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MARKETING EMPLACEMENT: Geography and Authenticity

Examples of small businesses that are nicely emplaced in their markets abound. An example exists in another uncelebrated curve on California Highway 180 just a few miles from Kings Canyons the two millennia home of the Famed Sequoia “General Grant.”

While travelers from all corners of the world pass by the Snowline Lodge each summer, only the ones that are late in the day, tired, and concerned at the apparent lack of overnight lodging. Hidden behind a few scraggly pines, 4000 feet in elevation, where the road is closed during snow storms in the winter, the little rough hewn lodge hides behind an old fashioned sitting porch with log top tables, and weather worn old straight chairs. 

The desperate and free-spirited stop to see what this lonely lodge might offer late arrivals. Some lucky ones find a spare room unoccupied during summer the remainder push on into the park to see if they can fair better paying up to twice the price of the Snowline.  The regulars keep the lodge largely full in the summer.

Certainly many who venture into the bar that serves as the lodge lobby, only ask about rooms as a courtesy, having partaken of the manikin lounging on the upright piano as if singing some bawdy bar tune, which contrasts the large antique white bible on the music rack.

In the corner a cheap but authentic portrait of Jack and Jackie Kennedy, represent the newest miscellaneous artifacts both antique and junk. Only the faux modern (only found in Las Vegas) oversized turquoise chairs may be newer. A closer look reveals a clean appearance of the surfaces and a friendly (if toothless) Jeff with his wife Cindy behind the counter.

However in my case, it was my wife who planning our trip found the Snowline online in Google Places. Her research indicated only a few alternatives just outside the park which fit our literary on the way out following a day of hiking. As we pulled into the gravel parking area, I was reminded of a building I had seen to my trip to Kentucky’s hazard county years before. I was assured that she had read great reviews online, but when pressed, admitted she could not find a website, so could not have known what it looked like. Fortunately for her, I clearly remember traveling as a child in the 50’s with my parents, where we stayed in many places like this. I had been to see General Grant, in 1957 as a child when the part was much more remote and primitive than it is now.

Anyway we probably fit into the desperate category as it was 8:00 PM and we knew few alternates were available. As as you may expect our room was fine; extremely clean with new bathrooms.  No TV or air conditioning, but we did have WiFi.  The following morning complementary waffles were offered with fresh coffee and pleasant conversation.

This fun experience is a wonderful example of how market emplacement can work. Jeff, an up-and-coming race car driver, was sidelined when an accident nearly paralyzed him. Following two years of recovery, he worked as a private investigator. Buying Snowline was Cindy’s idea, Jeff tells me while cooking waffles at the 65 year old log bar. “You should have seen this place. . . the previous owner never cleaned up the mud that oozed across the floor from runoff in the back of the place. We had to take out 6 inches of dirt.”  Many more upgrades were described in detail, as explanation of lessons learned as new business owners. Jeff was clearly more than his appearance may have foretold.

Not only had Cindy selected a property that was as well located geographically, it was also so delapited that they bought well; what another experienced in-keeper would have thought too hard to make money on.  The property clearly needed boot strapping. It was a fixer-upper at the very best. Only sweat equity would make this place work, and few would take on such a project. The third emplacement is the clear differentiation from the ordinary motel. The place appeals to those who have stayed in countless motels and appreciate old time authenticity.

We had stayed in the famous grand lodge, The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park Colorado only two weeks before. The elegance and reputation (The Shining) create an authentic grand style tourist experience of over one hundred years ago.  In a completely different way the Snowline Lodge is just as authentic; but a late 40’s rustic log wayside inn. 

Ron Burgess