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Pent up demand
By Dave Kiffer

July 18, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - One of the first rules in marketing is to find the pent up demand and then supply it.

Over time, it would be harder to find a place with more pent up demand than Ketchikan. As an example, just about every time a new retail or dining opportunity arises, it is swamped by local interest.
jpg Dave Kiffer Column

That is not to imply that every new venture succeeds. The history of Ketchikan is littered with failed restaurants and stores. But that is usually because bad management that ends up turning off the potential customers. In Ketchikan early "bad buzz" is almost never overcome.

I'm sure that Ketchikan's isolation plays a part in its excitement over anything "new." That and the fact that despite our constant complaining about the state of the local economy we all seem to have plenty of disposable income to dispose of at what ever grand opening strikes our fancy.

I was thinking about pent up demand the other day when I caught part of the tour presentation on one of Ketchikan's vehicular tours as it past me on the street. I won't say which one it was, but suffice it to say that it was moving so slowly that I heard two or three minutes worth of the tour as it passed by. You know which one it was!

The tour guide noted that when the giant "big box" retailer opened on the north end of town a couple of years ago, that it "set nationwide records by doing several million dollars worth of business in its first couple of days of operation."

I don't know it that's true. You can't always assume the facts that are presented on summer tours are indeed the facts. But I wouldn't be surprised if the "big box" did break records. There is nothing Ketchikan residents like more than the opening of a prominent national retailer in our fair Salmon City.

Since the 1970s, I have seen several national stores or franchises open to booming business simply because locals are always looking for a new adventure, especially when it comes to dining or shopping or even both.

The first I remember enjoyed some fortuitous timing. A national fast food franchise (won't say the name, but they "treat you right") opened up during Southeast Basketball tournament my junior year of high school. With some 500 additional high school students in town, it did indeed set company records for biggest opening day and opening week sales. Shortly thereafter, another franchise ( finger lickin' good!) also opened to record sales. Now neither of those franchises survived more than a few years, but as I noted before, it wasn't because locals suddenly lost their taste for the product.

The next example was the world's largest fast food operation. For years, it had a rule that it wouldn't locate in any community that had under 50,000 in population because it was felt that smaller population areas wouldn't generate enough volume.

For years, people interested in a local franchise argued that the company was missing the pent up demand. Finally, the company relaxed its rules enough to open franchises in the second and third largest cities in the state and was pleased with the results. Ketchikan then got its first franchise in the early 1980s.

The day before it was set to open people started to get in line. At 4 am, two hours before opening, the line stretched nearly all the way around the Plaza. Not surprisingly, it opened to record sales and that high volume continues to this day. Twenty years is a lot of pent up demand!

Of course not every new marketing "opportunity" is met with such enthusiasm here. And we don't always fall prey to every national trend that hits. Remember the espresso fad that crashed onto our shores a few years back. Suddenly you could find espresso every where. Espresso at the grocery strore. Espresso at the hardware store. Espresso at the auto parts store. Espresso at the bank.

There are still a few drive or walk in espresso purveyors in town (don't get me started on the dangers of "foaming" and driving) but it was clear that the market was certainly a bit "oversaturated."

All this pondering of pent-up demand is of interest to me because As I write this, a large number of the youth of Ketchikan are "foaming" at the mouth in rapt anticipation of the release of the new Harry Potter book. They can tell the exact minute it will become available at Ketchikan book stores, and yes there will be a line.

My four year old son can't read, but that doesn't put a damper on his "pent up demand."

Driving home in the car the other day he said "Daddy, can I tell you a secret?"

"Yes, Liam," I answered.

"Harry Potter is coming, Daddy," he smiled.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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