Estes Park is about an hour and a half into the mountains from Denver. It’s a quaint little town with an elevation of 7,522 feet. It’s nestled right between the Rocky Mountain National Park and the Roosevelt National Forest. You can find all kinds of wildlife like bears, elk, and chipmunks. And when you come around the curve of the mountain coming into Estes Park, you’ll see a big, gorgeous white hotel with a red roof – The Stanley Hotel – which is famous because that is the same hotel that Stephen King stayed in when he got the inspiration to write The Shining.
Estes Park’s historic downtown is one whole street of shops, going up and down each side. Probably over a hundred in total, they range from rock and fossil shops (my favorite!) to souvenir shops, candy shops, Christmas stores, to even a whisky distillery. Some of these shops have been around since I began visiting Estes as a little girl.
Because Estes Park is basically one big tourist town, and it’s considered the “base camp” for Rocky Mountain National Park, there are many souvenir and t-shirt shops. It seems like every other shop is a t-shirt shop. I am pretty sure that some of these shops still have stock from when I was a kid.
And that’s not a good thing.
I am a Denver native, I was born there, and my entire family lives there. Once a year, I try and go back to visit. While this particular trip was more business than pleasure, I did get to take some time to spend the day with my grandmother and head up to Estes Park.
The day that we went, it was busy, each crosswalk had about ten or more people on each side, yet these particular t-shirt shops – the ones that have been around for twenty years – were empty. The generic howling wolf shirts with Estes Park printed on the image in Papyrus font sat, untouched, in many of these particular stores. Many times my grandma and I would be the only ones in these shops. People would peek in, see what they could, and then move up along the street. The busiest shops were the two Christmas shops, the specialty candy shops, the fossil and mineral shop, and the jewelry stores (Colorado was founded on mining, specialty jewelry stores with Colorado-mined gold is common).
The t-shirt shops had the usual t-shirts lining the walls with hoodies on racks. They had some “value” shirts, marked at $9.99 or 2 for $18, and they had a variety of designs to choose from. In one case, you could even have your own t-shirt design printed while you waited.
So, in a gorgeous tourist town – why weren’t they busy when every other shop was?
The answer lies in the differences between two stores. One was solely a t-shirt shop, and the other was a more generic souvenir shop. The souvenir shop, like the others, was fairly busy. In fact, so busy I had to wait in line to check out. Their apparel was priced higher than the t-shirt shop, with one shirt I bought priced at $19.99 and a sweatshirt at $39.99. The difference, I think, lies in the quality of shirts that they carried.
The souvenir shop’s items were more modern, less wolf howling in front of a moon and more designs that mirror current trends. They also had better quality fabrics and printing, and they carried higher-end brands like Comfort Colors.
The shops that had fewer customers happened to have more lower-quality shirts. They weren’t as soft, some had a weird fit or dated design, and the fabric and printing felt as though it could wear out with just a couple of washes. Of course there are multiple unknown factors that could have contributed to the lack of shoppers in these stores, but one thing was apparent – they are not on top of modern consumer trends.
Whether it’s due to budget consciousness, an item’s environmental impact, or just plain aesthetics – consumers are more savvy these days when it comes to spending their hard-earned cash. Most are even willing to pay a bit more for better quality, trendy products from a premium brand. After all, that totally posed but effortless looking Instagram pic on the steps of The Stanley Hotel (whilst wearing your brand-new Estes Park pullover) is half the reason to go.
So how do you advise your customers on ordering when it comes to quantity vs quality? Of course budget is always a constraint, but it’s equally important to lend your industry knowledge and expertise during the sales process. Talking with your customer about their intended use and goal for the items they are ordering can help determine the best option for their desired outcome.
Alternatively, sometimes quantity over quality really is the best way to go – if the item is intended for single-use or a large crowd like at a trade show or festival, they can be a little less picky and still get brand exposure. Helping your customers understand the difference and value in each option is an integral part of your relationship. It’s easy to forget that the promotional industry is still somewhat of a mystery to outsiders. What you might consider common sense could be a totally new concept for your customers!
Do you try to educate your customers about the different ways they can use promo products? Tell me how in the comments below! Looking for more product ideas to send to your customers? Check out these other industry trends on the SAGE Blog.