I continue to be amazed by the people who take a chance on my store.
We are a new concept, low-key, hard to find, and very small. I see the folks who choose to venture from their normal routine and swing through as open-minded, adventurous, or maybe just desperate. Whatever their motivation, they usually come back, which is awesome. But even awesomer are the conversations I get to have with the wide variety of Bozemanites.
Nearly everyone has a bit of advice, support, or opinion to pass along. I welcome it and maybe they sense that, but I've also learned to take it with a grain of salt. Here are some of the bits of information I've received in the last month:
I've often discussed the community support, but I haven't said much about the negative feedback. That's because I'm told to ignore it (I don't) and usually it is a lot of nonsense. We haven't actually got negative feedback from any customers, but we are aware of the haters out there. Before we even opened, I was amazed at the number of Negative Nancies who rejected or scoffed at my business idea. Sure, some folks just don't think about the people on the receiving end of their cynicism (*ahem local newspaper comment section dwellers), but others legitimately don't want this business to succeed. Whether they are bitter, insecure, or just hate local business and only want the corporate giants of the world to succeed, I know their issues are personal and not actually related to our drive-thru market.
But it is still surprising how many unhappy people there are in the world, trying to project their psychological problems onto my small business.
I am a social worker by trade. Kids and families, seniors, poverty, mental health, inner-city homelessness, people with disabilities and disadvantages and dysfunction... you name it. My desire to help others solve problems is likely a huge contributor to me running with this business idea. And my passion remains advocating for people. Even with the variety people I've worked with with over the years, I'm still intrigued by the folks that come to my window to buy chicken breast, baked beans, and bananas.
In such a short period of time (because we are so fast!), I learn a little bit about each of them. I'm also learning a lot about the people who haven't come to my window (because that's what good business owners think about), and the haters out there (because they really really want to be heard). Although Bozeman is very homogeneous at first glance, I'm pleasantly surprised at the variety of tastes, opinions, and personalities I see through my window.
One thing virtually everyone agrees on: I should sell beer.
Here's why I haven't started doing that... yet: you cannot sell beer thru a window in Montana. Not a drive-up window or a walk-up window. I will likely cave on the issue and start selling a limited variety of booze in the future, but customers will have to park, get out of their cars, and come into the building, which is something I wanted to avoid. I also want to make sure we are comfortable with our systems and procedures before I introduce another twist. But I can promise, even though you'll have to get out of your car, it will still be speedier and more convenient than the grocery store or gas station!
I'll sign off with my all-time favorite feedback from a younger customer: "these buns are good, but Bethany's buns are the best!". I can't argue with you there, kid.
I often wonder why I own a grocery store. It's really weird.
And not only that, but why would I want to own a business at all?! Everyone knows it's crazy.
There is an organized, multi-tasking, restless, project-tackling, side of me that embraces this venture like it's a no-brainer.
But there's also the reclusive, anxious, private, paranoid side that doesn't want the weight of responsibility or feeling over-exposed, that wakes up in a cold sweat at night wondering what the heck I'm doing.
Sometimes I have to spell out the positives, so I don't totally panic over the ridiculousness of it all.
1. It doesn't take much for us to do OK. The overhead in this store is very low, so the potential to be successful is relatively good. Selling groceries isn't lucrative but I believe it can be sustainable because of our small size.
2. It's my She Shack. We live in a very small house. And because we are trying to be responsible grown-ups, we will be for a little while longer. This store is a nice, quiet, clean place to hang out where I (or my husband) have some breathing room and an office space.
3. It really is a fun adventure. As much trouble as starting a business is, it's also been a great ride.
I've gotten closer to my husband, gained newfound respect for him, and increased gratitude for his amazing support and embracing of this venture. . For our next journey, I think I'll let him pick.
4. I actually have more time with my kids. I'm not sure how that worked out but despite being busier, we have much more time together. Even though the store is our hideaway, it's also really kid-friendly and fun to hang with the kiddos at. We've all adjusted to this surreal grocer life quite nicely.
Our store has been open for almost one month.
What??! That's crazy talk.
The transition from business startup to business operation has been both shockingly smooth and surprisingly difficult. In many ways, it's like we've always been here. In other ways, it's a whole new world.
It's been so fun chatting with everyone that has come through, old friends and new. We already have repeat customers and there continues to be lots of excitement about the store. When I visit places to give menus and introduce myself, people say "hey, you're the drive-thru grocery lady!". Yes. Yes I am.
In just 3 weeks we've already made (what feels like) all the amateur mistakes.
We over-estimated things. We under-estimated things. We completely forgot things. We mislabeled things and mispriced things and wasted things. Ugh.
Sometimes I hear a beeping noise inside the store and I don't know where it's coming from.
