Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Businesses report mixed holiday sales

Some say numbers are up, others say they’re down

Express Staff Writer

Crowds file through the checkout counters at Atkinsons’ Market in Ketchum on Friday. Photo by Willy Cook

Despite a snowpack that Ski Patrol Director Mike Lloyd has called “epic,” and a seemingly parking-space-devoid downtown Ketchum, north valley businesses did not see a unified trend—positive or negative—in their holiday sales.

At Sun Valley Resort, this year’s holiday skier-day and occupancy numbers were not too different from the year before, said spokesman Jack Sibbach.

“We’re very happy with the numbers,” he said. “Things started out a little slower this year because the kids got out of school later due to when Christmas fell during the week, but we’re anticipating the holiday season will last a little longer, too.”

Some Ketchum business owners reported a large rise in sales this year over last year, attributing the bump directly to the favorable skiing conditions or to a recovering national economy, while others (sometimes in the same industry) reported a slight drop. The businesses that reported lower sales cited as possible reasons a still anemic national economic climate, consumers’ concerns about the fiscal cliff, not enough promotion of the area and this year’s online shopping craze on Black Friday (which comScore Inc. reported surpassed $1 billion for the first time) and Cyber Monday (which reached nearly $1.5 billion, a U.S. online shopping record for one day).

“Our holiday sales are quite a bit up from last year,” said Andy Munter, owner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum. “Last year we didn’t have as much snow at this time. Definitely, the snow makes a big difference.”

Munter said that when there’s snow, people tend to do “snow things” and need more “snow stuff.” He added that even those who didn’t buy winter sports equipment still came in for clothing and other accessories.

“The power of the snow seems to have overcome the fear of the fiscal cliff,” he said. “People are having fun. The whole energy of the town is different this year because of the extra snow.”

Munter said December sales generate about 20 percent of the business’ revenue for the year.

However, Baird Gourlay, co-owner of PK’s Ski and Sports in Ketchum, had a different take on things.

“Sales are down a little, but not much,” he said. “It’s not as good as last year, even though there’s so much more snow.”

Gourlay said he usually rents all of his rental inventory during the holidays, but this year he rented only about 80 percent. He said he does about 30 percent of his rental business and 20 percent of his retail business for the year during December.

“It’s pretty obvious that even with great snow conditions, we need to market this valley,” he said. “I’ve lived here 32 years and these are the best snow conditions I’ve seen, but this is not even in the top 10 years in terms of business.”

Sales for children’s gifts were up this year, according to Carol Knight, owner of The Toy Store, with locations in Ketchum and Sun Valley.

“That is significant in the fact that it was better than last year and that made me happy,” she said. “We’ve been in a recession and it seems like we’re pulling out of it. There’s more consumer confidence.”

Knight declined to comment specifically on how much of The Toy Store’s yearly revenue comes from holiday shoppers, but did say it was “a lot.”

Sarah Hedrick, owner of Iconoclast Books and Cafe in Ketchum, said her sales “almost exactly mimicked” last year’s. She said that in light of how aggressively consumers approached online shopping this year, she views her steady holiday sales numbers as an increase, because it means she’s making the right tweaks to the business and holding her ground.

“Christmas is always good,” she said. “But we rely on local customers to make it through the year.”

Barry Peterson, owner of Barry Peterson Jewelers in Ketchum, said his holiday numbers didn’t waiver either compared to last year.

“They were a little softer before Christmas this year, but it’s been busier after Christmas,” he said. “I think it has to do with when Christmas fell during the week.”

Last year, Christmas was on Sunday, allowing people to arrive earlier before the holiday. 

Peterson said he had more people browsing this year than last year, but they seemed more cautious to make a purchase, so in the end sales evened out. He attributed the hesitance to the national economic climate and to consumers’ fear of the fiscal cliff.

Peterson said his December sales account for about 25 percent of the business’s yearly revenue.

Sibbach declined to comment on how much of Sun Valley Resort’s yearly revenue is generated during the holidays.

“I will say the holiday period is a very important time for us,” he said. “It’s important that we get the entire mountain open and have the early season visitors go back home and promote the mountain by word of mouth for the rest of the winter.”

Numbers released by the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance indicate that hotel occupancy in Ketchum/Sun Valley for the week of Dec. 27 to Jan. 2 was 72 percent, with an estimated 83 percent of rooms occupied over the weekend.

Brennan Rego:

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