Knowing a customers' habits, preferences and needs is the key to a business' success.
Unfortunately for Northwest Colorado businesses, a lot of potential customers are in the habit of taking their shopping dollars out of town.
On the positive side, other communities are losing a portion of their customer base to Moffat County.
According to the Routt County Consumer Preference Study, nearly 50 percent of Steamboat Springs consumers were spending their money on automobiles, apparel, footwear, housewares, furniture, home decor, electronics books, gifts and home computers outside of Routt County.
Moffat County is seeing the benefit in several categories, the highest (18.6 percent) in farm/ranch supplies, followed by automobile/truck purchases (11.2 percent).
"We wanted to find out what our local consumer was doing," said Scott Ford with the Colorado Mountain College Small Business Development Center.
The survey sampled 1,597 year-round Routt County residents with a 27.3 percent rate of return.
The purpose of the survey was to gather information regarding where Routt County resident purchase consumer good and services, to collect data about the amount of "leakage" occurring outside Routt County and to better understand what motivates the local consumer to purchase goods and services outside the community.
"We're kind of a leaky bucket -- a very leaky bucket," Ford said.
The results said more than 50 percent of Routt County residents eat, drink, bank and fix stuff in Routt County, Ford said. In almost all other consumer categories, more than 50 percent of residents are served out-of-town.
Focus groups were held in conjunction with the survey to get a feel for consumer motivations for their shopping habits.
According to Ford, most respondents said they coordinated shopping with other out-of-town events and didn't usually leave town with the sole intent of shopping.
Others left town to shop purposefully, citing better deals and better customer service as the reason.
Some respondents said they'd like to feel more valued by local merchants while others said they shop locally because of their personal relationships with business owners and their employees.
Internet shopping is another competitor for area customers. 60.5 percent of those people purchasing home computers did so online. Books, music and gifts are purchased via the Internet 26.1 percent of the time.
Other favored Internet purchases were home decor and accessories, women's clothing, recreational clothing, men's clothing, shoes and boots.
"The survey said there's not much you can do to change the pattern," Ford said.
Ford has offered to help Moffat County conduct a survey of its own. Audrey Danner, director of Yampa Valley Partners has discussed it with him, but feels it would be a better project for the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership.
"If we chose to do a similar survey, then we'd have data sort of going both ways," Danner said.
She said the study would help existing businesses and entrepreneurs to focus on what customers are searching for and where they'll go to get it.
"The survey points to opportunities for small businesses or where businesses might look to improve their market share," Danner said. "They can capture or add to their market or improve their business with such things as customer service that make them desirable to any consumer."
Ford said some business opportunities are already made clear by the survey results.
"The value of West Routt dining is $250,000," he said.
According to Tom Flavin, director of the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership, a consumer preference survey would be useful in Moffat County, but not something the EDP will attack anytime soon.
"It is something Moffat County could utilize, but I'm not sure it's at the top of our priority list now," he said. "More and more, economic development organizations are looking and drilling down to get the kind of information on consumer buying habits because that gives them a profile which they can use to attract retailers."
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.