Written by Devon Boen
Northeast Montana might have a lot to offer, but it is hardly undeniable the area lacks a lot of shopping choices. Thanks to a new store in the area, residents can put down their credit cards and step away from online shopping.
Residents of Wolf Point may be able to reduce some of the risky online ordering that can leave you with the wrong size or quality product by choosing to stop at the recently opened Steamboat Dry Goods apparel store.
The store comes from unusual roots. Carolyn Whitmer and her mother, Alice, have owned Steamboat Dry Goods Greenhouse for four years and discovered a gap in the expanse and quality of shopping options in the area when speaking to customers.
Carolyn, who was born and raised in the Wolf Point area, received her bachelor’s degree in landscape horticulture, so opening an apparel store wasn’t necessarily one of her original plans.
She and her mother carried sunscreen and sandals during the summer months at the greenhouse and the demand for those and similar items grew beyond what they could handle without opening a store wholly dedicated to apparel.
“We just started carrying more and more [out of the greenhouse] based on customer feedback,” said Whitmer. “People were coming from 100 and 200 miles just to buy things. That’s when we started stocking more and more things in-house.”
Whitmer said she and her mother decided it was time to open the apparel store when customers were showing an interest in high quality items and were tired of going to Billings or ordering online.
To spread the word, Whitmer has utilized advertising firms in North Dakota as well as old-fashioned word of mouth.
There’s no question the word will spread within the small community of northeast Montana and the close-knit area is what Whitmer believes is important.
“We know if we can keep the dollars in the community every dollar that is spent will turn seven times, so we know that if someone comes in and spends $20, it will go back to the community,” Whitmer said. “It just comes around.”
As a business owner in northeast Montana, the prospect of losing customers to online shopping is an obvious reality. When asked how Steamboat Dry Goods combats this roadblock, Whitmer thanked her customers.
“What we’re offering is customer service. We want people to feel at home when they come here. They’re getting special treatment,” Whitmer said. “People really appreciate that because they want to feel like they are somebody, not just another person on the internet.”
Whitmer stressed the store offers quality products area residents can’t necessarily find now. One section she was particularly passionate about was the women’s lingerie items. Whitmer said women were happy to have more variety and be able to choose the items in-person from a wide selection.
Meeting this need for women isn’t the only untapped market Steamboat Dry Goods has capitalized on since opening the store. Whitmer said they offer high-end indoor and outdoor apparel, shoes, water bottles and thermoses, as well as yoga and relaxation wear among other items.
“In order to grow your business you really have to focus on what your customers want, what they’re willing to spend, and also allow for new trends to come up,” Whitmer said.
The store offers brands like Solomon, Chinook, Chaco, Marmot Mountain and Filson.
Whitmer said they currently carry about 26 vendors and plan to carry around 30 when all is said and done.
It was clear Whitmer came into the apparel business following a strong public demand rather than out of her own initial volition, so the business-savvy woman offered some advice to those unsure about their own aptitude for owning a company or store.
“The biggest advice I can give to anybody looking to open a business, especially a mom and pop, is do your marketing, do your business plan, have your ducks in order,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer said they have received excellent feedback from the community and encourages new customers to stop by and look around the store located on Montana Highway 13 right next to the Steamboat Dry Goods Greenhouse.