Businesses glad for the business | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Businesses glad for the business

This weekend, South Shore restaurants had waiting lists, there were lines at the ski resorts and it was difficult to find a spot on a roulette or craps table late in the evening at any of the four Stateline casinos. And this was a good thing – for the South Lake Tahoe economy, that is. With the opening of U.S. Highway 50 on Friday, the tourism lifeblood was flowing through the veins of the South Lake Tahoe community once again. Local business owners reported a marked difference in the amount of people in town for an average, non-holiday weekend. “Friday night was much busier than normal – the highway opening made a real difference,” said Mike Ford, manager of Paramount Ski & Snowboard Shop, 3542 Highway 50. He said business was hurting from the 27-day closure, primarily because of the lack of weekend crowds. “Especially on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, when people are coming in for the weekend, I’d say we were more than 50 percent down,” he said. But now that the vital artery is up and running, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed it will stay that way. A massive mudslide near White Hall closed the highway Jan. 24, after being open only one week due to the New Year’s Day floods. Highway 50 is the South Shore’s main link to the Sacramento Valley and the Bay Area, and most of the traffic comes from day- and weekend-trip visits. It was estimated that tourism-related businesses lost more than $40 million in revenue as a result of the closure. Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort, with 70 percent of business dependent on the highway, was among the hardest hit. This weekend, however, Marketing Director Ted Austin was singing a different tune. “We were thrilled to feel as though we’re on our way back,” he said. “There was a heck of a lot more action around here than there has been on other weekends.” However, Austin said he expects numbers to be even higher in the coming weeks as families can find out the road is open and have more time to plan a ski trip. “The road opening, as wonderful as it was, was too quick so I think a lot of people couldn’t make changes to come up with their families,” he said. “I know singles and couples without children can make decisions fairly easily, but families, which this place relies on, could have already made plans.” Smaller lodging businesses that saw a drastic drop in room sales over the past two months also reported an increase this weekend. “Friday night we had no business, probably only one room filled,” said Jeff Potter, an employee at Sunshine Inn Motel, 1184 Emerald Bay Road. “But last night all but a couple were filled. We really depend on the highway.” Jean Draxton, owner Green Lantern Motel, said she thought a lot more visitors chose the South Shore over the North Shore for skiing. “It was a much better weekend compared to weekends in January,” she said. “Business has definitely picked up since the highway has opened. The neighbors I’ve talked to seem to be pretty happy about this weekend.” The highway reopening was felt in almost every facet of town and the food service industry was no exception. “It was a good weekend,” said George Moraida, manager of the Cantina, State Route 89 and 10th Street. “I would say business picked up about 20 percent from when the road was closed.” At Red Hut Waffle Shop, 2723 Highway 50, business was also up considerably. “We noticed a huge difference – it’s been great,” said Nancy Gardner, owner. “We’re thankful, and we pray the road stays open.” John Packer, spokesman for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, said visitor counts were expected to increase drastically with the reopening of Highway 50. “I think there’s a pent-up demand for people who didn’t take the alternative routes, and who said ‘I’ll just wait until the road opens again,’” Packer said Friday. “It means a lot.” However, he said the job of marketing South Lake Tahoe is far from over. “We have to get people used to the idea that the highway is open and that it’s safe – that it’s not gonna go down again,” he said. “Just because it’s open today, a lot of people still don’t understand. We need to keep it up.”

Business

IT business loan opportunities for Tahoe businesses to be discussed Monday

The IT @ LT group will meet on Monday Oct. 20th to hear from loan specialists as to what types of loans are available to meet their needs. Specifically, business consultants from the SBA and SBDC will share details on loan options that could enable small businesses to conduct feasibility, research and prototype development studies. “The Small Business Innovative Research Grant Program is particularly vital to economic sustainability and growth of small companies at a time when other sources of capital are all but dry” states Kathy Halbardier, from the Small Business Development Center. The funding for this program is Federal and thus programs of this type are available across the US but it is often difficult to get the information into the hands of those who need it most” concludes Betty “B” Gorman, CEO for the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber who hosts the IT @ LT Group. IT @ LT is a small group of IT or IT dependent businesses who meet every six weeks. The format of the gatherings varies but usually includes two business representatives sharing an overview of their business, a guest speaker and group discussion. The group has been focused on shared challenges and solutions. Several sessions have included presentations from both Charter and AT & T on their progress in upgrading services in the Basin. In September the group met with faculty from Lake Tahoe Community College in order to discuss what types of training are provided and what types might be needed in the future. The group will meet in the Chamber offices at 169 Hwy 50, Stateline from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Monday Oct. 20. All California and Nevada IT and IT dependent businesses are welcome to attend. For further information please contact “B” Gorman at (775) 588-1728

