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Entrepreneurs: Startup weathers ups, downs in Red Lodge
Ryan Sankey, left, and Kim Jacobs run Sage Brush Sirens in Red Lodge.

Some of the most impressive business startups have succeeded because of how much homework was done before the doors opened.

It's also possible to succeed by winging it.

Ryan Sankey and Kim Jacobs worked together at a clothing store in Bozeman before deciding to move to Red Lodge to open a new store. What exactly they would carry in that store, however, wasn't worked out until after they got there.

"We actually picked Red Lodge as a location before really defining what the store would be," Sankey said. "We took a look around town and then decided on the direction we should go."

What they settled on is an eclectic mix of what they call "essential for the cowgirl lifeSTYLE."

In the store at 105 S. Broadway, shoppers can buy everything from Brazil Roxx jeans, to belts, jewelry, dresses and even a pair of $395 of Koolaburra Lovin Life Boots.

And, if you check out the shop's Web site at www.sagebrushsirens.com, you can see that Sankey and Jacobs are sirens modeling some of their products.

The shop can be reached at 446-9845, or by e-mail at info@sagebrushsirens.com.

Here's what else Sankey had to say about starting their own business.

Nature of the business:

Women's clothing and accessories

Why start this business?

We had worked for Showtime Show Clothing in Bozeman when we were in college, so we had some foundation in retail.

Where did startup funding come from?

A conventional business loan.

How long have you been in business?

We opened in April of 2007. April is by far the slowest month of the year in Red Lodge, so we had a few weeks to get the kinks worked out before the season started to pick up.

Biggest challenges in running the business?

Wholesalers! Some of our suppliers are the greatest and we can always count on them, while others are complete flakes! It is a Catch-22 because you have to have the merchandise, so you order from different companies and never know what is actually going to show up in the store. Sometimes we over order and everything shows up, so we have too much inventory and other times we think, "This time they are really going to follow through," and when they don't, we are under stocked.

What was done to overcome those challenges?

If companies are hard to do business with, they had better have some really awesome products to make up for it, or we will simply find something else to replace them. We have a business, and they have a business; the goal is to do business.

What is being done to expand the business?

Positioning! We are really working to get the store and Web site out in front of the people who have the potential to be our best customers. We had some jewelry featured in Cowboys and Indians magazine a few months ago, and that was great. Additionally, we have been doing more trade shows to get some exposure for the Web site.

Once we have a customer we take incredible care of them and as a result have a really high rate of return customers. We have also become the only authorized online dealer for Elk Creek Silversmiths and are the exclusive online dealer for Rocki Gorman jewelry.

Your best business decisions?

Without a doubt it was the creation of the Web site. Red Lodge is a great little town, but it is subject to extreme highs and lows, both throughout the year and from year to year. Having a Web site allows us to sell to people across the world, and that smooths out the hills and valleys of sales.

Your worst business mistake?

We were both so green when we started that there were mistakes made daily and probably still are. In my mind, the biggest mistake we made was not appreciating how brand-loyal people are. We had a really great line of leather jackets that were made in the USA and had a tremendous price point, and we could not get rid of them because no one had ever heard of the brand. If they weren't Double DD Ranchwear (which we also carry) people didn't want them.

What advice do you have for someone running a business?

The pennies add up both ways. Be aware of all your expenses and appreciate every sale.

Number of workers?

Kim and I work nearly full time and we have two girls that fill in part time.

What's your five-year plan for the business?

Red Lodge is going to boom in the next few years, and we want to be a part of that. I am on the Mainstreet Program's Promotions Committee and we are working to keep Red Lodge on people's minds year-round. There are not many people who don't enjoy a trip to Red Lodge a couple times a year, but they just don't think about it. We want to make sure if people don't come to Red Lodge it isn't because they hadn't thought about it.

I am also interested in pushing the Web site in some foreign markets as well as the higher-end markets of the U.S.

A question you would ask other entrepreneurs?

What is the No. 1 thing you do to be more effective and profitable than your competition?

If you weren't doing what you are now, what would be your dream job?

This is a trick question. I am a gypsy at heart. If I could work in the South in the winter, up here in the summer and just around in the spring and fall I would be pretty happy.

Kim has a degree in animal science from Bozeman and is insanely interested in nutrition. She would probably end up in something between the field and the table.

"Entrepreneurs" appears regularly in the Sunday Business section. The feature will help readers become familiar with new businesses, as well as educate others in the challenges of starting a business. If you would like to tell your story, please contact: Chris Jorgensen

Billings Gazette

401 N. Broadway

Billings, MT, 59101

657-1311, office

657-1208, fax

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