By Sarah Gianelli
EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – Like nearly all the businesses EBS has featured in this column, Grizzly Outfitters had humble beginnings. Owners Andrew Schreiner and Ken Lancey opened their first shop in what is now the lobby of American Bank in the spring of 1994. As two young friends who met in Big Sky Resort’s rental shop, they tried their luck by renting bikes and selling t-shirts and Frisbees.
The following winter, they converted the 852-square-foot space into a full service ski shop. In their second winter, the tram opened and they expanded Grizzly into the space next door and used it for ski rentals. In 1998, Grizzly moved to the Meadow Village Center, and increased their inventory and employees.
During the summer of 2005 they rolled the dice again and built their current location in Town Center, where they have gradually expanded their ski rental and repair services, as well as the bike shop in the summer. In 2013, they added a dedicated fly shop and ski rental location in the canyon.
As part of this ongoing series, Schreiner and Lancey shared their thoughts with EBS about what it takes to make it as small business owners in Big Sky. They collaborated on the answers below.
Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?
Grizzly Outfitters: Living, volunteering, playing, raising kids and working in a community that we care very much about. We don’t focus on the competition; instead we have stayed focused on our customer. We give them the experience they expect while on vacation.
EBS: Do you remember your first customer or first sale?
G.O.: Marc Noel and his family were our first customers and they still come into the shop every time they’re in town.
EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?
G.O.: Seasonality is a huge hurdle. Big Sky still is busy for six months and not busy for six months. For us specifically, being dependent on the weather is a source of stress. We’re always eager to get the next snowstorm.
EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?
G.O.: Big Sky has become a more cohesive community; it’s now much less divided from the mountain to the meadow all the way through the canyon. Collaboration from all areas has made the tide rise and has helped our boat rise along the way.
EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?
G.O.: Big Sky is our home and there is no place like it.
EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky?
G.O.: During the recession, we hosted a “Black Friday Cost Sale” from 5 to 8 a.m. to raise some cash and help the locals of Big Sky get into some cheap gear. Pretty much the entire town showed up with a line of 30 people at the door at 4:30 in the morning. Let’s just say it wasn’t terribly profitable but it was a success in terms of helping out the community during a rough time. People still talk about it.
EBS: What was a business idea that didn’t work?
G.O.: I don’t dare to comment—trends are always changing, and you have to constantly adjust and perfect your own operation to keep it relevant, fun and profitable.
EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
G.O.: “If you work, you will succeed. If you don’t, you will fail … it’s as simple as that.”
EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?
G.O.: Stay open through the off-seasons to maintain a base of loyal locals. Post your hours and stick to them. Manage your cash flow.
EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?
G.O.: Hopping, just like the town of Big Sky.
EBS: Where do you see Big Sky in 20 years?
G.O.: Being the best town to live in and visit in the Rocky Mountain West.
EBS: Would you do it all over again?
G.O.: Without a doubt.
Grizzly Outfitters: by the numbers
• Staff: 12-30 seasonally
• Years in business: 24
• Longest serving employee: Andy Haynes, full-time, 6 years; Nick Turner, winter, 9 years