North Tahoe Business Association presents annual Passport to Dining

If you're a foodie, North Tahoe Business Association's annual Passport to Dining fundraiser is one you won't want to miss. "The popular event features up to 35 tasting stations including restaurants, caterers, breweries, wineries and distilleries, as well as a raffle and a silent auction that features Northern California Getaway Packages and many valuable items," states NTBA's Passport to Dining website. Held at North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 10, the event is known as one of North Tahoe's premiere not-to-miss social gatherings. The business association will donate a portion of this year's event net proceeds to the Humane Society of Truckee Tahoe. "Advance tickets are $90/pair or $50/person and include unlimited, responsible tastings," according to the site. Get tickets while you can, as they increase to $110 for a pair or $60 per person on the day of the event, and are available at the North Tahoe Event Center on a first-come, first-serve basis. Festivities are set to begin at 6 p.m. and last until 9 p.m. Passport to Dining is sponsored by participating food and beverage providers, as well as Moonshine Ink, Sierra Sun, Placer County and The Tahoe Weekly. Additional information is available at http://www.northtahoebusiness.org. North Tahoe Event Center is located at 8318 N Lake Boulevard in Kings Beach. — Lake Tahoe Action

Tahoe businesses adapt to the times

LAKE TAHOE ” Linda Spivack ran a store in South Lake Tahoe called Fabric & Finds, which sold fabric for home interiors, along with pillows she made. But when the store wasn’t making enough money, Spivack changed her strategy. She now runs Focus on Interiors ” a service-oriented business. Spivack is not alone in refusing to succumb to tough times. Business owners around town are revising their business models in order to stay competitive through technology, new locations and updated business plans. Sidestreet Boutique is placing more emphasis on its Web site, and Tahoe Valley Electric Supply took the opportunity to move to a moreenergy-efficient building. Retail used to be profitable for Spivack, but now she makes only 10 percent of what she used to. Now she offers services including real estate staging, updating vacation rentals, custom sewing jobs for the home, and cleaning and organizing. She doesn’t keep regular store hours because of the overhead costs. If people want to come to the shop, they can make an appointment or look to see if the sign is on, Spivack said. “There’s lots of opportunity,” Spivack said. “You just have to find your niche and go for it.” Spivack said her cleaning business is picking up ” this week she had 16 houses to clean in five days. She had to have her son help her to get the jobs done in time. “I’m not complaining about the work one bit,” Spivack said. Spivack wants to start a Web site for additional exposure and added revenue, but said she doesn’t have time at the moment. She’s also thinking about downsizing her shop, and possibly splitting the space with another person. Sidestreet Boutique owner Barbara Parina said she started working on her Web site two or three years ago. “My daughter started it, and she told me this is where the future is,” Parina said. Parina opened Sidestreet Boutique in 1972, and said she always re-examines her business model. “I do it all the time,” Parina said. “You can’t let go on anything these days. You have to look after the locals, the tourists and the Internet.” Sidestreet’s Web site lists the shop’s entire inventory, with pictures. Parina said it takes almost three full-time people to keep it current. “It’s the future of retail. People don’t like to go out and shop like they used too,” Parina said. Parina said the Web site helps carry the store when not many people are out shopping. A lot of the business is from out of the area because certain customers are looking for distinct brands. A lot of research is involved to make sure the shop carries the top- selling brands, and also to be able to have the items constantly in stock, Parina said. Parina is a hands-on business owner, and is at work seven days a week. Other businesses have moved locations. Tahoe Valley Electric Supply moved to a new and greener location, said Dan Graham, the company’s president. The building is larger but costs 33 percent less to heat than the old one, Graham said. The new location has an updated computer system, too: “Now we can react sooner to customer demands,” Graham said. Since the building is energy-efficient, Graham can show customers real working items of certain products they might consider purchasing. The types of clients the business services have changed, Graham said. The supply company used to deal primarily with new construction projects, but now clients have shifted to remodels and energy management. Graham said the company has been adding to its Web site so customers can research different types of products that Tahoe Valley Electric Supply carries.

