Alaska is the new Hawaii. Over the last few years it’s showed up everywhere. Whether it’s Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel or Sarah Palin’s book tour, you can’t quite escape the last frontier. But what is it like to live in the northern state? Even more how do you run a successful business in such a remote place? Well we’ve asked some of the most creative Alaskan business owners and the answers may surprise you.
First, let’s meet the businesses…
Steampunk Funk (www.etsy.com/steampunkfunk) Juneau
This cozy shop combines recycled materials with vintage fashion. It’s like walking into a modern version of your local antique store. Each item is a 100% original piece of work directly from the artist. Whether you’re a green queen (or king), or a sweetly steampunk fan, this shop is an eco-friendly fashion palace you can’t help but adore.
Moonlight Designs (www.etsy.com/moonlightdesigns2) Matanuska Valley
Romance meets the magic of the stone world with Moonlight Designs. Just the title of this shop sets you up for a wild display of handmade beautiful. Crafted from only the finest gemstones and accented with the safest metals, Moonlight Design jewelry is delicately designed to look absolutely flawless on and off the wearer.
yjImagery (www.yjimagery.com) Mountain Village
If you’ve ever toured Alaska, you know how beautiful the landscape can be. But yj Imagery takes you to an entirely different part of Alaska with photographs that feature scenes so remote they’ve barely been seen by human eyes. Each of these prints are unedited (no Photoshop) limited editions of one, making them a true original work of art.
Alaska Laser Made (www.AlaskaLaserMaid.etsy.com) Thorne Bay
Calling all tree huggers. Whether you’re a log cabin dweller or city folk with an eye for lovely woodwork, this shop is a must see. Alaska Laser Maid collects locally milled and gathered woods to create gorgeous works of art. Each piece is personally engraved, meaning, yes it can be personalized. Personalized or already created these beautiful crafts are bound to be the highlight of your home.
Nature of Art: (www.natureofart.etsy.com) Ketchikan
Whether you’re a beach-lover or forest dweller, this shop will inspire both your inner mermaid and lumberjack. Creatively utilizing fish bones, beach rocks, and wood scraps, you’ll be amazed what this shop offers. And if you thought home accessories and jewelry couldn’t appeal to both a tomboy and girly-girl, this shop is sure to impress you. No matter your taste, these accessories will appeal to you.
Needles-N-Pins Stitcheries (www.needles-n-pinsstitcheries.com) Kenai
Perfect for a lodge, cabin, or any country-chic home, Needles-N-Pins Stitcheries has the most adorable selection of home decor. Immediately your heart warms as you see these handmade pillows, curtains, towels, and more. They take you back to a day of homemade luxuries. Once inside your house each one of these beautiful pieces will make it feel a lot more like home.
With The Rain (www.withtherain.etsy.com) Ketchikan
If you thought tough good-quality rain boots couldn’t be cute, then you’ve never seen “SLUGS”, or personally made boot-liners by With The Rain. More like boot accessories, these boot-liners come in a variety of bright and beautiful styles that can fit anyone’s style. And if you live in a place like Alaska or Washington, where good rain boots are a must, then SLUGS are perfect for you.
Dixie Dreams (www.etsy.com/shop/dixiedreams) Kodiak
These amazing photographs are the touching American views of a United States veteran. Alaska is caught in a uniquely beautiful way through the lens of Dixie Dreams. Taken to reflect the memories of the photographer, these photos are meant to inspire emotion and bring forth reflections of the buyer. And with their awe-inspiring beauty- they’re sure to make you think and appreciate this beautiful country.
Baruch’s Lullaby: (www.etsy.com/shop/barushcslullaby) Wasilla
Staying warm never felt so cozy and looked so good. Whether you’re looking for the perfect hat for your newborn or a new scarf for this winter, Baruch’s Lullaby has exactly what you’re looking for. With completely original designs and natural fibers, you’re bound to snuggle up to any of these perfect accessories. The best part? The business owner and creator of these pieces is working towards adopting two children and a majority of the funds go to that cause!
In a recent poll of the most business-friendly states, Alaska ranked 50th. But with the huge tourist industry and the growing population, what makes Alaska such a tough place to run a business? According to the businesses we interviewed these are the top challenges Alaskan businesses face:
- Transportation: No matter where you in Alaska, getting there is a challenge. Some Alaskans live in remote villages where no roads lead to. Often times the only way to these villages is by plane. Some of the villages are on islands or coasts which offer ferry transportation as well. But during bad weather neither of these options are, well, an option. Even in cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks that are along the roads system, gas prices are among the highest in the nation. So to get where you’re going, you want to take the shortest route. Because of the inaccessibility of many businesses, being successful is quite a challenge.
- Shipping: Many of these businesses have surpassed the roadblock of transportation by moving their businesses online. For almost any shop that offers products instead of services in Alaska, you can find an accompanying website. This allows shopper’s easier access and businesses more publicity. But this also means that items must be shipped. And just as people are transported in and out of many Alaskan towns by plane or boat, so is mail. So during bad weather, which can occur any time in Alaska, mail is often delayed. This can cause immense headaches for Alaskan businesses who are trying to offer quality service.
- Time Difference: The time difference between Alaska and New York City is five hours. Why does this cause a problem for Alaskan businesses? Contacting customers, dealers, and suppliers in different time zones can be a real hassle. 8:00 AM Alaskan time is already 1:00 PM Eastern time. Whenever picking up the phone to contact someone out-of-state Alaskan’s have to think twice and do the math to determine if it’s an appropriate hour there.