It's actually pretty amazing how many things you can miss in a 240 square foot space. It's humbling and I'm sure will continue to be so.
I'm a little worried about all the things I have yet to learn in coming months.
The learning curve isn't unique to us. Anyone can predict the missteps and hurdles a new business will have. All the advice about starting a small businesses is true, but of course you have to experience it firsthand to learn it. And yet it's SO HARD for me to keep cool, be patient, and not obsess about every error, even though I know it's all normal growing pains.
I take everything with this business personally.
I'm choosing to see that as a strength that will help us problem-solve, adjust, and pay attention to detail as we grow. We want to be an asset to this community and I truly believe our small size and personalized approach is vital toward that goal.
But I also see our contribution as a collaboration. We can't do it alone and we need your input. Please drop us a line with any feedback, comments, ideas, or concerns. We want to hear from you!
And THANK YOU for your support!!
took the kids to the annual Easter egg hunt this morning. It was mostly miserable because it was snowing and freezing cold and one of them was crying a lot. The husband was out putting up our sign (yay!), so I had to manage the kids and their lack of dexterity on my own.
I'm amazed I've been able to spend any time at all with them this last month of getting everything ready, but I have. They've been at the store helping out, we had several mommy-daughter dates, and the littlest is curled up by my side while I write this blog post. We still eat (albeit increasingly less fancy) meals together and read books before bed. Because no matter how crazy things are, people make time for their priorities.
We are a busy and hard-working culture. The hours between school or work and bedtime are precious and we shouldn't have to spend it running errands. The concept behind the store is to help alleviate that chaos and inconvenience, so making time for priorities is just a little bit simpler.
I still have no idea how this will go. The community response has been incredible. So many folks have reached out to show their support and encouragement. And of course my friends and family have been amazing. But I have my doubts because I'm an anxious person and I don't really know how to not worry.
Regardless, the store opens on Monday and we are ready. I know this is just the beginning of an adventure, not the finish line. There will be ongoing hurdles, frustrations, and new fears that I haven't even thought of yet. But I have wonderful employees, quality products, great prices, and a valuable service to offer our community.
Parents are amazing. Yesterday I got the kids to school and daycare, went to 3 stores for last minute opening stuff, visited the post office, bought supplies for the Easter baskets, and got to the shop to meet a delivery, all before 10:00am.
I hope this little drive-thru is successful enough that we all don't have to work quite as hard to get the little things done. And we can all focus on bigger, better things.
Happy Easter everyone, see you next week!
When I started this adventure, I wanted to be transparent and show all the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes stuff that occurred. But then I realized it was really embarrassing. There is a lot of eating crow, feeling over-exposed, making stupid mistakes, and doubting yourself. So I've tried to find the balance between honesty and protecting my dignity. But to tell the truth (for the sake of keeping it real), I've hidden much of the raw, amateur, stumbling-through-this process that has occurred. It is humbling and I'm sure will continue to be so after we open.
And I'm becoming OK with that.
We are within weeks of opening the store. I'm so excited about the employees we've hired, the products we're going to sell, and the way everything is coming together. I've realized the biggest factor in this store developing is my tenacity. I have a lot of other skills that have helped: organization, efficiency, passion for working with people, and a sense of humor have all been useful. But my drive to push through the discomfort, tell the doubt that creeps in to "shut up", and keeping my eyes on the goal is what has been getting the job done. So I may not always be forthcoming with "all" that's going on behind the scenes, but I'm getting more comfortable admitting that it's messy and nerve-wracking. And I'm doing it anyway.
Because I'm now Bozeman's leading expert on opening a drive-thru grocery store kiosk.
I've mentioned that starting a business is difficult, right?
For me, it's not the paperwork or organization or multi-tasking. It's the parts that I can't do myself. It's the need for patience and trust and all those things you don't want to keep learning over and over again in life. Remember all the reasons group projects sucked so bad in school? I haven't escaped that in this venture. Don't get me wrong, I love working with different people, and that's a major asset for me here. I just have a really hard time not doing everything myself. Even for the things I WANT other people to handle. I just want to bulldoze through everything toward the finish.
The most frustrating question I hear is "when is the opening date?" It's an appropriate, common question for any new business, and one I assume most business owners are excited to answer. My original plan was April 1st (yes, I know that is April Fool's Day), but I know it can be sooner than that.
3 months? 2 months? I'm not sure when or why I became so eager. Maybe because the opening is the goal right now and since the end is in sight, I'm fearful of everything exploding into flames before it happens.
I have all the elements in place, except for the actual store. And I'm not going to wait until warmer weather to finish the construction of it. That means I am building in the middle of (an unusually high snowfall?) winter. Anyone who has ever started a business or worked in construction or hired someone to remodel their house is nodding their head right now (and probably rolling their eyes). I feel it would be incredibly naive to give a solid number on my opening date. Yes, I should come up with a (better) rough estimate, but to be honest I'm afraid of being way off or unrealistic and having to eat crow later. I'll work on it and get back to you.