Tahoe businesses focus on marketing

With diminishing marketing funds and a highly competitive U.S. tourism arena, South Shore businesses have learned how to hunker down – especially since marketing studies show people are hit with at least 7,000 messages a day. The business climate has turned serious now that the Tourism Promotion Business Improvement District disbanded in part because of an anti-tax sentiment and a recommendation from city leaders to cut off its subsidy to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, which markets California’s South Shore. Some examples of how businesses compete to survive are subtle. Others are straightforward. Many seem textbook, while a few represent what Alpen Sierra Coffee Co. owner Christian Waskiewicz refers to as “innovate or die.” He’s run the Stateline-area coffeehouse for 15 years, and he competes with six Starbucks in town. Rude Brothers has taken its sample bagels to the road. Massage therapist Marla Gayle Saunders will take her table and chair to offer a sampling of the service at the Tahoe Winter Expo Friday at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. “It builds on the business. Not everybody wants a massage next week,” she said. Harrah’s has kept billboards at Highway 50 near Carson City to promote shows at the lake. The LTVA will launch its winter print campaign Sunday in the Los Angeles area. And California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will show Texans the wonder of skiing Tahoe’s Heavenly slopes in the state’s tourism commission television commercials. From the small to large, many businesses agree the key to success is being creative and providing excellent service at the very least. Some advocate pooling their resources as the LTVA has with the casino corridor interests of the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority, which kicks in 40 percent of the funds for the $2.3 million tourism agency. The efforts casinos use are multi-faceted. Harrah’s taps into advertising, sales, public relations and electronic marketing to get its message across. “You have to cut through the clutter to compete. There’s information overload. You do what you do to have your product noticed,” spokesman John Packer said, advocating a collective effort. That’s why its sales manager, Steve Lowe, has joined a South Shore consortium of sales people in the casino corridor in efforts to draw visitors from other destination areas. Harrah’s contributes to LTVA’s Blue World campaign designed to build brand image. It also uses its massive database to tap into direct marketing techniques and reach its loyal customers. Camp Richardson Resort does the same thing. But marketer Missy Springer said without the product, no amount of marketing will help. “It’s not necessarily the amount of money you spend on an individual business. It’s what makes your product unique,” she said. Either way, she advises businesses with a limited income try to develop a Web site. Eric Eymann of the Station House Inn and Lew Mar Nel’s restaurant agreed. “You have a better shot as a franchise for that name recognition,” he said. “That’s why advertising is so important.” Eymann, the president of the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association who served on the BID, believes it’s unfortunate the town doesn’t have the resources to compete at a level of say Las Vegas’ $85 million in the coffers. But he’s also convinced the city should have a specific role as a “collection agency” for marketing efforts. “I don’t want them to tell us what to do,” he said of local business operators. Mayor Kathay Lovell, who worked in marketing at Caesars Tahoe and Verizon Wireless, also thinks the city’s role in promotion should be limited. “I don’t think it’s government’s role,” she said. In recent years, the city has reduced subsidies to the two marketing arms on the South Shore, the LTVA and South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce. Serving on the subcommittee for the budget that passed Tuesday, Lovell said she compared this city’s 1.2 percent marketing allocation to Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. None goes over 2 percent. She stressed the importance of customer service to compete with the likes of places like Las Vegas. Lovell finds it disappointing that when the Lake Tahoe Community College sponsors its guest service academy, no one or only a few people show up. “This is the only way business is going to survive. Not every business grasps that,” she said. “I think what we learned in the BID process is that a lot of small businesses don’t feel connected with how the LTVA helps them,” she said. LTVA will stay on course with its print campaign. After that, the board will decide how to proceed. As for the chamber, Executive Director Duane Wallace said he expects the visitors center to remain with reduced hours and look seriously at merging with the Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce. He also believes the area has a customer service problem. He proposes the city work on its infrastructure. This would include the Highway 50 improvements such as lighting. The city hopes to address the subject when it explores a business improvement district along the major thoroughfare. “It’s kind of shocking how dark it is,” he said. The other idea for a lodging-sponsored business improvement district to fund marketing struck Stateline public relations magnet Phil Weidinger as an excellent proposal to keep the LTVA in business. “No one entity can do it all. We have to work smarter,” he said, adding the area and individual businesses must invest in the future. “We can’t relax. Everybody must pitch in.” Above all, this means getting out a company’s most distinguishable feature and selling it. Marketing encompasses more than advertising – but also public relations and sales. “We need to look at what we offer the consumer and (promote it) in a different way,” he said. Weidinger’s business cards read “the lights are on and people are thinking.”

