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Making it in Big Sky: Chad and Sarah Oullette of The Cave Spirits and Gifts



By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – In the late ’80s the State of Montana Liquor Division shut down the State Liquor Store in Big Sky and put it out to bid in 1989. Jodean and Doug Bing approached Chad Ouellette about bidding on that liquor license. They were successful in the bid and reopened the Big Sky Liquor Store at Bucks T-4 Lodge from 1990 to 1994. In 2006, Oullette was again approached to purchase the store with partner Scott Johnson from Sidney, Montana. In the beginning they didn’t have very many wholesale accounts, but one by one they started winning them back.

Starting out with 1,200 square feet in the RJS Tower building in Town Center, they quickly realized the need for more space, and in 2007 moved into their current 3,000 square foot space in the Market Place Building, expanding their selection of beer, wine and gifts.

Then came the recession and with it plenty of changes. Chad bought out his partner and his wife Sarah joined the business and took over all gift-buying responsibilities. Chad said he was never so scared in his life, with a wife and three little girls and holding on for dear life, but now they are on the brink of moving into an even larger 5,000 square foot space in the new building under construction across the street from Roxy’s Market this spring.

As part of this ongoing series, the Oullettes shared their thoughts with EBS on the reasoning behind their success and longevity operating a Big Sky small business.

Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?

Chad Oullette: We have always tried to provide excellent customer service. Today more than ever I think customer service is vital to be successful.

EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?

C.O.: The off-seasons have always been tough. We now like to call them shoulder seasons, but you still have to be ready to get through them.

EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?

C.O.: Social media—it’s a full time job keeping up with social media today.

EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?

C.O. I moved to Montana in 1987 and couldn’t believe I got to live in such a beautiful place; I still feel that way today.

EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky?

C.O.: Probably my first run off the tram with my buddy Dave Smith. He has passed on now, but it’s funny how often I think about that day and how much fun we had.

EBS: Why do you think so many new businesses fold relatively quickly?

C.O.: Maybe patience. I think some people start making a little money and spend it instead of saving some for a rainy day and believe me, it will rain.

EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?

C.O.: Know your numbers. The best decision I ever made was hiring an experienced bookkeeper and accountant and then actually listening to them.

EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?

C.O.: Never get stagnant—the second you coast, somebody will pass you by.

EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?

C.O.: With what’s going on in Big Sky right now that’s really hard to answer. We are getting ready to move into our new building with much more square footage than we currently have. Will this be our last move?

The Cave Spirits and Gift – by the numbers

• Staff: 7
• Years in business: 10
• Longest serving employee: David “Cave Dave” Bird, 10 years

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