Category Archives: Retail

The best business niches are the simplest

Entrepreneurship, in a nutshell, is identifying an underserved part of the retail market and then supplying it with value in a product.

Simple-sounding, but a moving target as 80 percent of all entrepreneurs fail, according to Wichita entrepreneurship guru Fran Jabara. But not the Steven family at Spangles, whose growth continues to shatter company records.

Dale and Craig Steven’s idea has stood the test of time: Fresh, quality food at a below-market price. WAY below market if you’ve dropped $15 or more on lunch recently in Wichita.

The idea is blended adroitly with a heavy dose of marketing that – love it or hate it – keeps Spangles at the front of consumer minds.

At a time when retailers in all sectors – especially casual dining restaurants -  are being pinched by out-of-control energy prices, only the strongest prosper. That strength in tough economic times is found in value, Jabara said.

Should the city incentivize downtown redevelopment?

I noted with some interest Sunday a line in Brent Wistrom’s piece about the Warren Old Town $6 million loan: “This is the first time Wichita has considered loaning taxpayer money to a business, finance officials and other observers say.”

I’ve got to take issue with that one: Anyone remember the Minnesota Guys? How about CORE?

The debate over whether the Wichita City Council should financially partner with downtown developers is a legitimate one. But again, I wonder why it’s just now surfacing when the city clearly has bought into other projects in the past. Admittedly, the terms of the city’s partnership with Warren are a little different, but beyond that …

And from where I sit, I don’t recall developers lining up to buy Wichita buildings and do downtown projects on their own. Cities partner with developers all the time, and a partnership with Bill Warren looks to me to be consistent with past precedent.

In pursuit of a Wild West World buyer

After further review, Wednesday’s bombshell announcement from a Florida gaming group that they’d like to reopen Wild West World isn’t quite so shocking – in context.

But if the Wild West World story teaches us anything, it’s not to count our overpriced stale corn dogs before they’re fried to the consistency of the asphalt under our feet.

It’s pretty clear, I think, that Alan Ginsburg’s AHG Group agreed to buy the park Wednesday with an eye toward gaming, and a willingness to put a bunch of entertainment pieces like an amusement park in place while gambling winds its way through the local political maze. So maybe one can conclude that Wichita isn’t an entertainment loser.

Or maybe not.

The sale contract hasn’t been filed and signed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court, as of this writing. That’s because the deal Thomas Etheredge assembled is a complicated mess, thanks to the one thing he did consistently as he built the park – look for the cheapest route possible. It’s not easy to sell a parking lot to a savvy real estate buyer on “payments only” terms.

No real reason to doubt Ginsburg’s interest. But don’t put all your chips on the Floridians quite yet. This deal isn’t going to be over until the final buzzer.

Whiners, losers in the gas price war

For those of you like me who like – well, used to like – an end-of-the-month gas bill, the credit card era appears primed to become the latest victim of runaway gas prices.

It’s inevitable. Retailers trying to sell gas on razor-thin margins found themselves turned into loss-leader retailers by credit company surcharges. Often as high as 3 percent of the sale, the credit card charges erase any profits retailers make.

Sad news. Personally, I wish the credit card companies would make their cash elsewhere. And with their evolution into national payday loan companies, complete with outrageous interest rates, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Speaking of profiteering, chew on this little gem: Wall Street doesn’t want Congress to crack down on the speculation that many experts believe is responsible for the runup in oil prices.

I wonder if this little forecast from one of the foxes that went down to the congressional henhouse Wednesday might have something to do with that concern.

Ty’s Diner on the market

One of the best hamburger joints in Wichita is for sale.

Ty’s Diner, 928 W. 2nd, could be sold in a matter of days, according to owner Richard Diamond. It went on the market in a weekend Eagle classified ad, inviting only serious inquiries.

There have been a bunch of those inquiries, Diamond said, judging by the number of messages on his cell phone. Diamond said he didn’t want to elaborate on the plans to sell the diner until a deal is done.

For those of you who don’t know, Ty’s is a great step back in time for those of us old enough to remember what a real old-style hamburger and fries were like.

And if my doctor, Art Windholz, is in the audience, move along, sir. Nothing to see here. This entire blog post is a figment of your imagination.

Calling Dillons and Wal-Mart

Wichita spoils a person.

So my complaint today is going to ring a bit hollow in a city where you can get anywhere in 20 minutes, thanks to the foresight of developers and city fathers.

