Identifying the leaks

Laramie’s retail market might be leaking about $400 million to nearby communities, but that could attract more retailers to the Laramie Valley, Retail Coach Vice President Aaron Farmer said.

“The way to look at this is not that leakage is bad thing,” Farmer told the Laramie City Council on Sept. 19. “This is something to take to retailers. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get Laramie out there. You’re competing with Cheyenne and Fort Collins, (Colorado), … you need to get out there and recruit these retailers.”

Contracted by the city to conduct a retail analysis, Farmer presented Retail Coach’s preliminary findings during the council’s regular meeting.

“This is a really neat town,” Farmer said. “We’ve been working with the city since about January. Knowing who your consumer is extremely important to analyzing the retail economy, so we have gathered some credit card data to tell where people are shopping here.”

He reassured councilors his company does not sell the data they collect; instead, they use credit card receipts and cellphone data to understand where and when people are shopping and what they buying.

According to Retail Coach’s report, Laramie provides the potential for about $1 billion in annual sales, but local retailers’ current actual sales are approximately $550 million.

“If you look at sporting goods stores, there’s about $2.2 million leakage,” Farmer said. “Another example of leakage is during one of our surveys, someone told us you can’t buy 2x4s after 6 (p.m.) during the week.”

Building materials and garden equipment accounted for the largest sales gap with an annual leakage of about $190 million, Farmer said. Clothing outlets was another large hole in the retail economy, leaking about $22 million to nearby communities, he added.

“We’ve got a lot of retail leakage — it’s become a quality of life issue,” Mayor Andi Summerville said Tuesday. “When a person’s faucet breaks at home, they want to know they can go to Lowe’s or Home Depot after work and get the parts to fix it — we don’t have that here.”

Laramie Main Street Alliance Executive Director Trey Sherwood said the report caught her by surprise.

“The amount that leaks out of our community is way higher than I thought,” Sherwood said. “As shocking as it is, we know there’s nowhere to grow but up.”

In addition to detecting large retail sales gaps, Farmer said Retail Coach also analyzed Laramie’s shopping demographics.

About 40,000 unique shoppers spend money in Laramie on a daily basis with the majority of those shoppers being white 18-24 year olds, the report states. Laramie’s retail economy also attracts about 156,000 weekend shoppers, which are primarily white, but evenly spread throughout the age groups analyzed.

“It was really interesting to see the population factors,” Summerville said. “We have a lot more of the population that wants to shop in Laramie than anyone was giving us credit for.”

Laramie City Manager Janine Jordan said she suspected for years Laramie attracted shoppers from Carbon County, but could only speculate until Farmer’s report.

“Knowing we have consumers coming in from Carbon County, Laramie County and even Colorado allows us to put together a strategic retail recruitment plan,” Jordan said.

The approximately $67,000 retail analysis was paid for by a Wyoming Business Council grant and match funding provided by the city, Laramie Grant Analyst Sarah Reese says in an email.

“When we pursued the grant for this plan, we put together a group of stakeholders such as the University of Wyoming, Main Street and the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance,” Jordan said. “I don’t like to do studies where we just collect data without a plan to put it to use. So we wanted to make sure whatever plan we put together was acceptable and workable for our stake holders.”

While the city will not be the sole participant in retail recruitment efforts stemming from the report, Jordan said Laramie would be involved in creating a group to spearhead forming a retail recruitment strategy.

Summerville said the report was the first step in the long-term process of building up Laramie’s retail sector.

“We support mom-and-pop entrepreneurs — they are very important to our economy,” the mayor said. “But while our small business economy is strong, we could attract some of the bigger retailers. We can start closing that retail gap and all businesses can gain a multiplier effect from the move.”

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