Jim Whitbeck

My Voice

About the author

Jim Whitbeck, 32, is the owner of Blue Mountain Outfitters in La Grande. Whitbeck serves on the La Grande Planning Commission, Small Business Development Center Board Member and the Union County Tourism Advisory Committee

I am a small business owner in La Grande and I have a lot to be thankful for. This community embraced my little outdoor store from its beginning three and a half years ago and has been more than patient with my steep learning curve as I try to find ways to serve the needs of my customers. I keep my inventory priced at or below the levels suggested by the brands I carry and stock as much variety as I can.

That said, if you go online you may find a cheaper price and some more selection, so I set myself apart with do-whatever-it-takes service and give at least 5 percent of my annual sales back to the community in the form of donations and sponsorships. Many of the other local business owners I know follow a similar approach.

I regret seeing businesses around me close, whether because of larger national retail trends (in the case of JCPenney), personal reasons with owners (Orange Rhino) or basic business challenges (Market Place Family Foods). But what I regret the most is hearing the argument that these are signs that La Grande is a difficult place to do business in, or worse, is a community on the decline.

My only response to this, without any reservation, is that if either of those things were true, Blue Mountain Outfitters would not be standing today, let alone preparing for a second (modest) expansion this spring.

I do not own my success. I work hard, but there is no question in my mind that the strength of my business comes from my family and friends, my customers, my staff and the community I am fortunate enough to operate in. Also, luck, tons of luck.

That said, I am also proud to be what might be called a business geek. I like to listen to podcasts about entrepreneurial success stories, build cash flow models, assess supply chain inefficiencies and do everything I can to inspire my employees to treat their work with me as an opportunity to build toward whatever their dreams might be.

One of the things I’ve learned in my studies is that being a good business owner is less about having the best idea out of the gate than it is walking the line between perseverance and being humble enough to know when a different approach is needed.

When I got to La Grande, all I could see were opportunities to meet the needs of a growing and unique rural community. Many of those opportunities are still there, and many others are being taken up by other aspiring business owners. So, support your local businesses. Do it with your money when you can, but also do it by teaching us about you and with your patience as we learn.

Keep in mind that if I change something about my business, it’s almost always going to be because I learned something new, and more often than not, that lesson came from you, my customers and community.

I am quite grateful that, despite my inexperience and general foolishness, I somehow decided to open my dream business in a community that had enough grace to allow me some measure of success.