But I’ll tell you what: There’s nothing I’d like to see downtown more than a Dillons. Or a Wal-Mart. Or anywhere nearby I can go to pick up a bottle of contact lens solution – for less than $10 – or a heaping pint of chicken fried rice without driving out of my way to the suburbs to wage hand-to-hand combat with the battalions of Wichita workers with the same after-work ideas.

It might happen. Wal-Mart reportedly has developed a multi-story downtown business model that it could implement across the country. And if you’ve been paying attention in Wichita lately, Dillons is fine-tuning its approach to groceries with new sites and new stores across town.

But talk is cheap. Get back to me, Wal-Mart and Dillons officials, and let’s get this downtown grocery store going.

An expensive cup o’ coffee

Hear the one about the guy who spent $19 on a coffee drink? That guy is me.

On my way into work this morning, I stopped by Daily Grind, a new coffee house at Sutton Place. The coffee was good. The parking was not.

Parking signThere are no very few spots if you just want to drop in for a quick coffee to go, other than a number of unused spots in front of it on Market that are marked for police vehicles only. That’s where I parked. When I left the store after no more than five minutes, a kind lady was printing a $15 ticket for me.

Now, should I have parked there? No. I’m a law-breaker and ready to pay for my crime. But the city is doing itself no favors in its efforts to revitalize downtown by having inadequate parking in front of a retailer. If a business is going to put itself out there with a downtown location, it needs spots for its customers to park.

Starbucks beaten by gas prices

A few entries back we talked about the inevitable retail impact of soaring gas prices.

Today, we got some proof from the Starbucks coffee chain. Second-quarter earnings are down 28 percent, customer visits are tumbling, expansions have been placed on the back burner and CEO Howard Schultz — the same guy who’s suing to keep the Seattle Supersonics he once owned from moving to Oklahoma City — blames the gas pump.

Locally, we hear rumblings that foot traffic continues to plummet in Wichita-area restaurants. Wichita movie mogul Bill Warren said fuel is eroding his bottom line as well.

The retail fallout from gas prices is like a thunderstorm rolling in from the west. Stay tuned for the damage reports.

Dillons becomes more plastic friendly — and, no, I don’t mean your credit card

Dillions is now taking plastic bags and plastic shrink wrap for recycling in bins in the front of the stores. The plastic is made into plastic bricks, plastic lumber and more plastic bags. Americans use — and this is an amazing number — 100 billion plastic bags a year, and only 2 percent are recycled.

Warren to Manhattan: Not yet

Bill Warren’s lean and hungry eye for expansion has landed – at least for now – in Manhattan, as reported by the Manhattan Mercury.

The Wichita theater magnate isn’t quite as optimistic as Manhattan city officials in the Mercury story. Warren agreed Monday that he’s going to need specific parking and “deal” assistance from the city.

However, he renewed long-held misgivings about the city’s demographics, calling it “a little small for what we do.”

One big similarity with Oklahoma City, home of Warren’s latest expansion, should be noted, though: Underwhelming, mausoleum-like concrete boxes masquerading as movie theaters.

So there’s no doubt that the home of Willie Wildcat would welcome Warren.

It’s 10 a.m.: Do you know where your oil industry stimulus check is?

Today’s the day, folks: The day when I sign my “economic stimulus” check over to Phillips-Conoco.

An April Zogby poll finds that about 72 percent of Americans share that same level of cynicism about the checks.

I have a strong sense that the only “stimulation” coming from this bi-partisan act of futility will be at the gas pump.

And the check still isn’t in my bank account. Rats.

It’s not easy being Carl Brewer

Or anyone else on the Wichita City Council, if you ask me.

That’s no revelation, but it’s underscored – again – by the council’s open mind on Bill Warren’s red ink on the Old Town theater.

This council has rightly established a precedent of incentivizing downtown development. Cynics call that free money, and a few of them did on in the comments section following our Saturday morning story.

So I’m going to take a stand against those cynics: There’s a lot of development cash across America looking for a place to land, and it’s an investor’s market. If Bill Warren doesn’t invest in Wichita, I can direct you to a parish in Louisiana that’s begging for his money.

Even the most cynical among us surely recognize the need for the city to partner with developers to make downtown grow. This council has been justifiably proactive – with the Warren, with Cowtown, with the Minnesota Guys.