are generally hit much harder than lumberyards.

The study looked at Durango, where a Home Depot opened in April, and found effects on the A.C. Houston Lumber Co. were “negligible.”

“Boxes are not a problem to lumber yards,” the report said.

But the opposite is true in Vail. In May, a Home Depot opened in Avon. The store is in direct competition with an Ace hardware store located in West Vail.

So far, the numbers are staggering:

In June, the Ace Hardware store’s sales were down 48 percent. In July, numbers were down 44 percent and in August, sales were down 41 percent.

“Owner thinks the store will survive, but it will be a tough year or so,” the report said.

In light of these findings, and because a large part of Big John’s sales come from the store’s drive-through lumberyard, Lindsey said he might start catering more toward professional builders once the big-box competitor opens its doors.

“I do think drive-through convenience is better than the ‘put it in a cart and bring it out the door,'” he said.

Lindsey said he’s not just concerned about his own business, but also other businesses in the city that will be hurt once the retail Goliaths stomp into town.

Chris Adams, owner of Park Avenue True Value in Montrose, has already felt the stomping and says Lindsey’s warnings are valid.

Adams has been fighting to keep her business going since Home Depot opened a store there in March.

“It’s really hard,” she said. “It’s not exactly succeeding against the big boxes, it’s surviving them.”

Adams said the Home Depot in Montrose is “almost as big as our whole downtown.”

“My personal opinion is: Sometimes less choice is better. Do you really need to choose between 52 leaf blowers?”

Glenwood Springs Mall owner Frank Woods of Aspen is hoping his mall and the Glenwood Meadows shopping center will complement each other, rather than directly competing.

“We have no plans to expand,” Woods said.

Instead, Woods is hoping the mall will benefit from increased traffic on Midland Avenue.

“We’re hopeful that businesses at Meadows draw more shoppers to West Glenwood,” he said.

Woods’ idea isn’t to directly compete with Meadows, but to have the mall’s stores fill divergent needs.

“Obviously it would be better for us if we have a complementary tenant mix,” he said.

The mall’s largest store is its Kmart anchor, which covers about 40,000 square feet of floor space. The Target store planned for Glenwood Meadows is slated to be 125,000 square feet.

Woods said a large part of the Kmart’s appeal is its exclusive access to brand names such as the Martha Stewart line.

“Clearly they’re different,” Woods said of the two chains.

Woods also surmises that people who like to shop at Target and Home Depot generally are willing to take the 90-mile drive to Grand Junction, so they wouldn’t be shopping at the mall anyway. Therefore, once the large chains come to Glenwood Springs, many shoppers will stay and shop in town.

“It could keep shoppers in Glenwood,” he said.

But with almost 20 percent of its retail space empty and Sears set to move to Devereux Road, the mall is already under the gun.

J.C. Penney customer service clerk Amanda Harris, whose store is located at the mall, said she doesn’t expect her employer to face much direct competition from Target.

“We’re still a little more high-end than Target,” Harris said. “They’re probably going to be more of a competition to Kmart or Wal-Mart.”

Glenwood Springs Mayor Don Vanderhoof said he understands the anxiety felt by some local retailers about the imminence of Lowe’s and Target. Despite this, Vanderhoof had his reasons for supporting Glenwood Meadows.

“I can see where a small retailer would worry that it would take business away from him. I’m certainly understanding of that and sympathetic,” he said. “I think the better, more farsighted retailers might have to change things.”

But Vanderhoof said no matter what Glenwood Springs decided, the corporations were going to open stores someplace in the area. And if they located in nearby towns, Glenwood Springs businesses would still be affected.

“If the stores don’t come into Glenwood, they’re going to come into Rifle, Carbondale or Gypsum,” he said. “They’re going to locate somewhere. If Glenwood would deny them, they’re going to come somewhere else.

“Also, this is a free country, and big stores can come in. We can’t keep them out.”

Vanderhoof spent his professional career in banking, a sector that weathered the influx of national banking companies in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Vanderhoof family started Glenwood Independent Bank and the Bank of Glenwood. Despite the influx of Mesa National Bank, U.S. Bank and others, Glenwood Independent Bank was able to survive and even flourish.

“We operated for 15 or 20 years after the big boys came in,” he said. “We had to change our operations and tighten our belts. We did things different and did really well,” he said.

But even Vanderhoof’s bank was eventually absorbed by a larger company when Vail-based WestStar Bank bought it in 1998.

Glenwood Springs Downtown Development Authority director John Simmons said he and the DDA board of directors will take a positive approach toward Glenwood Meadows and concentrate on possible benefits.

“We really have to try and retain the regional shopping draw in Glenwood Springs,” he said.

The organization will prepare with smarter marketing, he said.

“Concern? I think there’s concern out there, but it can be solved through education,” Simmons said.

Simmons came to Glenwood Springs from Sedalia, Mo., where he also was the director of that town’s downtown development authority. During his seven-year tenure there, a Lowe’s opened, affecting two hardware businesses downtown.

“We just saw the merchants get smarter,” he said. “We learned how to deal. Don’t compete, find your own business.”

According to the Coley/Forrest report, Sedalia Lumber and Hardware was down 20 percent initially after Lowe’s moved in, and has been down 15 percent in the three years since.

Added emphasis on customer service, eliminating the store’s delivery charge and offering free material estimates were examples of the changes made by Sedalia Lumber and Hardware that have kept it competitive.

Some of the ways Simmons hopes to keep downtown Glenwood Springs competitive is to “enhance cleanliness,” increase the ongoing marketing campaign and recruit shops and services that aren’t now available in Glenwood Springs.

“That should be addressed before the project is up and running.”

Simmons also said the new shopping center could be used as a tool.

“Hopefully (shoppers) will find downtown attractive,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it, the Meadows will have some major benefits to it.

“We’ve got to take a positive approach and tap into what they’re bringing to the city.”

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511


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