Small business is big business in Sioux Falls
By Amy Smolik
For the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce
When Nancy Savage opened Child's Play Toys in downtown Sioux Falls 10 years ago, the local economy was down.
"We opened on Black Friday in 2009, and I held my breath," Savage said.
However, she believed in her vision and told herself that kids will always need toys, and parents and grandparents are always going to want to buy them.
"The people of Sioux Falls clearly saw a need for what we brought to the marketplace, and I've been so happy, even 10 years later, with the awesome response," she said.
Savage worked in corporate retail in larger cities like Houston, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Seattle. Savage wanted to create an experience modeled from years of exploration with her own daughter, Isabella, at parks, museums – and toy stores.
"I really feel like Isabella and I saw some of the best toy stores when we spent so many days together, and it really inspired me to do the same thing in my hometown. Ten years ago, I moved back to Sioux Falls with one specific plan in mind, and that was to recreate some of the magical toy stores that Isabella and I had visited so many times," she said.
Creating an experience is key to success for many small businesses. Savage said it's getting harder to own a brick and mortar store while competing with the Internet. Her store has a website, a Facebook page and an Instagram account.
"I understand and appreciate that people like to buy online, which is why we have that ability to both sell and market our products on the Internet," she said. "But for us, it's all about the experience. We honestly do more than sell products. We sell an experience for parents and grandparents to bring their children to the store, to shop, to dream, to play, to have fun. You can't get that online."
Savage also believes in what she calls the power in numbers, using resources like Downtown Sioux Falls, Inc. and the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce to promote her business.
"I love the Sioux Falls community, and there's no doubt I want the leaders of this community to know what Child's Play Toys is all about," she said. "I tell my daughter all the time how important it is to be involved in community and that's what makes Sioux Falls great."
Savage wanted to expand Child's Play Toys after the first few successful years and considered other cities like Fargo, Des Moines and Lincoln – but wanted to stay in Sioux Falls and thought the market could handle a second store. This month she opens her second location in western Sioux Falls in a new retail space on the east side of Lake Lorraine.
"When I saw the plans and vision for Lake Lorraine, I knew that's where I wanted to be. I love what Lake Lorraine already is, and when I go out to our new store, I envision what all it will become, and our toy store will be a perfect fit there," she said.
Over on the west side of Lake Lorraine, sisters Stacey and Leslie Malmgren are celebrating their first year in business as owners of Love Marlow, a women's boutique that caters to sizes 12-28.
"When we were developing Love Marlow, the first thing our mentors would say is that you'll be married to your business. What we didn't realize is that it's not just a marriage, it's a marriage plus having triplets and a puppy. When you love what you're doing, the work and hours you put in are totally worth the moments of chaos," they said.
Though they wanted to be supporters of local businesses, the Malmgrens were frustrated with the limited shopping options for curvy and plus-sized women. Rather than waiting for someone else to create a store geared toward the average-sized woman, they decided to create the store themselves. The sisters brought their background in the bridal industry in helping women feel beautiful on their special day, to their boutique where they focus on helping women feel beautiful every day.
The sisters decided early on that they wanted to be good stewards of the community and the surrounding area. To accomplish this, they hold events at the boutique that are informative, empowering and fun. They also do different things to support local non-profits such as clothing drives for Dress For Success.
"Sioux Falls and the surrounding area are great because even though Sioux Falls is a growing community, it still holds on to its small-town roots," they said. They decided early on that they wanted to be good stewards for the area. "We, as well as our business, like to practice being a conscious or educated consumer as much as possible, so we try to do as much business with local retailers or companies."
Small business – defined by the Small Business Association (SBA) as independent businesses with 500 employees or fewer – helps drive South Dakota's economy, accounting for just over 96 percent of businesses in the state. These companies annually pay out $7.4 billion in payroll. Nationwide, small businesses also play a key role in the economy, accounting for 99.9 percent of all firms. Small businesses are the nation's job creators – they have generated 65 percent of net new jobs since 2000. Firms with fewer than 100 employees have the largest share of small business employment. Locally, of the 2,000 Chamber members, approximately 60 percent of businesses have 10 or fewer employees.
The South Dakota Small Business Association (SBA) is a great resource for business. SBA is one of the sponsors of Small Business Saturday, which is being promoted this month to encourage independent businesses to leverage the day to drive more traffic to their brick and mortar stores as well as online.
In addition, the sixth annual National Veterans Small Business Week is Nov. 4-8. The SBA offers the Veterans Business Outreach Center as part of its local programming, which assists veterans of any era, including spouses, in starting, purchasing or growing a business. The Center assists in transition back to the workforce, provides business training and workshops, as well as counseling and mentoring. Veterans account for 2.5 million businesses nationwide, according to an SBA survey conducted of business owners. During this week, the SBA will highlight different topics related to the veteran entrepreneurship journey.
Social media, special events and creating an "experience" all contribute to small business – or any size business – success. There's also something to be said for good old-fashioned service. For Judy Kent, owner of Cleaning by Judy, referrals have helped her grow from a one-person operation to running a business with 28 employees.
Kent liked keeping her house clean, and someone suggested she should start her own business. So in 1996, she did. She was able to work Monday through Friday doing something she enjoyed and that she felt she would be successful at doing, she said.
Ten years ago, Kent slowly started adding staff. "I was getting more and more referrals and I became too busy to do everything myself," she said. "I never envisioned growing. It just evolved."
Kent uses resources like the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce to take advantage of advertising opportunities and to keep up with new businesses joining the community. She also works to keep money local by using other small businesses whenever possible, from repairing equipment to maintaining her fleet of vehicles. Statistics from the U.S. Small Business Administration show that for every $100 spent with a local small business, $68 stays in the community, verses $43 spent at a chain store.
But providing excellent service is still key.
"It's the repeat business and the referrals that make a difference," she said. "Referrals show that they are happy with the service we are providing them and that they think our pricing is fair and honest."