Snow in Tahoe is good for business

Prospects are bright for winter business in the Tahoe Basin – and they’re getting brighter every day. The slew of recent storms brought thousands of snow-lovers to the region, boosting business beyond expectation, with promises of more to come. “We’ve had to turn people away for Christmas reservations for the last couple weeks,” said Jill Fuerst, innkeeper at Sorensen’s and Hope Valley Resort. “We’ve had lots and lots of calls from people who want to make reservations or just want to be up here for the holiday season. I think all the storms and snow have really reminded people to make their Christmas plans, and to make them here.” Barbara Cunningham, a senior clerk at Lake Tahoe Winter Sports Center, said she began scheduling snowmobile tours five days earlier this year than last. “We’re off to an early start. We opened Thursday before Thanksgiving and we have reservations all the way into February,” Cunningham said. “Overall, our daily business is up over 25 percent.” And ski resorts were off to a glorious start, too. “We have 2 1/2 more feet of snow this year over last,” said Sierra-at-Tahoe’s Public Relations Manager Nancy Harrison. “Now we have 3 to 5 1/2 feet of base depth and 34 out of 46 runs open.” And Sierra is ahead of the game. Harrison said they planned to open the resort Dec. 4, but thanks to the heavy snowfalls they were able to open Nov. 25. “That’s a week earlier than last year. Our business is up and weather forecasters are predicting a whole line of storms bringing more snow over the next few days,” Harrison said. In addition to the 26 inches of snow recorded at South Lake Tahoe Airport since October, almost 20 inches more than last year, weather forecasters say a number of storms are lined up across the Pacific and will hit the Sierra Nevada at 48- to 72-hour intervals over the next few weeks. “We’re expecting heavy snow falls down to 4,400 feet Thursday night,” said Weather Service Specialist Terry Ryan. “The snowfalls should last through Sunday.” Heavenly Ski Resort’s Communications Director Monica Bandows said the storms are pushing Tahoe back to the forefront of the ski resort industry. “I really think Lake Tahoe is going through a ski business Renaissance,” Bandows said. “Lake Tahoe as a region gets more skier visits annually than the entire state of Utah. All the snow we’ve got now really gives us a competitive edge going into the season.” More than 48 percent of Heavenly’s slopes are open, Bandows said, and about 80 percent should open by the weekend, including the Nevada and the California sides of the mountain. “We got just under 3 feet of fresh snow over the weekend. It appears that we’re about 30 percent ahead in snowfall over last year, with a base depth ranging from 12 to 42 inches last year and 30 to 60 inches this year,” Bandows said. “Such a good start should help the entire Basin, this bodes really well for business.” Back to Front Page

Snow puts Tahoe in business

Winter arrived at Lake Tahoe with a bang Wednesday, as a Pacific storm blanketed the Sierra and created a wintry scene in the Tahoe Basin the day before Thanksgiving. Up to 3 feet of snow fell on higher slopes and 4 inches of wet snow fell at lake level, the first accumulation of the season. The snowfall raised the expectations of Tahoe residents for a successful winter season. “I’m happy,” said Dede Riggs of South Lake Tahoe, a Harrah’s Lake Tahoe dealer. “We’re always hoping for a white Thanksgiving. It starts the year off on a good note and helps business.” Snow showers were expected to linger into the evening Wednesday, but the skies should clear today for holiday travelers. Forecasters said another storm system should arrive by Saturday night, but it is expected to lack the punch of Wednesday’s storm. Many of the region’s 16 ski resorts announced plans to open on Thanksgiving Day or the day after. Of the resorts closest to South Lake Tahoe, Heavenly Ski Resort opened Friday, but will expand the available terrain, while Kirkwood Ski Resort plans to open today and Sierra-at-Tahoe on Friday. Sierra-at-Tahoe will offer three hours of free skiing today, from noon to 3 p.m. “I was a little worried before this storm came,” said Nancy Harrison, public relations director for Sierra-at-Tahoe. “We were waiting until (Wednesday) to see if we’d open. Now, I can’t wait.” Business was brisk at Heavenly Sports, as visitors and residents alike prepared for their first days on skis this season. “People began rolling into town yesterday and today,” said Chris Thorne, the shop manager. “Today, everybody is buying a lot of accessories – goggles, gloves, that kind of thing. A lot of skiers are also getting their skis tuned up.” On the slopes of Heavenly Ski Resort, early-season skiers suddenly had more terrain open to them. Spokesman Don Evans said the pace of activity picked up as the snowflakes began to fall. “The phones are ringing off the hook,” Evans said. “Let the skiing and snowboard riding begin!” Kirkwood Ski Resort was planning to open today, but the storm will allow the resort to open more terrain, said spokeswoman Tania Magidson. “We’re elated,” Magidson said, adding that the Alpine County resort received 2 to 3 feet overnight. “The early-season snow is important. We’re generally open two out of three Thanksgivings. It’s not crucial, but it’s always good for the season as a whole.” The only local ski area not to open this weekend is Homewood Ski Resort, which received 20 inches of snow on the higher slopes but just 4 inches at the base. The resort plans to open in early December. About the only residents unhappy with the storm were those with travel plans or expecting visitors from out of the area. Most highways remained open, but chains were required much of Wednesday over the passes. Many weather-savvy locals decided to stay home for the holiday. “The best story is we stayed home and stayed out of the storm,” said Steve Mahnken of South Lake Tahoe. “We’ve lived here 21 years; that’s plenty of winters.”

