Recommendations made for life after Shopko
June 13, 2019
WORLAND — A couple main themes reverberated throughout the webinar regarding Shopko closures in the Big Horn Basin.
The webinar last Thursday, June 6, provided insight and recommendations to Wyoming communities in the wake of 13 Shopko stores closing across the state, including Worland and Thermopolis.
In April, the Wyoming Business Council partnered with local community leaders to host retail expert Matt Wagner, National Main Street Center vice president of revitalizations programs in the Big Horn Basin area. Wagner was tasked with using the Big Horn Basin — where four Shopko stores were closing in Worland, Thermopolis, Greybull and Powell — as a case study to form his recommendations on mitigating the economic impact of the closures statewide. He toured the area, held focus groups and conducted surveys on the impact of Shopko’s departure.
During the opening of the webinar, Amy Quick, Northwest Regional Director for the Wyoming Business Council said, “This has truly been a collaborative effort with state partners, The Wyoming Small Business Development Center, Market Research Center and Wyoming Business Council have worked with local partners … all working together to respond to this critical situation facing our small rural communities.”
She said throughout the process there was some fear and frustration in the beginning, but she also has heard a lot of optimism, innovative thinking and great ideas and concentrated focus on opportunities rather than challenges.
She said that in several of the communities businesses have or are exploring expanding product lines and communities are working on public awareness campaigns to make sure local residents know what is available.
Wagner echoed Quick’s comments that he has seen some proactive thinking and true entrepreneurial spirit throughout the process.
Wagner highlighted several national trends and focused on a few specific areas from the trends as well as the surveys.
One of the biggest trends that that is impacting local business is online shopping. Wagner said in 2018, online shopping showed a 15% growth and accounted for 64% of all retail growth.
Locally, he said one of the biggest areas for online shopping is apparel and shoes, which means recruiting a large clothing store is likely not going to happen. When asked if a J.C. Penney or similar store might be interested in coming back to rural America, Wagner again noted the online shopping.
He said local apparel shops need to focus on thrift or low-end clothing, or specialty boutique items.
The survey was available to any Shopko customers from the four Big Horn Basin communities — Worland, Thermopolis, Greybull and Powell. There were more than 500 responses, with the majority being women and the majority from the Worland zip code.
Wagner said the highest percentage of items that people bought at Shopko were pet supplies, wellness and hygiene, seasonal, health and beauty and housewares.
He said there is an opportunity to recapture some of the items from Shopko including pet supplies, lawn and garden and groceries. Sports, recreation and housewares also have potential, he said.
He said there may be opportunities in the areas of arts and crafts, school supplies, linens, hair supplies such as curling irons and hair dryers.
Again he noted that apparel, shoes and electronics are seeing more and more online purchasing so recapturing those areas will be difficult.
He noted during the webinar that even stores like Walmart, while showing growth, are showing growth in online sales, not in opening brick and mortar stores.
In looking at factors of why people shop at certain stores, pricing was a definite factor. Wagner said in talking to small business owners in the Basin, many times they are highly competitive with online or big box stores and they need to overcome that with marketing.
“Shop Local is great but people are looking for the best price,” was a quote Wagner shared that was given at one of the focus groups. He noted it was said in various forms throughout the Basin tour.
Another factor is what time of day and what day people shop. The Big Horn Basin trend followed the national trend of evening hours at about 40% locally. Wagner said part of the reason is that both parents are now working. The second highest hours was 1-5 p.m. at 30%
The advantage that Shopko had over other smaller stores is they had longer hours, Wagner said.
In the Basin, 60% of the Basin shoppers said they usually shop on Saturday. Friday is second at 30% and Sunday is growing in the Basin and nationally at just over 20% in the Basin survey.
Monday, in contrast, has the lowest percentage of shoppers.
Wagner said the survey and the focus groups showed “leakage” areas where people are leaving their local community to shop elsewhere. His biggest surprise was restaurants.
There was leakage in lawn and garden and appliances. The biggest was in apparel.
Wagner offered some short-term and long-term recommendations for the communities and businesses.
He said the data needs to be shared with existing businesses. Economic development groups need to target existing stores to review product line extension.
He added that he was impressed with some of the local businesses in the Basin. He said businesses had lost some products when Shopko opened and now they are considering bringing those products back.
He said communities can develop short-term financial tools and noted that the Wyoming Business Council is exploring options for providing a matching fund program in partnership with local economic development organizations to establish revolving loan funds for local community investment.
Wagner also suggested developing a “regional” business directory rather just local directories. He added communities could launch a buy local campaign that is incentivized with a punch card or gift.
“As a region you are stronger,” he said.
Another recommendation was for communities to develop event programming that works with stores that will stay open later of Friday and Saturday and have limited Sunday hours.
“If we’re not open when people are looking to shop that’s a problem. It may not be a factor that they are not willing to shop local it may be there is a mismatch with their willingness and when stores are open,” Wagner said.
Long-term, Wagner said to “map the regional entrepreneurship ecosystem and develop programs to “fill the gaps.” Test product categories by having pop-up retail opportunities within current stores or take a short-term lease out on a vacant storefront, he suggested.
Washakie Development Association Executive Director LeAnn Baker said after the webinar, “It’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes and visit with other business people.”
She added that Worland had taken a proactive approach with a lot of Worland’s business people filling in gaps. “It was entirely coincidental that Bomgaars opens,” about the same time Shopko announces the closing, and is able to help fill some of the gaps.
She said she agreed with Wagner that is important to provide the businesses with as much information as possible but “it’s those folks making those investments, they have to decide if they are expanding lines.”
WDA will work with those business wanting to look at expanding product line, she said, adding “in the end, organizations and state agencies don’t start businesses, they offer resources for those who do.”