By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – When Jackie and Mark Robin moved to Big Sky in the fall of 1993, they immediately saw a need for fresh fruit and vegetables. The following summer the couple, along with their 18-month-old son Andrew, set up a weekly stand in the Westfork Meadows called The Big Sky Farmer’s Market. Today, The Hungry Moose Market and Deli has locations in Town Center and in the Mountain Mall at Big Sky Resort, and is a flourishing grocery and prepared foods delivery business. Despite Mark’s passing in December 2017, The Moose continues to be a hub of the Big Sky community.
As part of this ongoing series, Jackie Robin shared her thoughts with EBS on what it takes to make it as a small business owner in Big Sky.
Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?
Jackie Robin: Mark was born with a retail gene. He knew how to stock a store, how to relate to customers and vendors, and he worked hard. We both knew early on we needed to have what people were looking for and be open when they expected us to be. I think the fact people can count on The Moose to be there when they need it has been a large part of our success.
EBS: Do you remember your first customer or sale?
J.R.: We sold pumpkins on the front yard while we were setting up the original Hungry Moose Market in 1994. So it was most likely a pumpkin. When we built our store in Town Center and moved over in 2005, our opening was delayed due to heavy rain for the entire month of June. We couldn’t finish the outside patio and sidewalks. Finally we put out a plywood board and a young woman named Irene ran in and bought some cheese. She was our first customer in the new location. She had two dollars and wanted some cheese.
EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?
J.R.: It always gets back to staffing. We need a lot of people to prepare all of that good food and to keep our stores open long, consistent hours every day of the year. We employ over 50 people and provide housing for about 15 of them. Because of the seasonality of a winter and summer resort area, a certain amount of our staff turns over twice a year. That’s a lot of stress on a business and difficult on the year-round management and staff.
EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?
J.R.: There are just more people here. The landscape in 1994 was 500 people who all knew one another. It is simply a larger town with a larger population base, a larger seasonal community and a multitude of people passing through at any given time.
EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?
J.R.: Last night I watched a yellow crescent moon and Mercury set over the perfect triangle of Lone Peak. The moon and the planet arced their way across the peak in the crystal clear, darkening sky. It was breathtaking.
EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky?
J.R.: It was a memorable moment when Mark opened the store one morning in 2004 to find a section of it had been ransacked. One shelf down, empty soy milk containers on the front porch, bulk bins broken. The thieves left behind clumps of thick brown hair and two different sized piles of black scat. It was determined that a sow with two cubs were early morning customers of The Hungry Moose. I don’t think they ever paid their tab.
EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
J.R.: Put in place a strong management team. The value of a business rises when it is not dependent on the “Superman” owner. Those who knew Mark, know that for many years he fit the description of a “Superman” owner. Over time, we hired more and more great people to do the work that needs to get done in a business like ours. It allowed us to take a seven week trip in 2015 and kept the business strong when Mark became ill in the fall of 2016. I know the continued success of The Moose is a legacy to its founding “Superman.”
EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?
J.R.: Be honest and consistent. Be there for your customers. Give back to your community.
EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?
J.R.: I hope The Hungry Moose Market and Deli will continue to be a thriving part of the Big Sky community providing good food and drink and a place to meet up with old friends and new.
EBS: Where do you see Big Sky in 20 years?
J.R.: As long as we keep the health of our community in the forefront, Big Sky can remain as it is: Gorgeous. Vibrant. Clean. An oasis within an increasingly complex world.
EBS: Would you do it all over again?
J.R.: Of course, no question.
The Hungry Moose Market and Deli – by the numbers
- Staff: 50
- Years in business: 24
- Longest serving employee: Lauren Jackson, 13 years