Business Briefs

The Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce will host another town hall meeting Wednesday. This one, slated for noon at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, features a marketing strategy called “genergraphics” based on the marketing psychology of pitching to generations rather than demographics. Lunch and the workshop costs $30 to members and $35 to non-members. Association hosts Web seminar next month The California Hotel and Lodging Association plans to put on a two-hour seminar April 5 at Inn By the Lake on the fundamentals of revenue management and Internet distribution. Pricing, forecasting, distribution and benchmarking in the hospitality industry will be covered. The seminar will be presented by Lynn Mohrfeld, the association’s executive vice president, and Vikram Singh, chief executive officer of Worldwide Marketing. Hotelier resumes marketing duties The Carson Valley Inn located off Highway 395 in Minden has resumed the marketing and booking duties of the 75-room Carson Valley Motor Lodge, a lodging establishment used for over a year by Quintus Resorts for Walley’s Resort Hot Springs and Spa.

Business Briefs

Years after logging declined and the mill closed, a developer envisions ski trails snaking their way through the remaining trees on Dyer Mountain in Lassen County. If Dyer Mountain Associates achieves its dream, it will be the first new ski resort in California in more than a quarter century, complete with golf courses and homes for some 8,000 people in this one-time company town where the Sierra Nevada bows to the Cascades. The vision is a grand one, intended as a more affordable alternative to Lake Tahoe, 90 miles to the south. It is planned at a time when the ski industry remains flat following years of declines, but as California continues to grow. Eco store now offers kites Games and Kites of Tahoe has expanded its product line from ecological and environmental merchandise to goods specializing in educational games and activities, the South Shore company reported recently. Blockbuster bid for rival extended Blockbuster Inc., the world’s largest video rental chain, reported a slim profit for the fourth quarter a week ago in contrast to a loss a year ago, but said it would restate certain financials to correct lease accounting errors. The company also said Wednesday it has extended its nearly $1 billion offer for rival Hollywood Entertainment Corp. to Thursday from its prior expiration date of March 11. The board of Hollywood Entertainment has told shareholders they should reject Blockbuster’s bid in favor of a lower offer valued at about $900 million from a third video rental company, Movie Gallery Inc. ACE Awards deadline The deadline to enter the ACE Awards is noon March 31. Entrants for the advertising and marketing competition, which is sponsored by the American Marketing Association, may submit work to AMA ACE Awards; Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts; Attn: Samantha Fleischer; 100 S. Virginia St.; Reno, NV 89501. Profits up for energy company The parent company of Nevada’s two major utilities, Sierra Pacific Resources, ended 2004 with a second straight profitable quarter and an annual earnings in the black as well after a series of gloomy reports since the 2001 energy crisis, the company reported a week ago. The holding company earned $28.6 million in fiscal 2004, up from a loss of $140.5 million a year earlier. For Northern Nevada, Sierra Pacific Power earned $14.7 million in 2004 after a $27.2 million loss the year before. Award for Charter Advertising The Advertising Association of Northern Nevada recently presented Charter Advertising/Design with three ADDY Awards for their advertising efforts involving three local businesses: The Blue Water Bistro, Tahoe Turf and Caesars Tahoe. Bruce Rettig, Betty Barsamian and Jim Barr worked on the campaigns.