Man, I just Love Heavy Traffic

By Beacon Staff

From time to time, I hear complaints about Kalispell’s “awful” traffic, even though Kalispell’s rush hour is thankfully more like a rush five minutes.

Heavy traffic is a very good thing if you’re a retailer or restaurant owner.

Traffic is what Wal-Mart brings. There’s been lot of talk about the new Wal-Mart Supercenter at Hutton Ranch, but not a lot of discussion about what the neighboring business owners are going to experience.

I don’t mean the Hutton Ranch neighbors so much as the Evergreen ones.

With the store leaving Evergreen, how should the businesses in that area react? What do they expect? Less traffic? Does the Wal-Mart traffic even stop at their businesses?

Do those businesses know how much of their traffic is an offshoot of traffic originally intended for Wal-Mart? Do they ask what brought their customers to their side of town? Even if you didn’t care before, it sure seems like a question that business owners in Evergreen should be asking.

No matter what, a new Supercenter will mean a lot more traffic to Hutton Ranch, and likely a lesser amount to Evergreen – but not just there. It’s likely to pull traffic away from the stores surrounding Albertsons (by the old Eisinger building) and Smith’s (east of US93), since Supercenters include a grocery as well.

All these changes will trickle down to nearby stores.

For example, you might be more likely stop at HuHot or Sportsman rather than Perkins or Snappy’s because you’re already in the neighborhood. Or something like that.

The first thing to get settled in your mind is that there isn’t a thing you can do about Wal-Mart.

First off, a small business shouldn’t be in a nose-to-nose battle with them on price. Hopefully that’s obvious. That’s like my Wildcats (wasn’t this season a blast?) expecting to score two touchdowns on the ’75 Steelers.

What you can do, if you aren’t already aware of it, is get a handle on where your traffic is coming from. What brings them to your part of town? Is it *just* your store?

If the answer is “because I was already headed to Wal-Mart or Albertsons or Smith’s”, then you need to figure out exactly how that’s going to affect your business. Price pressure isn’t the only competitive issue.

Traffic is pretty important, whether you own a store that sells imported Chinese trinkets, or a website that sells hydraulic trailer hitches for RVs. Traffic is people. People you pass on the street every day. Neighbors, some of ’em.

You’ve probably heard that before, but you may not have thought about it the last time you went to the store. Back then, you might have looked someone in the eye at the register who won’t be there the next time you stop in. Is that worth saving two bucks on a gallon of pickles?

Let’s use Columbia Falls as an example, to personalize it a bit.

Most of the recent Columbia Falls business news is about layoffs at our large employers. While the plants are critical, they are not the only Columbia Falls businesses making news.

Poking through the doom and gloom is a ray of sunshine.

Did you know that 21 new businesses joined the Columbia Falls Chamber of Commerce (so far) in 2008?

One of those business owners used to work at the now-closed Army-Navy location in Columbia Falls. He used that expertise to start a sporting goods store.

Another bought Linc France’s home & mechanic shop, turning it into an amazing mercantile.

What these and other business owners in Columbia Falls don’t need is to see you drive by their store to visit a big pole barn of a store pumping money elsewhere. Neither do the hometown businesses in your town.

It’s likely that they have the same item. If they don’t, tell them! If they don’t react well, maybe they shouldn’t be in that business. The market will take care of them.

If a local store that sells what you need, don’t drive on by. Stop in. Save a little time. Spend it with your kids or your fishing pole. Save a little gas.

Buy local.

You might just save a neighbor’s job. All those neighbors might just save your business. They’re traffic too.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him at [email protected].