I'm super anxious to open this store and sometimes forget to savor what I really signed up for, the process of starting it from scratch. Even with total decision-making control over a project, I still have to work with what I got. I still have to stay within my budget, rely on other people's time frames, and deal with all that construction in the dead of winter entails. This store will open and we will be chugging along, selling groceries and other items to lots of grateful folks, and this part will become a distant memory . So I will try to relax and enjoy the ride a little bit more in the meantime.
Happy holiday season to everyone!
It was so nice to take a long vacation, get out of town, and laze around with my family the last two weeks. I knew our open date would have to work around a much-deserved December break, but now I'm anxious to get things moving again!
I'm crunching more numbers. Coordinating how to dig my trailer out of the mountain of snow it's under, so we can get it in our location. Working with the electrical engineer to nail down our power needs, finalizing health department paperwork, recruiting employees, and trying to figure out how to maintain this state of gratitude for the remainder of my kids' winter break :)
It still sounds so strange to say out loud.
I'm sure I've said before, it's not exactly what I always envisioned myself doing. But the more I learn about myself, the more I realize this venture is a great playground for many aspects of my personality. And despite how unreal this all seems, it is definitely real.
This month was crazy hectic with 3 different family visits, holidays, extra-curricular activities, big changes at my other full-time job AND working for a friend's business, my non-profit board responsibilities, hunting season, and so on. Regardless, many important Ridge Run details got nailed down and I'm feeling it come together. I can easily see us opening sooner than I expected.
I have our inventory and vendors figured out! (for now). This is THE most important detail of the store. We aren't as big as chain grocers, so we can't meet minimum requirements for many retail suppliers.
But being small is our key to success. Since our customer is shopping for one or two last-minute items, we don't need the costly overhead of a traditional storefront. We can focus on offering quality food at competitive prices.
Most people are aware they will pay more for convenience, but I want to offer our customers quality and pricing that resembles their grocery store more than their gas station. I did a LOT of shopping around for different wholesalers and subjobbers (one of many new terms I know now) to guarantee the best prices on the items we need.
Everyone continues to be surprising helpful. The card processing folks, the food and beverage vendors, the people designing my sign, the employees at the Health Department and the Department of Revenue, my friends, my contractor, my accountant, and strangers reaching out to offer support.
Sometimes it's hard to see the forest through the trees, especially when there are so many... trees, but I can see it! Like any other big project, once you jump in and get working, things just... come together and turn into a grocery store.
Last week news of Ridge Run got out (much more than anticipated!) and we got 2,187 views on this website. People reached out out to say they were thankful, excited, had requests, or had services to offer. I panicked. I'm still months away from opening! What would normally be considered awesome free press made me doubt myself even more.
My retail experience is 20 years old. My knowledge of everything else related to opening this store: sales projections, product distributors, market trends, payroll and work comp, food regulations, licensing requirements, startup funding, military trailer renovation, POS systems, potable water transport services, marketing and design, grocery sales, land use permits, electrical wiring, and so on... is pretty much non-existent. At least it was a month ago. With the help of many supportive people, I'm quickly becoming educated.
I was waiting for someone else to do this first. Someone more knowledgeable, who could complete this concept with success. But it hasn't happened, so now I'm doing it. The challenge itself is a big motivator. Fear that I'm too inexperienced keeps me focused on mastering all these new areas of information. And despite my lack of grocery/convenience/retail experience, I'm doing it and it's happening and it's going to be awesome.
It started as a wish, changed into an idea, and is quickly becoming a reality.
As a busy mom, I said many times that Bozeman could use a drive-thru grocery store. A place we could go to get essential items, without getting the kids out of the car and hauling them through a store (one of them inevitably falls asleep before we get there). Everyone agreed. Not just moms, but commuters and anyone else who would rather spend time doing things they love than running errands.
While my husband was commercial fishing in Alaska, I started to plan what the store would look like. When he returned I let the idea rest until I found the perfect location. And now I have it!
I'm so excited to open this store on our busiest road, miles away from any other grocery store, and close to so many neighborhoods that need this service!
Everything has started falling into place quickly. Things are happening fast and there are a lot of details to consider. My head is spinning!
I know Ridge Run is going to be an amazing asset to our community. I also know I can't do everything I want at once. I hope to have an online ordering system and mobile app in the future. There are also lots of fun customer appreciation incentives and promotions that I have in mind. But for now, we are just going to focus on getting this store up and running and providing the best customer service we can. Thank you for your support; I'll keep you posted!