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Duo named small-business persons of the year

Before Montana's Small-Business Persons of the Year arrived in Washington, D.C., they sent 2,000 pieces of candy ahead - 1,000 Moose Drool Truffles and 1,000 Purple Cows.

Shirley Beck and partner Dale Siegford sent the candy, Beck said, "because we thought it would be good for Montana."

It evidently was. The Philipsburg entrepreneurs found two 8-foot display tables waiting for them at a trade show - four times more room than anyone else.

Nominated for the award by the Flint Creek Valley Bank, in conjunction with Butte's Small Business Development Center/Rural Economic Development, they won the award because they were able to "grow" a business, hired locally, created jobs, provided a community service and contributed toward building a community.

Beck and Siegford started the Sapphire Gallery, now in its 10th year, and the Sweet Palace, in its fourth year, with a total of eight employees. During the busy tourist season, they now employ 23 people.

Much of their clientele comes not just from tourists but also from bigger towns in the area. They belong to chambers of commerce in Missoula, Helena, Butte, Anaconda, Philipsburg and are joining the Drummond chamber.

They joined the various chambers, Beck said, "because of our idea of how a small community can make things works for itself in Montana."

Philipsburg is not connected to an interstate freeway. But Helena is, and so are Butte and Missoula. They are hubs with population centers that attract shoppers from other places. she said.

Philipsburg, in contrast, isn't completely self-sufficient. It can't supply its own goods and services. Its residents often have to leave and go to bigger cities to shop, Beck explained.

When she or Siegford go to hotels, she said, they tell the employees that if guests are looking for places to go, they can send them to Philipsburg.

"We will entertain them, wear them out for the day and send them back tired," she said.

That marketing strategy paid off in the competition for the entrepreneurship award.

"We've been very serious about advertising ourselves," Beck said. "I don't know anyone in a small community that went to the big chambers around and said they want to be part of their circle."

The co-owners also educate and train their employees. The staff at the Sapphire Gallery is trained in gemology, for example.

They also offer community service, something Beck believes is important. They have donated five streetlights to the town (including digging and welding for the project), loaned employees to help restore the town's Opera House and helped other businesses paint their buildings.

The District of Columbia's small-business of the year award went to a business with 350 employees. As Montana's small-business winner, she added, "We were micro-mini."

During the trade show exhibit, the Sapphire Gallery had bags of gravel on display. People buy them to sift through, in hopes of finding a gem.

"People from Chicago and Daytona Beach would say, 'You get people to buy bags of dirt?' And we'd say, 'Yeah, we do,' " she recalled with a laugh.

They also had photo albums showing the restoration work on historic buildings in Philipsburg. "We made a pretty good showing," she said.

The visit allowed small businesses to network and exchange ideas about funding, marketing and employee problems and how to deal with those issues.

Reporter Donna Syvertson can be reached at 523-5361 or at

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