- Accessibility of supplies: There are over 500,000 square miles that make up Alaska. That’s nearly half the size of the continental United States. And how many major malls are there? Two. And both of those malls are located in the same city. So as you can imagine, finding supplies for whatever you need can be a dilemma. And over half of the businesses we spoke to ordered over 90% of their supplies online. That means everything had to be shipped to them… and we already know what a problem shipping can be…
- Higher costs: We mentioned before that Alaska has some of the highest gas prices in the country. A great example of this is in 2010 prices rose above $7.00 in some areas. And why are prices so high? Shipping to such a remote area takes more fuel. And it isn’t just gas prices that feel the sticker shock. Everything from milk to yarn seems to double in price.
But what truly amazed us about the answers all of these businesses gave us is that for the most part, Alaska was a wonderful place to run a business. The negatives always seem to outweigh the positives. Perhaps you just have to be an optimist to live in such a cold and dark place, but maybe that recent poll, wasn’t so accurate after all. Here’s why our Alaska businesses claim Alaska should have placed 1st in that study…
- The Publicity of Alaska: Alaska has become a big deal. You see it everywhere now-a-days. And all of the publicity for Alaska is free publicity for Alaskan businesses. No matter what product you’re looking for, you can find an Alaskan version. For knives, there’s the ulu. For jam, there’s salmonberry. For jewelry there’s mammoth ivory. And every time Alaska makes its way onto the big screen, customers make their ways to Alaskan businesses.Tourism: Whether they’re flying in by Alaska Airlines or floating in on Princess Cruises, tourists are coming. There’s an endless supply of things to see and do in the last frontier, and there’s an endless supply of things to buy too. Everyone wants to take a souvenir home from any place they visit. And just as with every other tourist destination, Alaskan businesses thrive on those memorable trinket sales.
- Variety of cultures: Ask any Alaskan and they will proudly boast they live among a huge diversity of people. Whether it be the native Eskimos and Indians or proud immigrants from Sudan or Japan, Alaska is home to a huge array of races. Because of this, the area is always evolving. Each business stands a fair chance. With the immense amount of culture differences there’s a customer for almost any product.
- Support for local businesses: Alaska needs local businesses. When you live in an area so removed from the rest of the United States, you can’t always easily find everything you need. This creates a tremendous need for local businesses that offer products the typical department stores and supermarkets don’t carry.
- The natural materials: Whether it’s jade, gold, beaver fur, willow wicker, or quartz, you can find it in Alaska. Alaska is known for its enormous amount of natural resources, and this can work to many businesses’ advantage. Whether it’s the actual construction of the business’s building or the product the business creates, utilizing natural resources is not only economically friendly, but environmentally wonderful- and a great selling point when pointing out the businesses “green” features.
But what every Alaska business said the true advantage of Alaska was, is the inspiration it offers. Here are the ways the 48th state inspires each of these businesses.
Steampunk Funk: The ability to get outdoors and enjoy nature has been great for my work and getting out of my creative ruts. Usually a walk to the glacier has my mind back on task and in overdrive.
Moonlight Designs: The diverse amount of people that live in this great state. I have so many friends from all walks of life, young and old, Native Alaskan, Swedish, German, Japanese, etc… They all play a large role in my designing.
yj Imagery: My visions come to life whenever I am outdoors, so far away from the noise and frustrations of the busy city. The natural the world just explodes with life and brilliance. There really is no need to look for inspiration here in Alaska, it jumps out and can literally bite your head off.
Alaska Laser Maid: I am addicted to beautiful things and have this need to create them. I try to capture Alaska’s beauty, spirit and wildness in my artistic creations. Most of my artwork represents local flora and fauna. I want to reflect Alaska and what it means to me, not turning out stuff that resembles cheap, made- in-China tourist souvenir junk.
Nature of Art: Alaska plays a huge part in my art. My inspiration comes from nature. John Muir says it best….”When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” I love the outdoors.
Needles-N-Pins Stitcheries: There is an unlimited amount of inspiration from the nature and wildlife that we are surrounded by, living in Alaska. There is beautiful scenery and nature for us to choose from.
With The Rain: Here in Ketchikan the art community is very supportive and active. I’m a member of the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council. I participate in all the local festivals; in the summer we have the Blueberry festival, and in the winter we have the winter arts festival. Thank you Southeast Alaska. You have to love it!
Dixie Dreams: Alaska is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Not to mention that I love the people of Alaska. I have met some of the strangest, quirky, talented, kind and wonderful people here. It is hard not to be inspired by being able to drive down the road and watch eagles, bears, foxes, deer or whales from the window of your vehicle.
Baruch’s Lullaby: Trendy knitwear is a necessity with our weather! It works to our advantage ‘” I would be a little suspicious of handmade winter accessories being sold from a business located near, say, Death Valley, California. We know cold. Our designs are tested in everything Alaska’s climate can throw at us, and they work.
And they’ve about covered it. The truth about Alaska businesses is that it’s not so much about the positives or negatives, but how you make the best of what you have. Just as with every other business in the world, what you make of what you are given, is going to measure your success. Being resourceful, optimistic, and often times thinking outside of the box, puts these businesses ahead of the rest. And no matter your business location, you can gain an immense amount of knowledge from any Alaskan business. They may be in the 50th most business-friendly state, but that makes their success even more of an achievement. And in these tough economical times in America, it’s a pleasure to know that with heart and sweat businesses can still survive, as they have for decades in the United States.