Welcome to the #HOMETOWNHUSTLE – a SweetwaterNOW exclusive series where we highlight hardworking business owners in our community.
This week, we had a chance to catch up with Sweetwater County business owners Jill and Dustin Eaton who run the famous Farson Mercantile, otherwise know as, “Home of the Big Cone.” Jill is also the owner of Sweetwater Technology Services and Dustin is the owner of the Farson Feed Store.
The journey started in 2005 when Dustin moved back home to Wyoming from South Carolina. Dustin had always wanted to come home and ranch, so he left his engineering job and took advantage of the opportunity to become the owner of the Farson Feed Store.
Jill also moved to Wyoming to be with Dustin and started her search for a job in Information Technology. Due to the lack of IT jobs in the area, Jill decided to open up Sweetwater Tech in Rock Springs in 2007.
In 2007, the lease on the Farson Merc became available and both Jill and Dustin thought about operating the business because it’s such a staple in Farson, but they went back and forth about the decision for a while.
“In the beginning, Dustin was the one who wanted to run the Merc, but if we decided to do it, I wasn’t sure when we would sleep…” Jill told me.
Not only do they own three businesses combined, they also run a ranch in Farson, PLUS they have two children.
One weekend when Dustin was out of town, Jill decided to spend the day working at the Merc just to get a feel for the place and to help her decide if it was something they should invest in.
“When Dustin got back, his mind had completely changed. He wasn’t thinking that taking over the business would be the best idea, but I told him about how I worked at the store for the weekend and it had changed my mind.” Jill explained.
They have now been the proud business owners of the “Home of the Big Cone” for years!
The Merc is right off of US 191, on the way to Pinedale, Jackson, Yellowstone and more. So a multitude of travelers stop by for the famous ice cream throughout the Spring and Summer. The store also has a variety of souvenirs and other neat products – it is truly is one-of-a-kind. They also have some more savory options to eat, such as pizza and subs!
The #HometownHustle series is made possible by:
As you can imagine, they’ve had their challenges along the way. For Jill and Dustin, some of the hardest parts of being business owners are hiring and training employees. They’ve had many great employees that truly care about the businesses, but over the years it’s been hard to find staff in the small communities. Especially when finding staff for the Farson Merc, because it is seasonal and busiest during the summer months.
“At the Merc, we need a lot of well-trained staff in the summer/spring and need minimal staff in the winter. Trying to find good help and then keeping them employed all-year-round is challenging.” Jill explained. “It might not be the single biggest challenge, but it’s an on-going battle.”
The challenges have been worth the reward. Jill and Dustin like to stay busy and they don’t like to be bored.
“If one business is slow or stagnant we usually have an exciting project going on at another. There is always something to keep us motivated.”
According to Jill, some of the best moments have been receiving feedback from customers. The Merc gets daily reviews, people from all around the world always have something positive to say.
“We still get personal handwritten letters in the mail with compliments and photos. It amazes me that getting a scoop of ice cream can have such a positive impact on someone’s day.”
When I asked Jill about how she defines business success, her answer may be one of my favorites so far.
“For me, business success is building a positive culture that allows vendors, employees, and customers to all thrive. You must be reasonable with your expectations. We all have a family and a lot going on and realizing everyone has their own priorities is important. You have to learn to give and take, pick your battles, and don’t sweat the small stuff!”
And according to the manager of the Farson Merc, Liz Ferguson, Jill does just that.
“Working for Jill is really chill, she’s really easy to work for. She’s just really genuine and a very kind-hearted person. If I am ever having a hard time, she always asks how she can pick up the slack. I’m not sure how she has time to pick up anyone’s slack, but she does it.” Liz explained.
During the past several years, Jill has gathered a few wise words of advice for aspiring business owners…
“To own a business you have to like to work, be passionate about something, and be an over-achiever, but it can be very rewarding. You have a lot of flexibility and get to make a lot of decisions. You end up wearing a lot of different hats ranging from handling personnel, vendors, customers, sales, finances, maintenance, accounting, and legal, which can be stressful. I think every business owner has that day they wish they could clock out at 5pm, sometimes it’s just not possible, but it’s always interesting!”