Sales take another tumble in January |

Sales take another tumble in January

A ski season that started with much promise didn’t take long to turn sour, a retail sales tax report released by the city of Aspen showed Thursday.

Retail sales by Aspen businesses fell 3.6 percent in January, according to the report by the finance department. That loss is significant because sales were down 5 percent last January from the year before.

In other words, this January was really rotten.

Sales by hotels, lodges and other tourist accommodations plummeted 11.5 percent.

Eating and drinking revenues were down 6.2 percent for restaurants and bars.

Sports equipment and clothing stores saw sales go downhill by 3.6 percent.

The only economic sectors that fared well in January were liquor stores, utilities and general retail stores, those selling hardware, interior design items, furniture and appliances. All three sectors rely as heavily on locals as tourists.

The season started much better. Retail sales were up in November thanks to heavy early season snow. But the momentum stopped in December and disappeared in January.

Don Sheeley, chairman of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors, said he was surprised sales weren’t off more than 3.6 percent for the month, based on his conversation with business owners and operators.

“My take is for the last 10 years, we’ve been kind of coasting along,” said Sheeley.

Aspen has been relying on strong repeat business and done little to attract new customers, he said. As the repeat customers get older, they aren’t coming to town as often and some of them aren’t coming at all. As a result, Aspen’s business is slumping, according to Sheeley.

“Unless you keep replenishing the well, you’re going to drain it,” he said.

ACRA officials believe they are on track to replenish the supply. Aspen voters approved a new tax last year for marketing. ACRA will help decide how that money gets spent.

“We are going after new people for the first time in 10 years,” he said.

While not criticizing the Aspen Skiing Co.’s marketing efforts directly, Sheeley questioned the effectiveness of winter sales efforts.

“There’s been a mixed message out there – one day it’s Tiehack, the next day it’s Buttermilk. One day it’s Ajax, the next it’s Aspen Mountain,” Sheeley said.

He was referring to the Skico’s effort several seasons ago to boost the image of Buttermilk by renaming the entire ski area Tiehack. This season the Skico referred to Aspen Mountain as Ajax to try to end confusion about where snowboarding is and isn’t allowed. The Ajax experiment has been dropped.

Sheeley said he doesn’t buy into arguments that Aspen has become too expensive.

“You spend more money at Disney with everything that Mickey and Goofy sell you,” he said.

While talking to wealthy visitors at Beaver Creek on a recent ski trip, he learned that it was perceptions rather than prices that kept them away from Aspen.

“They don’t feel like they fit in our town,” he said. It’s his goal to tailor marketing programs to make them feel welcome.

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