Q&A with Tanya Johnson
By Doug Hare EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – A native of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tanya Johnson moved to the United States in her early 20s where she met her husband Andrew, eventually moving to Colorado. Now a family of four, with daughters Nicole (8) and Summer (2), the Johnsons were drawn towards southwest Montana for the same reasons that many families with young children end up in Big Sky: a strong school system and a host of outdoor activities to instill a love of nature in their kids early on.
Seven months ago, in early June, Johnson opened Sky Boutique in Town Center Plaza, a thriving dining and shopping district. Now with one full time and one part-time employee, Sky Boutique saw brisk business even during the shoulder season and, given its close proximity to The Wilson Hotel, should see plenty of foot traffic during the ski season.
Holding a master’s degree in trade and economics, it was no surprise that Johnson had lucid answers to our questions about opening a small business in a ski town, commerce in Big Sky, and how better economic data could help local proprietors more accurately forecast their sales projections given the time of year.
Explore Big Sky: What initially drew you to live in a ski town in Montana? Where were you based out of before making the move to Big Sky?
Tanya Johnson: We lived in Breckenridge, Colorado. Breckenridge became busy and crowded, so we moved to Big Sky for its lack of crowds and traffic, and especially the great schools here and beautiful mountains of course.
EBS: Can you tell me more about your history in retail? How did you find your niche in managing women’s clothing boutiques?
T.J.: I’ve always had a passion for fashion and when I started working in a boutique in Breckenridge, I found I really enjoyed working in the boutique atmosphere by providing a personal touch while assisting a customer in discovering something special in an intimate and relaxed setting.
EBS: Tell me a little bit about your philosophy of retail. For starters, how did you go about finding which brands and types of accessories to put in your storefront?
T.J.: Actually, [it’s somewhat] the opposite. I like to get a feel for a place and the people who live or vacation there. Then I go on the search for the unique and tasteful things that best reflect their desires and needs. Personal touch and great customer service!
EBS: What is something that you wish you had known before starting your own company in Big Sky?
T.J.: It was very difficult to near impossible finding data regarding Big Sky’s population and visitors, spending statistics and such. There is very little information to go on. Most of what we had to go on were newspaper articles about the town of Big Sky and Big Sky Resort development and real estate, our observations while visiting here, and the Big Sky Resort Area District tax historical data.
EBS: What is the best business advice that you’ve received over the years?
T.J.: Prepare a conservative and thorough business plan. Poke holes in it. Revise and improve it. Then keep updating it after the business opens, especially the financials.
EBS: Who has been the most memorable customer that you’ve had in the store so far? Why?
T.J.: We are very grateful for each and everyone who shops at our store and always very thankful for their support. Also, seeing returning customers makes us feel very happy.
EBS: What is the biggest obstacle that you face running a business in a Montana ski town?
T.J.: Boutiques have to remain relevant to boutique shoppers and their likes and desires. However, Big Sky is far removed from most of the centers of fashion. So I am constantly researching for next season’s trends, and I have to make sure to travel to find the best there is to offer. Finding the right employees was a challenge, so we are very thankful for our two employees!
EBS: How does the seasonality of Big Sky impact your bottom line? How did you approach the ebbs and flows of sales throughout the year?
T.J.: We have to plan our financials to best take advantage of the high seasons of summer and winter, and build in a buffer to carry us through the shoulder seasons. Being this is our first year, this is still a very theoretical practice. However, we had a great summer and fall. Now, we are excited to see if the winter and spring do as well for us.
EBS: Do you find yourself with many customers who are staying at The Wilson Hotel? Do you think that it has a potential to make Town Center a more robust shopping district?
T.J.: Being located on Town Center Plaza definitely gives our store great exposure for boutique shoppers. The Wilson Hotel and Blue Buddha [Sushi Lounge] both drive traffic toward the Town Center Plaza as well. As development around the plaza continues, and the special events increase there, it will only make this a greater draw for everyone—especially boutique shoppers, we hope.
EBS: How has the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce been helpful in making Sky Boutique a reality?
T.J.: The promotion and exposure the Chamber gave us for our opening and Small Business Saturday was great too. Big Sky Town Center’s promotion of our store and promotion of the plaza and special events there have been extremely beneficial to us as well.