Taking the initiative to start or purchase a business can be a stressful endeavor. Sisters Brennan Ewald and Mandi Gause have found the experience of running two small businesses fruitful and satisfying, thanks to their family involvement and the support of Yankton, South Dakota.
“Our whole family is actively involved in the two businesses and that support is matched by a community that really understands that if you want local options, you have to support them,” said Ewald.
Ewald and Gause grew up in Yankton and went away to the University of South Dakota. They received degrees in Business Marketing and Public Relations and Advertising, respectively, before returning to live and work in the Yankton area. Each had good jobs, but acknowledged a motivation to be their own bosses and work hard for something that would directly benefit themselves.
“We were always thinking about what we could invent or make, and utilize our different skill set as a family to make it work,” said Gause.
In 2016, a casual conversation over dinner turned into the family taking the step into business ownership, purchasing Boston Shoes to Boots, which has been in the Yankton community since 1915. Buoyed by the confidence developed in running Boston’s for several years, the family took on another venture in early 2020, purchasing Monta’s Framing & Decor, another long-standing Yankton business. Both businesses are family-owned, as each sister and their parents have ownership in both. Ewald and Gause run the day-to-day operations at Boston's, while their mother, Carla, runs the day-to-day operations at Monta's.
The sisters have found the Yanton community to be an excellent match for their budding entrepreneurial spirit. Boston’s had been known for its shoe and boot repair for years. The previous owners wanted to ensure whomever they sold to would be able to continue that aspect of the business. So Ewald and Gause learned the repair-side operations from the previous owners over the first six months of their ownership, including everything from running the machinery to stitching leather. The sisters have become proficient enough to maintain the repair work, providing a smooth transition for customers. They brought their own touch to the store by increasing storage, retail space, and additional product offerings to include dress, athletics, and casuals for men and women.
As has been the case with many businesses, 2020 has been an extremely challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They did not close the shoe store completely, relying on shorter open hours and a supportive community.
“We are thankful we have been able to weather the storm with a community that believes in supporting local businesses,” said Ewald.
While COVID-19 certainly placed them in a challenging position, the sisters took it in stride with their philosophy to remain positive in their businesses no matter what was thrown their way. That meant viewing the pandemic as an opportunity to approach business in new ways, focusing on how to help customers during a difficult time. They turned to more online business, directing customers to their social media pages for online shopping and offering in-town delivery and curbside pickup.
“Although the pandemic certainly is not an ideal business situation, it has given us an opportunity to change the way we sell shoes and, essentially, new ways to operate in the future,” said Gause.
Confidence in Yankton
The family members draw confidence in their business ventures from the Yankton small business community and a customer base interested in shopping locally. The past few years have seen a number of business owners take on some brave ventures that, once proven successful, gave others the courage to follow suit.
“Yankton has become a "Yes" community in the last few years and that momentum has sparked people to start businesses they may not have a few years ago,” said Ewald. “As a result, residents do not have to leave town to buy most things anymore because business owners recognize what our community wants and work hard to get it here.”
Yankton’s size is perfect for word to spread on the unique offerings provided by local businesses. And that word is Yankton has a lot to offer, said Gause.
“We've noticed an influx of out-of-town visitors as well, which is really special,” she said.
The Yankton community actively seeks to help those stepping into the small business arena, as well. Gause specifically mentioned Planning and Development District III, a voluntary association of county, municipal and tribal governments that provides a full range of assistance and services to maintain public services and expand economic opportunities in the region.
“They have free resources to help you out, as well as provide mentors to help someone get started on their business journey,” she said.
Their focus now is on adjusting to a new normal and ironing out parts of the two businesses. Ewald believes they could get Monta's an online website and perhaps branch out with some bigger things at Boston's in terms of providing boots for local manufacturers.
“We are now juggling two businesses as opposed to one and I think we are trying to make sure that both are running successfully before we jump into something too big,” she said.
“But as entrepreneurs, we are always open to new opportunities if it seems like the right fit, said Gause.