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Making it in Big Sky

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Kelly Piccardo opened up Antlers Clothing Company 18 months ago with an entrepreneurial mindset, a good fashion sense, and a drive to continually improve her modern haberdashery. PHOTO BY DOUG HARE

Antlers Clothing Company: Q & A with Kelly Piccardo

EBS STAFF

Kelly Piccardo remembers visiting Big Sky during the summers with her family, whitewater rafting trips, and excursions to Yellowstone National Park. She credits those fond childhood memories for what eventually drew her to Montana full time. “I was probably ten years old and unaware that this was even a ski town,” she said with a laugh. The Tulsa, Oklahoma native attended Southern Methodist University near Dallas, Texas concentrating in early childhood education, English literature, and photography—a triple threat—as she calls it.

Piccardo was reluctant at first to sit down for an interview because she says that she doesn’t feel like she’s ‘made it’ quite yet, especially considering that she opened the Antlers Clothing Company less than two years ago. That attitude combined with her entrepreneurial spirit and knack for stocking her store with unique, timeless styles will almost guarantee that she will indeed ‘make it’ in this town.

When Explore Big Sky did eventually meet up with Piccardo in her modern haberdashery tucked in the heart of Town Center across from The Rocks Tasting Room, she offered candid answers about running a business, handling the seasonality of Big Sky, and her philosophy of retail while Grateful Dead jams played faintly in the impeccably manicured storefront.

Explore Big Sky: You moved here about a decade ago from Dallas. What initially drew you to live in a ski town in Montana?

Kelly Piccardo: My dad had lived in Big Sky. I missed him and loved visiting him. I was just done with the city life and wanted a change of pace. What I thought would be one summer turned into a decade. Big Sky is like that—it just sucks you in and you never want to leave.

EBS: Can you tell me more about your employment history since moving here?

K.P.: When I first moved here I worked at Morningstar {Learning Center] as a teacher, then I went to Grizzly [Outfitters] and then I started Antlers [Clothing Company] in July of 2018.

EBS: You come from a family of entrepreneurs. Can you tell me how your parents have influenced your perspective on operating a small business?

K.P.: It goes back even further than my parents. My grandparents, all four of them, were entrepreneurs and it was instilled in me from a very young age that if you want something you need to work extremely hard for it. They told me that the work day doesn’t end when you turn off the open sign. You’re always thinking about your small business and working towards your goals. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have but it’s the most rewarding one—to work for yourself.

EBS: Tell me a little bit about your philosophy of retail. For starters, how did you go about finding which brands to put in your store?

K.P.: Retail should be fun. It should always be evolving and changing because fashion trends change and you need to keep it interesting. If you carry the same stuff year-round, people aren’t going to come back. For choosing my brands, I thought about who my customers were going to be, what kind of money they would be willing to spend, having different price points because Big Sky has a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds so you need to a little bit of everything for everyone.

EBS: What is something that you wish you had known before starting your own company in Big Sky—something you’ve learned in the last year and a half?.

K.P.: How many people would ask, “Where is the women’s section?” It’s kind of funny. We’re a men’s store. That’s been my concept from day one. However, I learned over the first 18 months of being open that I need to have other things besides men’s clothing and footwear to get those women customers to come in. So I’ve picked up things like candles, socks, koozies, Stetson hats and, to me, things that are unisex and get women customers in the door as well. And I do sell a lot of clothes to women, which is fun. I love that.

EBS: What is the best business advice that you’ve received over the years?

K.P.: Maintain consistency with hours even during the slow times. If your hours are 11-7, don’t close up shop at 6:30 p.m. even if you haven’t had anyone stop in in the last hour. It’s really, really hard to abide by but it’s so important. That one person might come by after you close and then never come back. It’s hard but it’s worth it.

EBS: How does the seasonality of Big Sky impact your bottom line? How did you approach the ebbs and flows of sales

K.P.: I have my orders come in when people are here. I don’t place big orders coming in October or May because there just aren’t enough people here to shop it.

EBS: What is the biggest obstacle that you face running a business in a Montana ski town?

K.P.: This isn’t going to be a new one: the offseason. Retail is a rollercoaster in Big Sky. You have such a long shoulder season here and you might not see people for a while, but you have to make a list and do inventory and keep yourself busy.

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