Valley merchants say customers loyal |

Valley merchants say customers loyal

by Linda Hiller

When so-called “big box” companies come to a community, often it’s the small, local businesses that feel the impact first.

But so far, for most of the Carson Valley retail businesses in competition with Target and the soon-to-open Home Depot, it doesn’t look like these major national retailers will have too great effect on the sales of the already-established local stores. And if these Carson Valley business owners and managers have their way, it never will.

“Actually, we had a record year,” said Smith’s Food and Drug Center General Manager, Fred Maidlow. “We’ve been open for five years now, and I’d say the impact of Target on us is virtually minimal. We do have plenty of non-food items, but it was a good holiday season for us – I’ll bet everyone did well.”

Maidlow said one of the reasons his numbers were high was due to the fact that this year the holidays fell on Saturdays, the last day of their record-keeping week.

Kasimir Pawliszyn, Raley’s manager for 17 years, reported a similar trend in sales.

“No, we really didn’t get impacted by Target (during the holiday season),” he said. “Although, we did think about it when they opened.”

Pawliszyn said he thought the reason sales were steady could be attributed to the increase in people living in the Valley.

By the end of November, Rite Aid General Manager Chris Walker had reported not much of a drop in sales – maybe 3 to 4 percent. But by Thursday, the December tally had revealed a 5 percent drop for each of the first three weeks in December – a figure that had him more concerned.

“There was an impact on sales over December – quite a bit actually,” he said. “I attribute it to Target, but I’m not sure that it’s the real cause. We know that when people go Christmas shopping, they like to go where they can get many things at once – like a mall.”

Walker said last year during the holidays, several winter snow storms kept people at home and shopping locally.

“It was amazing, because in California, a snow storm shuts everything down,” he said. “Here, we were never busier than when it stormed.”

The last week of the 1999 had an interesting blip in sales, Walker said.

“We were up 18 percent in sales that week – it was phenomenal,” he said. “I think it was just people stocking up for the millennium. We were out of batteries and water, and people were buying charcoal briquettes – we even sold some barbecues.”

n How about the smaller businesses? Individual gift shops and smaller stores, though their merchandise might not be identical to Target’s stock, could have felt the pinch of shoppers choosing to spend their holiday money elsewhere, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

“We didn’t get a general drop in sales, but I think that if the weather had been worse, we could have even done better,” said Carole Weeks, who has owned Adaven Gifts for 3-1/2 years. “The weather was good and people could get out, and it’s hard for us to compete with the home life. Other stores are open late and working moms can shop in the evening when the kids are taken care of. On the other hand, it’s hard for the big stores to compete with our customer service. We offer free gift wrapping year round of items bought here, and that is something people really like.”

At Fashion Attitudes, one of the few clothing-only retailers in town, owner Kim France said she, too, had a great holiday sales season.

“I can’t say that Target affected us – everything went great this season,” she said. “We really pride ourselves on personal service and that keeps people coming back. We go out of our way to treat everyone special.”

Fashion Attitudes has been in business 6-1/2 years, France said.

Classical Glass in Gardnerville also had good sales, and owner Becky Soderman attributed it to her unique merchandise.

“I was actually very nervous, because I’d bought so much, but especially the week before Christmas, we got real busy,” she said. “I think a lot of people appreciate the fact that we are a small town and have small shops they can shop at and buy unique things.”

Next door, Fresh Ideas owner Jody Branson said she had no complaints about sales this holiday season.

“I feel I have a very loyal following,” she said. “I can’t complain.”

n What about next month? With another “big box” store, Home Depot, the largest home improvement chain in the world, scheduled to open early next month, area hardware and plumbing supply stores are bracing themselves and hoping for the best.

BMC West, already part of a large chain of hardware supply stores, has had the experience of having a Home Depot open in similar communities, according to Al Lopeman, general manager.

“We’ve been thinking about it for a year, and we have definitely got a plan,” he said. “I don’t want to give away any secrets, though, but we’re ready to take them on.”

Lopeman said the specialty items, personal service and free coffee to customers might go a long way to keeping them shopping with BMC West.

Don Cox, former owner of Coast to Coast, soon to be Ace Hardware, another large chain, said he is confident his loyal local customers – both contractors and home owners, will opt to stay in town and shop.

“I don’t know how much people value their time, but in the long run, it’s easier to come here and buy a handful of nails than drive all the way across the Valley and have to stand in line to do that,” he said. “Home Depot will probably take a bite, but not much. I don’t think anyone should have to worry.”

Cox said the Ace hardware line and collective buying power of that larger chain, will enable the new owner, Jeff Peters, to buy merchandise at competitive prices and pass those savings on to customers.

Valley Do-It Center, located at 1587 Highway 395 in Minden, recently bought by the Hemsath family, who added Radio Shack to their store when they took over, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“As far as Target goes, we do not feel they have had an impact,” said co-owner Nonie Olson. “Now, when it comes to Home Depot – they have more of what we carry, so that may be a factor in the future. We discussed the opening of Home Depot a long time ago, and that was one of the big factors in our opening the Radio Shack here – to keep us diversified. It has proven to be a good move.”

Olson said the owners may re-evaluate their garden and lawn department after Home Depot opens because they will carry similar supplies.

“We’ll probably try to make sure we offer unique items,” she said.

Penguin Plumbing, selling plumbing and electrical supplies from a historic downtown Gardnerville location, is part of a small western chain of six stores. General Manager Scott Springer, said the 15 years Penguin Plumbing has been in business shouldn’t be wiped out by Home Depot’s opening.

“Their prices won’t do anything to us, because we’ve always had the policy that we’ll meet or beat any competitor’s prices.” he said. “Our strength is in our personal customer service and our product knowledge. You won’t have to go searching through the store to find someone to help you here.”

Springer said the special order services offered by Penguin should also keep loyal customers shopping at his store.

“If we don’t have it, we’ll get it,” he said. “We have a loyal clientele and they appreciate that service.

The store has recently expanded into the area left vacant by NAPA Auto Parts, Springer said, enabling them to show more items including humidifiers. Prior to Penguin Plumbing, there was a Handy Hands hardware store at that location and early in the century, it was a popular mercantile. That history, plus the personal service offered to customers, will stave off any sales dives caused by Home Depot’s February opening, he said.

“We’re really not too concerned,” Springer said. “We have a store in Carson City and the opening of Ernst didn’t affect them at all, and now Ernst is gone.”