From social media to storefront: How the internet is helping small businesses expand in Alaska
Sweet Caribou has been a staple at the Mall at Sears Farmers Market since the company started two years ago.
Owner James Strong said they tried opening a stand at the downtown Saturday Market but wanted to set up some place that would bring in locals not just one-time tourists.
“When we started I didn’t know if we’d last more than a summer and it just took off,” Strong said. “I realized quickly there was a huge demand for the macarons. If it wasn’t for the markets, we wouldn’t be here.”
Their colorful French macarons always draw a crowd eager to try their unique flavors—like Fred Flintstone, made with Fruity Pebbles—but this was their last day at the mall.
“It’s kind of sad. It’s really sad,” Strong said.
After more than a year of planning, he and his wife Miranda are opening their own storefront on Thursday.
“The front of the house has been a big labor of love,” Miranda Strong said. “We started designing this on our way back from Paris in January.”
The towers of macarons pop against the grey walls. Rows of neon cookies line the converted jewelry display case in the show room. The biggest draw of their own storefront, however, was their own commercial kitchen, so they can mass produce the meringue cookies.
“We’d outgrown the rental commercial kitchens we’d been using,” she explained. “It just made sense to find a space and expand so we went for it.”
Markets are a must for many small businesses. That’s how Marci Nelson began her clothing company, AK Starfish Co., in 2003.
“I did a lot of traveling, I spent Novembers and Decembers on the road, flying to various places with my dry bags stuffed with merchandise to Sitka, Juneau, Skagway,” Nelson said.
She also sold clothing to friends and family out of her condo. Now she has six stores around the state, including two she opened this year in Anchorage and Homer.
“There’s a lot of work behind it, but I think it’s a testament to the city and the commitment to supporting local businesses Alaskans hold dear,” she said.
Getting a storefront isn’t easy or cheap like social media. That’s why Wild Scoops has used Facebook to get the word out.
“We’ve seen it be a huge positive force in building our brand and alerting people to what we are and who we are and what flavors we’ve made that week,” said co-owner Elissa Brown.
She said after a year at farmers markets and pop-up stands like the one at the Anchorage Museum, she thinks it’s time to open a local ice cream shop.
“It’s really important for us to have a place where people can come and feel the sense of community as they get our product,” Brown said. “I don’t think every business has that as their end goal because it is a lot of work and a big up-front investment.”
For Wild Scoops and other small startups, that investment is worth it so their customers know they’re committed to building business in Alaska.
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