By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Sitting at the turnoff to Big Sky from Highway 191, the Conoco is the only gas station between Big Sky and Gallatin Gateway. Billed as Big Sky’s “one stop shop since 1993,” the family-owned convenience store offers a little bit of everything from the basics (beer, soda, snacks) to hunting/fishing licenses, firewood, propane cylinders, DVD rentals and sales, and, of course, gas. Operating inside the Conoco, Sliders Deli provides grab-and-go or sit-down hot and cold breakfast and lunch items.
As part of this ongoing series, Renae Schumacher, who co-owns the Conoco with her husband Steve Schumacher, shared her thoughts with EBS on the reasoning behind their success and longevity as a Big Sky small business.
Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?
Renae Schumacher: Location, location, location. Besides that, I have worked very hard over the years and have enjoyed the journey it’s taken to get here. I think I’ve built up some long-term relationships between customers and employees. I try to treat them all with the same respect I would want in return.
EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?
R.S.: When I first moved to Big Sky, there was a sewer moratorium in effect and there was no new construction taking place. The offseason months were extremely quiet and very difficult on the businesses. There was a lot of sagebrush in the meadow with only a few bars, restaurants and retail shops.
EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky?
R.S.: There have been several, but the one the seems to come to mind quickest is getting to wait on and rent videos to John F. Kennedy, Jr., while he and his wife Carolyn were spending the New Year’s holiday in Big Sky.
EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?
R.S.: First of all, the affordability of a location in Big Sky. Secondly, surviving the seasonality of running a business here.
EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?
R.S.: Well, I didn’t move to Big Sky to start a business. It was a personal choice after college. After meeting my husband shortly thereafter, we decided to make this our home and raise our family. We love Big Sky and would have done anything to stay here.
EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?
R.S.: Don’t start a business to get rich and work less. It requires a lot of effort and perseverance to survive in this town.
EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
R.S.: I think I’ve built my business around my life, not my life around my business. With that being said, I was always told to do the best that you can and do what you say you’re going to do.
EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?
R.S.: Since I don’t have any room to expand and [with] my building being built in 1972, I hope to continue to provide a fresh face to the entrance of Big Sky, keep up with technology by possibly adding some electric fueling stations and continue to meet the needs and demands of my customers.
Big Sky Conoco – by the numbers
• Staff: 15-20
• Years in business: 25
• Longest serving employee: Michelle Denning, 12 years