Shopping survey shows millions spent in Fresno

editor@sierrastar.comDecember 3, 2013 

A first-ever survey analyzing the behavior of Mountain Area consumers reveals what many have known for years — A large amount of consumer dollars — about $147 million — is spent annually in Fresno by residents of Eastern Madera County. That number is from the top five consumer categories — clothing, shoes, groceries, housewares and home improvement — and does not include expenditures on other goods and services.

Released during the Christmas shopping season, and in the shadow of the annual 'shop local' campaign of area chambers of commerce, the survey of 380 residents of Eastern Madera County, shows the average resident of the the Mountain Area shops outside the county twice a month, spending about $540 monthly.

The largest of respondents to the survey were North Fork residents (158 - 42%), followed by Oakhurst (92 - 25%), and Coarsegold (67 - 18%). Bass Lake, Wishon Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lakes Park, O'Neals, and Raymond combined for 57 (15%).

The average age of survey respondent was 52.

The survey was conducted by the North Fork Chamber of Commerce in partnership with California State University, Fresno, and Yosemite/Sequoia Resource Conservation & Development Council, to identify the tendency of Eastern Madera County residents to seek goods and services outside the Mountain Area, primarily in Fresno.

According to the survey, the most popular stores Mountain Area residents spend their money at include Costco (16%), Walmart (14%), Target 14%), Lowe's (6%), and Trader Joe's (6%). Other Fresno stores popular with Mountain Area residents are Home Depot, Winco, Kohl's, Best Buy, Sam's Club, and Macy's.

According to Neil O'Brien, a California State University, Fresno economics student, serving an internship with the North Fork Chamber of Commerce, in addition to the lost $147 million, an additional $1.5 million in county sales tax is being lost annual.

Marsh and O'Brien have written a letter to Mountain Area residents asking them to shop local as much as they can. The full text of the letter can be seen on page A10.

Darin Soukup, executive director of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce, credited the North Fork chamber with doing a great job of bringing the importance of shopping local to the forefront this holiday season.

Oakhurst chamber Mountain Money promotion

"The Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce has been working recently with local merchants and retailers to develop a strategy to strengthen our local economy," Soukup said. "A new shop local campaign is being rolled out — "Shop Local – Save Gas – Save Time – Save Jobs."

Part of the campaign includes 'Mountain Money," a gift certificate program designed to keep shopping dollars in Eastern Madera County this holiday season. Mountain Money can be purchased in $5 denominations and used just like cash in a number of area stores and restaurants.

"Mountain Money makes a great gift because the recipient can choose where to spend them," Soukup said. "By purchasing Mountain Money, area residents can feel good to know that they are supporting their neighbors, friends and family, in addition to keeping sales tax dollars in the county for better roads, schools and other services."

Soukup said Mountain Money gift certificates can be used beyond Christmas — for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, retirements, and other special occasions.

"Mountain Money certificates are perfect as thank yous, incentives, bonuses, or to celebrate important milestones," Soukup said.

Soukup said promotional placards, decals, and literature will be available to local merchants or retailers that would like to participate. Interested businesses are asked to call the chamber at (559) 683-7766 for additional details.

In addition, many of our local shop owners have developed grass root type networks to help each other cross promote their sales, events and other advertising campaigns.

The Chamber is working on coming alongside these networks and supporting their efforts, rather than duplicating what is already being done amongst the local merchants.

Soukup said the Oakhurst chamber will begin to work with local businesses to help them turn the terms of competition in their favor.

"Our area merchants can focus on providing a quality and unique shopping experience, excellent customer service, and personalized solutions rather than one size fits all," Soukup said. "Our chamber will continue to work with other chambers in our area and the Yosemite/Sequoia Resource Conservation & Development Council in promoting the "Think Local First" campaign."

Bigger picture

"The seasonal nature of the tourism industry calls for an economic analysis of this extent because the viability of small-town local economies depend on liquidity entering, remaining in circulation, and never leaving the community," O'Brien said.

"The survey is just part of a multi-faceted study we are working on," Scott Marsh, president of the North Fork chamber said. "The Valley is doing a good job of concentrating on light industry and agriculture. The big economic driver in the Mountain Area is tourism and I feel we can do a better job of serving the visitors to the area."

Marsh said there are five categories where a visitor spends their money while on vacation — family activities, outdoor recreation, luxury goods (spa services and high end retail), lodging and dinning, and feels Eastern Madera County provides only two of the categories — pillars — lodging and dining.

"We have some outdoor activity and family recreation in our area but we need to develop our visitor experience so we can capture more of the visitor's dollars on a year-long basis, which in turn provides jobs for our area."

Marsh said a 2011 annual report by Visit California on tourist spending in Yosemite gateway communities shows that Madera County captures only $93 per visitor to the county, compared to $2,900 captured by Mono County, $1,700 by Mariposa County, and $156 by Tuolumne County per visitor.

Marsh said not all merchants in the Mountain Area do not have the information on what a visitor's expectations are — "This is something the chambers and the visitor bureau need to pull together and share this info with the business community.

As an example, Marsh said the largest segment of foreign visitors to California are Chinese and Japanese.

"But when you go to the Oakhust visitor center you see very few if any rack cards or brochures printed in Chinese or Japanese," Marsh said.

Copies of the consumer behaviors survey summary are available at the North Fork chamber office, 33037 Road 222, North Fork, or on line at north-fork-chamber.com. Details: Scott Marsh, North Fork Chamber of Commerce, (559) 877-2410, northforkvc@gmail.com.

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