With Yellowstone County’s unemployment rate expected to fall to around 2 percent within a year or two, many employers worry about where they’ll find qualified workers.
Steve Scheel, chief executive of sporting goods retailer Scheels, doesn’t anticipate any hiring problems when the 220,000-square-foot store in Shiloh Crossing opens next Sept. 6.
Scheel said the roughly 300 people working at the new Scheels store will be among the highest-paid retail employees in the region.
“We will find the best people, and they will bring the best with them,” Scheel said Wednesday during the annual meeting of Big Sky Economic Development, Yellowstone County’s economic development agency.
The average full-time employee working at Scheels will make $54,000 this year, Scheel said.
“We pay for performance. If a person does really well, they enjoy working at Scheels. Once they come into our team and see what’s happening, they want to stay.”
To many, Scheels is known as an outdoor retailer. For example, it’s the nation’s largest dealer for Trek bicycles, and its advertisements feature employees who are passionate about hunting, fishing, skiing, cycling and other active sports.
The Billings Scheels store will feature about 2 million items compared with 750,000 offered at the existing location in Rimrock Mall.
The store will push the limit on the shopping experience with amenities such as a Ferris wheel, an indoor shooting range, a giant saltwater aquarium and numerous separate departments, such as a water ski shop that will strive to be the best in the state, Scheel said.
Because Scheels is a private, employee-owned company, it doesn’t disclose its financial information.
But over the years, the company has learned a thing or two about its customers. One key to success is appealing to women, who make most of the purchasing decisions in most families, Scheel said.
Scheel promised that the Billings store will have a few surprises that many of its own store employees don’t even know about.
“We are going to come up with something here in Billings that’s beyond what women have ever seen,” Scheel said.
Because Scheels builds about one store a year, the company has learned a lot about its customers and can easily tailor its product mix to appeal to specific markets.
Scheels has been a part of the Billings retail scene since 1955. The Shiloh Crossing store will be the sixth location that Scheels has occupied.
The North Dakota-based retailer is in an enviable position by expanding during an era in which mainline retailers such as Sears, Kmart and JC Penney have struggled financially.
Scheel said the company invests heavily in understanding its customers and in training employees, who are expected to become experts in the merchandise that they sell.
That’s not to imply that Scheels has always made the right decision. Its 300,000-square-foot store in Sparks, Nev., struggled soon after it opened during the recession of 2008, Scheel said.
“We’re not afraid to make mistakes because we learn from our mistakes,” Scheel said. “We’re going to put some huge things into our Billings store, and some will work and some won’t. But we’ll learn from them.”
Big Sky ED’s annual meeting focused on the fact that the giant Scheels store is just one of several big things happening in the community.
The Big Sky Economic Development Corp., the privately funded arm of the agency, has seen is membership of private investors grow past 130.
Billings businessman Steve Corning, who is developing Shiloh Crossing in partnership with the Long family, said he gladly traveled to Fargo, N.D., in the middle of January a few years ago to convince Scheels that Billings fit into the company’s expansion plans.
“They’re proving every day that great retailers come not only from the likes of New York, Seattle and San Francisco, but also from the humble beginnings of our sister state, North Dakota,” Corning said.
In an interview, Scheel said the company likes to be in communities where the education system is strong.
Also, the Billings economy has many strengths, such as energy development and a strong agriculture economy, he said.