City tries to attract general merchandise store
Although his Ace Hardware store in Marion hasn’t yet opened, Kent Carmichael already is urging the city to find another store to locate out by U.S. 56, although it could mean competition for him.
“It’s been our experience that you need some competition,” he said Tuesday.
When a store that competed with his Ulysses store closed, people envied him having less competition, but he found that sales went down. And when a different competitor refilled the vacant store, his store saw sales go back up again.
Paying attention when helping customers out to their vehicles, he would see bags from his store, the competitor’s, and the nearby grocery store. Carmichael said that showed him that people want to go shopping at several places at once.
“Competition is good for you,” he said.
In the 1980s, three stores in Ulysses that sold boots closed within a few months of each other. Realizing that, he geared up his store to sell boots, but after the last of the other stores closed, Carmichael’s boot sales went down.
He asked people who had tried on boots at his store why they had bought elsewhere, and they told him that they wanted to see what else was available. When they found suitable boots at a similar price to his while comparison shopping, they didn’t want to make another trip back to his store to buy them.
The lesson of that was if people can’t comparison shop in town, they’ll go out of town to do it, he said.
“You have to have variety,” Carmichael said. “You have to have competition.”
To that end, Carmichael is gently pressuring the city to pursue other stores to locate along U.S. 56, city administrator Roger Holter said. For its part, the city is continuing to pursue general merchandise stores.
“We’re trying to market the city directly to their corporate offices,” he said.
Holter said actively recruiting companies is appealing to site selectors, because too many small towns have tried to keep out national companies.
Holter saw that at work when he was in private business, especially with Sears. In the Champaign-Urbana area of Illinois, both cities tried to recruit Sears, so the company split the difference and placed a store right between them, he said.
Among the chains the city is recruiting are Family Dollar and Dollar General. A report in Chain Store Age said Dollar General plans to open 700 new stores this year.
The presence of Dollar General in Hillsboro is the biggest obstacle to attracting a Dollar General to Marion, Holter said, but he thinks there is enough of a mindset to shop locally that neither store would hurt the other.