According to a business profile from the United States Small Business Office of Advocacy, small businesses make up 99.30 percent of all businesses in the state, meaning there are 117,149 small businesses in operation in Montana. In Madison County alone, nearly 98 percent of employment comes from small businesses, as stated in the profile.
“You’re supporting your community and putting everything back into your community,” said Melissa Murphy.
Murphy manages a small gift store along Twin Bridges’ Main Street, and said she feels good about supporting her community and other Montana owned and operated businesses. Selling mostly Montana-made products, Murphy and her team offer unique options for locals and tourists, while building relationships with customers and vendors.
“It’s more personal and I get to talk directly with my vendors and customers and they know they’re going to get unique products,” she said.
Nov. 25 is recognized as Small Business Saturday – the point is to encourage shoppers to look to their local business and stores, versus large corporations or online. With Black Friday taking over the Thanksgiving holiday, Small Business Saturday is a chance for the little guys to fight back.
Chelsee Mahsman is the operating manager for a business in downtown Ennis and is leading the charge in the Madison Valley to promote local shopping. Working with other local businesses, Mahsman created a Shop Small Passport in an effort to band the community together, while promoting local shopping.
“I am creating a Shop Small Passport, which will be distributed to shoppers,” she said. “As shoppers visit each business they receive a stamp in their passport. If they return a completed passport by the end of the day they will receive chamber cash to be used around town.”
With 14 Ennis businesses participating in the Shop Small Passport, Mahsman said the event is a way for shops to make a bigger impact.
“The point of Small Business Saturday is for people to opt out of Black Friday shopping and think local and small instead,” she said. “Small businesses make the town unique and we need them.”
Competing with the big dogs
Ann Goldthwait owns a gift store in Sheridan and much like Murphy and Mahsman, enjoys the personal connection she gets running a small business.
“I’m always meeting new and interesting people, which helps me to keep my shop evolving,” Goldthwait said.
Goldthwait said she tries to keep the store interesting and affordable while highlighting mostly Montana artists and vendors.
“That’s important,” she said of keeping her store uniquely Montana. “By supporting Montana artists, we’re keeping money in the state.”
But Goldthwait said there are many challenges to owning and operating a small business.
“I’m pretty much tied to the shop,” she said, adding she does have some employees to help.
“It can be tough to compete with bigger corporations,” added Murphy.
But unlike small businesses, the Walmarts and Targets of the world are unable to offer one very specific, and important, experience to their shoppers.
“Visitors to my store get a very personal experience,” said Goldthwait. “I know a lot about my customers and they know a lot about me.”
Cathy Toot recently opened a new art gallery and studio in Ennis and said being able to connect with her shoppers and artists on a personal level is something she cherishes.
“It’s that idea that you get individual attention,” Toot said. “You’re not going to find that at Target.”
Mahsman said small business often have a limited customer base and smaller buying power, which can be a challenge.
“However, we’re able to try new and unique things and it doesn’t hurt the bottom line,” she said.
One of a kind
One common theme within the small business community is support, especially through Montana made products.
“Here, customers can see a lot of Montana work and meet the artists and know that the painting they just bought isn’t mass produced,” said Toot.
Goldthwait and Murphy also appreciate being able to provide customers with unique Montana gifts while being able to support Montana artists.
“There are so many wonderful artists and I get to do my part showcasing some of them,” said Goldthwait.
A sense of community
Small businesses contribute to the local economy, provide jobs and create diversity within the community. Highlighting Montana made products and artists, shopping small is a way to know exactly what you are getting and who you are getting it from, while providing shoppers with a feeling of doing good for their local economy. So, after you have stuffed yourself with turkey and shared your thanks, be sure to show appreciation for Madison County’s small businesses on Nov. 25.