Nicole Griffith is excited, a little nervous, but mostly excited.
The owner of Get Juiced, she's days away from unveiling her company's new name and look, and, like a runner in the blocks, she's itching to take off and get back to the race.
"It feels like it's been a sprint for the last five years," she said.
In 2012 Griffith launched Get Juiced in a trailer that served as a juice and smoothie stand at the corner of Broadwater Avenue and 24th Street West. On the weekends, she parked the trailer downtown for the Yellowstone Valley Farmers' Market.
At the time, Griffith, who owns the company with her grandmother Janet Jones, wasn't looking to do anything with Get Juiced except make sure that it could stand on its own and turn a profit.
Within two years, she had moved into a storefront on that same corner and saw her business continue to improve. She added items to the menu, like fresh salads and grain bowls, and she worked hard to attract customers from her neighboring businesses. Get Juiced is tucked between a fitness center and a massage studio.
She's now preparing to open a second location. The next step after that would be to venture into another city and eventually expand outside the state.
"I do think we have huge growth potential," she said.
Every so often a Billings or Montana-based business makes the jump into the regional market, setting up shop in North and South Dakota or Wyoming. A few have even expanded nationally.
The decision to grow a business from one location to many, and possibly to expand outside the state's boundaries, carries real risk but can also offer a high reward, said Janine Mix, a retail consultant and strategist in Billings.
Mix has worked closely with Griffith over the last year and a half as Griffith has looked at what next step is right for her business.
"Do we change and lose brand recognition or do we stay and limit growth potential?" Griffith said.
City Brew made a similar calculation a decade ago. Owner Becky Reno partnered with American Investment Co., a family-owned investment group, which infused City Brew with cash and allowed it to expand across the region, with locations now ranging from western Montana to North Dakota to Wyoming.
Reno recently stepped away from day-to-day operations of the company to work more closely with the board of directors as the company plots further expansion in 2018.
Kevin Carloss moved the opposite direction. He's the founder of Cafe Zydeco, a Bozeman-based cajun and creole restaurant with a location in Billings. He decided last year against widespread expansion.
Carloss launched Cafe Zydeco as a single restaurant in Bozeman more than two decades ago and over the years expanded to Missoula, Helena, and then Billings. He said his original idea was to keep building them, to truly franchise the restaurant.
But it required more time and energy than he was willing to give. He sold off the Missoula and Helena restaurants last year and decided to do the same with the Billings store earlier this year when Melissa Homer, now the new owner, approached him with an offer.
Carloss keeps close tabs on the three restaurants across the state while staying tethered to Cafe Zydeco in Bozeman. For him, it's the right balance.
"Here's the challenge," Mix said. "Most local businesses are owner-run, and the owners are there seven days a week."
In order to expand from one location to many, the owner must be skilled enough to train employees to take over operations and smart enough to let them do it, Mix said.
It's one of the reasons some expansion efforts fail; owners can't step far enough back to let their company grow, she said. What sets Griffith apart has been her ability to delegate.
"Nicole leverages the strength of her people," Mix said.
MacKenzie River Pizza opened in Bozeman in 1993 and has since expanded to 26 locations across nine states, including its newest spot in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio.
The pizza company is the flagship brand of Glacier Restaurant Group, based in Whitefish. The company formed in 2007 and now manages MacKenzie River's growth. Glacier owns five other chains.
James Blystone is Glacier's vice president of franchising and communication. Along with the staffing challenges of expanding beyond one location, there's also technical and legal hurdles.
"And that's a big expense," he said.
Griffith talked about all the work involved on a legal level to rebrand Get Juiced and to get a second location ready to open.
"It feels like I've started a whole new business," she said.
Like Mix, Blystone believes putting the right people in place is essential. Any business that's looking to expand or to franchise needs to do its due diligence in vetting prospective buyers and making sure the potential franchisee is a good fit for the company, he said.
"If you get the wrong franchisee it just trashes the brand," he said.
Griffith first saw her opportunity to expand in 2016 when the Downtown Billings Alliance announced its contest Battle of the Plans. The DBA was challenging new businesses to create a comprehensive business plan and put it up against other new businesses in town.
The prize for the business with the winning plan was a year of free rent in a downtown storefront.
Griffith cleaned up and in November 2016 won with her business plan to expand to a second location downtown and then take the company to the regional market.
"This girl is methodical," Mix said. "She's determined."
But it's taken longer than anyone planned. Griffith worked for a year to find the right location with the right lease downtown — she's now in the final stages of securing a lease for a storefront she feels will best accommodate her customer base.
More than that, as Griffith looked at expanding outside the area, she realized she was going to have to rename her company and update her brand. She's sold more than just juice and smoothies for years now and needed a company name and brand that reflected the company's focus on wellness.
"She's selling more than food," Mix said. "She's selling health. She really wants to be educator on how to have a healthy lifestyle."
Griffith will announce the new name and new look of the company on Jan. 3. She knows there's risk involved, that she's sacrificing the recognizable face of her business for the opportunity to grow it beyond Billings.
But she's done the research, put in the hard work and she still has her winning business plan. She's knows right now is the time to make the jump. And she's ready.
"I'm excited for our customers," she said. "I'm excited to offer more."