By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Amy Langmaid relocated to Montana from Vermont in 2006. Upon graduating from Elmira College, the East Coast native took a position working on a U.S. Forest Service fire crew in Whitehall, Montana for the summer, before becoming a Nordic ski instructor at Lone Mountain Ranch. Langmaid continued to share her world split between the seasonal positions for roughly three years, until she ultimately decided to make the laps and open the Rhinestone Cowgirl storefront in Big Sky’s Town Center.
Langmaid recalls when she first suggested the idea of opening a retail store in Big Sky Town Center to her husband, Tucker Vanyo, and his business partners who operate JP Woolies in the Big Sky Mountain Mall.
“They were like ‘Nah.’ And then Tucker’s like, “Why don’t you do it?” So I did,” she said.
Now, approaching Rhinestone Cowgirl’s seven year anniversary, Langmaid says COVID-19 has presented her with new challenges from suppliers ceasing distribution for the season to working towards establishing an online shopping option on her store’s website.
While some changes and adaptations are unfamiliar territory, she felt the situation is at times reminiscent of trying to open a new business all over again. Langmaid recently spoke with EBS to discuss the current business climate as well as reflect on her tactics and takeaways as a business owner during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Explore Big Sky: Overall, how has business been this season?
Amy Langmaid: “Business has been good. I do rely a lot on events for my sales. So, things like PBR and the concert, it just gets people here, it gets people needing certain outfits for whatever they’re doing. Even like down to weddings and the galas … people shop at my store for those things and without having all of those events this summer I’ve definitely noticed a dip in my sales. I definitely have noticed there are more people in Big Sky, but it’s not necessarily shoppers all the time. A lot of people are out biking and hiking and horseback riding and stuff like that, that they can’t do at home.”
EBS: Working in the retail industry, what do you believe has been the biggest adjustment from an operational standpoint as you try to best serve consumers?
A.L.: “Trying to figure out, do I get my online platform going? Do I change up my hours? Basically, it’s like starting the business all over again. … Operationally, I would say, I’m back at square one guessing again.”
EBS: Have there been any lapses in your supply chain limiting your inventory at any time due to COVID-19?
A.L.: “So fortunately, the large majority of things that I purchase for the shop, I purchase way in advance. So, on one hand that’s good because I got stuff ordered well before I even knew about COVID, however on the other hand that’s kind of scary because some stuff came in that I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I need this anymore.’ But I’ve been having a really hard time getting my Stetson hats in and I know that they’ve been having kind of a hard time distributing them and keeping their stock up.”
EBS: Do you believe society will return to “normal” or what everyone was accustomed to before the pandemic?
A.L.: “I think places like Big Sky maybe will have more of a sense of normalcy. Just judging from people who have visited and are coming from other places, what they’ve said is that Big Sky feels more like how it was before. I think because we have more space and we have more opportunities for people to be outside and really even if we are busy we have way fewer people. So, we are able to keep things spread out [and] even if we are feeling like we’re busyish, it’s not busy compared to a city. So, I think Big Sky yes, we eventually will move towards a more normal way of life.”
EBS: As a business owner, how do you remain successful and profit during a pandemic?
A.L.: “Basically, just staying open is a big thing and when everything was completely shut down I was doing a lot of social media posting and a lot of mailing things out. [Also] trying to keep in touch with my customers because I have built up a fairly consistent customer base over the years that I’ve been open and if I’m able to maintain my relationship with them, they want me to succeed. So, a lot of them continue to buy things from me as opposed to buying things online.”
EBS: If you were asked to reflect on silver linings in these unprecedented times, what would you highlight and why?
A.L.: “I would say that the shutdown in the beginning really gave me and my family time to spend together, where a lot of times in Big Sky you end up working so much during the time when everyone wants to be outside. You end up working a ton during the summer and a ton during the winter and this sort of allowed us to go camping and rafting and [be] doing things that we don’t get to do as often together because we’re all working like crazy.”
EBS: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
A.L.: “A successful business is one where you know what’s happening in your business. You don’t have people run it for you, you run your business yourself.”