TWIN FALLS — For nearly 20 minutes Tom Ashenbrener, helped a customer find the perfect knife.
The owner of Rudy’s — A Cook’s Paradise trades jokes and gives tips with the client. It may not be a swift process, but it leaves an impact. The patience to get to know the shopper makes them feel seen.
“This is a good example of what we are going up against,” Ashenbrener said. “Talking to people makes us successful, but it takes more time and effort than someone making their decision and clicking a button.”
According to data released by Adobe Analytics, a web analytics service, Black Friday saw $7.4 billion online sales and Cyber Monday sales hit $9.2 billion. Adobe, which monitors online transactions of 80 of the top 100 online retailers in the United States, predicts $143 billion in online sales this year, a 14.1% increase from the 2018 season.
How do local businesses survive against their online competition during the holiday season? For Ashenbrener, it starts with changing to fit what customers want.
“We’ve lost sales to online realtors,” Ashenbrener said. “We’ve survived through the customers. We ask: what do our customers want of us? What do they see Rudy’s as being?”
Rudy’s — A Cook’s Paradise started as a hardware store in 1904 under the name Price Hardware. Ashenbrener took over in 2002. The store has shifted constantly since its inception. It changes with trends, the most recent endeavor for the store has been to offer cooking classes, wine tastings or other experiences that can only be offered in person, Ashenbrener said.
“We are good at changing,” Ashenbrener said. “We’re confident that we will be here.”
‘I’d rather be small and great than spread ... thin’Online shopping’s explosion has hammered many major retailers. In Twin Falls, two big-name stores, Macy’s and Sears, have shuttered in the past couple of years, Shopko closed earlier this year and Kmart will be gone soon.
But some small, locally owned businesses have outlasted the major chains, even benefited from their demise. Brick and mortar stores such as The Brass Monkey in downtown Twin Falls have found a way to survive even as shoppers make more and more purchases from their phones and computers.
The Brass Monkey owner Kindsey Taylor left her job at Macy’s in 2013 to start her fashionable clothing store on Main Avenue.
“I wanted to capture a market that just wasn’t being tapped,” Taylor, who has a degree in clothing textile design, said.
Taylor said the key to making it as a small business is to excel at customer service. People come back to her store because they trust her.
“I’d rather somebody walk out with nothing than something they have buyer’s remorse over,” she said.
Taking time with customers ups the chances that they’ll come back.
“I’m not just trying to look at them as a dollar sign,” Taylor said.
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Even though there’s only one Brass Monkey location, Taylor said her business has shoppers from well outside the Magic Valley. She’s had requests to open a second location in Boise, but isn’t considering that yet.
“I’d rather be small and great than spread myself thin,” she said.
The store does have an online shopping option, so people can purchase clothing items from anywhere.
Online sales are trending upward, Taylor admitted, but there are still plenty of people who like to try clothes on before making a purchase.
That works to The Brass Monkey’s advantage when more big retail chains are closing their doors.
“There’s not a lot of places to tactile shop,” Taylor said. “People still like to go shopping.”
Retailers rely on the holiday shopping season. Taylor said her store does about a third of its annual sales this time of year — that’s common for a lot of businesses.
“It can make or break your year,” Taylor said of the holiday shopping season.
Snake River Grill owner Kirt Martin said the holiday season is crucial for locally-owned restaurants, too. The Hagerman eatery is open during all days of the week and is often used for family gatherings and company parties, Martin said.
“It’s a passion,” Martin said. “You’re constantly learning and evolving. It’s how we’ve survived this long.”
Taylor pointed out that downtown Twin Falls is “still off the beaten path for most Twin Falls folks.” And even though she thinks the downtown face lift will pay off in the long term, Taylor said there have been some downsides as local consumers grew accustomed to shopping elsewhere.
This will be The Brass Monkey’s seventh holiday season. Taylor hopes people will come downtown and support local businesses.
“Owning retail, (the holidays) is why we do it,” she said. “This is the hustle and bustle. This is what we love.”