Expert: Rutland has room for retail growth
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | March 21,2013
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
More than two dozen people participated in the Rutland Business Summit on Wednesday at the Franklin Conference Center. The four-hour program featured nearly a dozen speakers.
Rutland could use more toy stores, book stores and restaurants, according to a business consultant.
Tripp Muldrow of Arnett, Muldrow and Associates in South Carolina performed the marketing study commissioned by the Downtown Rutland Partnership in 2009. Wednesday, he offered the audience at the Rutland Business Summit an update to the data he collected.
“Rutland is among the most regional markets in which we’ve ever worked,” he said. “You serve as a commercial center for a very large geography. ... That puts Rutland at a distinct advantage because you are that center, you are the city for this region.”
The event Wednesday, attended by about 25 people at the Franklin Conference Center, was sponsored by DRP and the Rutland Redevelopment Authority. It featured almost a dozen speakers, most of them listing the various resources available to people looking to start or expand a business in Rutland.
“People talk about, ‘there’s no help for business in Vermont,’” said Jamie Stewart, executive director of the Rutland Economic Development Corp. “I’ve heard that so many times, and it’s usually because they haven’t reached out.”
Stewart said he and his organization can connect an existing or potential business to a wide variety of resources at the state and federal level, putting business owners with a specific person who will walk them through the process. He said the most important piece of information he wanted to get out was his phone number: 773-9147.
“If you see that you have an opportunity in your business, come and talk to us,” Stewart said. “We’ll see where we can help you. ... If you’re talking to someone who’s talking about starting their own business, send them our way. We can save them from spending money, we can save them from spinning their wheels, we can save them a lot of time.”
Muldrow, however, used sales data to offer up some retail sectors in which people might want to try starting businesses in Rutland. To identify business opportunities, Muldrow looked for “retail leakage” — how much is spent by area residents compared to how much is spent in Rutland stores.
“If consumers spend more than stores are selling, you’re leaking sales,” he said. “If stores sell more, you’re importing sales.”
Rutland retail sales went from $501 million in 2008 to $479 million last year. Muldrow said the loss was “pretty respectable” when compared, percentage-wise, to the rest of the country during the recent recession.
“Everything tamped down,” he said. “I was surprised it wasn’t less than we saw here.”
Spending by local consumers went from $263 million to $241 million in the same period, which Muldrow said corresponded roughly with the drop in sales and means that Rutland pulls in $239 million in sales from outside the region each year.
Rutland was leaking sales in categories that include clothing; cosmetics and beauty supplies; toys, games and hobbies; gifts and CDs and records.
Muldrow said he saw growth opportunity in bookstores, especially with the ill health of the large national chains, and that while specialty foods had grown in the last few years, it was still an area worth focusing on.
Rutland has a “very robust market for dining,” attracting more sit-down diners than those seeking fast food, according to Muldrow. Downtown, he said, is a good place for independent restaurants to cluster.
“When you have a restaurant cluster, you serve as more of a regional center,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more trends away from the TGI Friday’s, the Applebee’s. Those sort of chains suffered through the recession, but independent restaurants that really know their customers and cater to them were thriving.”
However, Muldrow cautioned that an open market is no guarantee of success.
“The market’s the reason a retailer can be successful,” he said. “There’s a thousand reasons a retailer can be unsuccessful.”