Customer variety, loyalty characterize Cowboy ShopWritten by Christy Hemken
In 1947 Bob’s mother, a schoolteacher in Big Piney, brought the Cowboy Shop into existence. She offered local cowboys the basics such as snap shirts and blue jeans as well as boots and hats.
In 1973 Bob and Carolyn, who came to Wyoming from Michigan, got married and began to take over the store. Bob’s mother has been gone five years, but worked in the shop until a few years before she passed away.
As the economy has changed, Carolyn says the Cowboy Shop has changed to meet the needs of the clientele of the moment. “The shop started as a cowboy store, then it got to be more of a tourist store because we’re on the way to Yellowstone,” she says. “Every time we have a gas boom we put more emphasis on steel-toed boots and Carhartt, then when the boom bottoms up we pull back into more cowboy boots.”
Currently the store carries 50 percent cowboy wear and 50 percent work wear. Carolyn says when this boom is over the work wear will fall to around 10 percent of inventory.
In addition to cowboys and oil workers, the store brings in customers from surrounding dude ranches. “We’re always ready for someone to walk in wanting less expensive hats and boots because they’re only going to wear them for a week,” says Carolyn.
Of their inventory assortment, Carolyn says, “The reality is that Wyoming isn’t just Western; it’s a blend of modern, contemporary, Western, old-fashioned and European. We try to have whatever a person might be looking for.”
“That’s the nice thing about being one of the bigger stores in town – people come check us out first,” she continues. “We have to be ready for them.”
Bob and Carolyn say it’s their customer service that makes the shop unique. “People are so amazed when we don’t just say, ‘Here’s your change,’” says Carolyn. “The conversation we give our customers is something they don’t get other places, and that’s what I hope people will remember.”
Although Pinedale’s population is growing and business is strong, Carolyn says the employee situation is “absolutely horrible.”
“We’re almost strangled because of the lack of people to hire,” she explains. “The last thing we want to do is expand because we can barely maintain what we’ve got.” She says they’re lucky to have two other people working the store beside themselves, and even then it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on.
“It’s well-known that Wyoming has a low population, but there’s so much business throughout the state there aren’t enough people to cover all the bases,” she says, adding local kids come back to the county to work but head to the oil field to make $20 or $30 per hour.
“It’s always been a challenge, and I’m grateful we both work the store together so if nothing else we know there are two of us,” she adds.
Of living in Pinedale, she says it’s the people and the place they like. “We drive home at night seeing mountains and antelope – where else in the world can you have that?” she says. “I also enjoy having a personal relationship with the people that walk in the door outside of them giving me money and me giving them merchandise.” After living in an Army family, Carolyn has stayed put in Pinedale for 35 years.
Bob and Carolyn say rising fuels costs have softened summer tourism somewhat, but tourists walking in the door this summer seem to spend more money.
In addition to their physical location, the Cowboy Shop has sold product online for five years. “Wyoming only has so many people that can walk in the door, so to try to even out the year and help our bottom line we’ve expanded our customer base by going online and joining the rest of the world there,” says Carolyn. “However, you can never replace or forget the front door and sidewalk presence and the people that walk in. Half the time they’re not walking in to buy something, they’re walking in to see about the rodeo or the roping. It’s all about the relationship.”
The Bings welcome the August return of their daughter Terra as a store manager. “We’re hoping over the next couple years she’ll like it enough to stay,” says Carolyn. “We may not work less, but she’ll just do more.”
Bob says he enjoys operating the store because, he says, “Every day’s a new day and it’s not the same old thing every day. There are always new people with all kinds of summer visitors and lots of foreign visitors.” Those foreign visitors sometimes benefit from Carolyn’s French fluency. “They’re always surprised when someone in the middle of nowhere speaks French,” he adds.
“Every day somebody walks in and tells a story of the past, and I think in this current economy, where everything is changing so fast, there are some things that don’t change, and we’re one of them,” says Carolyn. “Hopefully we’ll be able to pass it on to the third generation. That’s really important to us.”