Black Hills Balloons
Custer, South Dakota
Sometimes following your dreams can make your career journey even more special. In 2015, Keely and Damien Mahony were enjoying fulfilling jobs in Florida. Damien was the general manager of a ballooning company and Keely was a marketing philanthropy executive. Though successful, the couple dreamt of a slower-paced life. So when Black Hills Balloons, a hot air balloon company in Custer, South Dakota, went up for sale, they bought it. Now they strive to reach new customers and give them incredible experiences. Customers often find Black Hills Balloons through Google Ads, which helps their company show up when people search for South Dakota activities. The couple also uses Google Analytics to understand where interest is coming from and to better focus their ad dollars.
Despite COVID-19, Keely and Damien continued providing bucket-list adventures with just a few adjustments. As an outdoor activity, Black Hills Balloons made some changes for CDC compliance and customer comfort. “We found that we had a lot of unexpected tourism,” says Keely. “People ended up getting in their car and coming to South Dakota because we have a lot of wide open spaces. Luckily, it's been safe and people have shared what we're doing, so others are booking and flying with us.” In 2020, they continued to use Google Ads—and their impressions doubled versus 2019. Another key to Black Hills Balloons’ success has been their Business Profile on Google. “We try to connect with our customers through the reviews. Their photos help bring in clicks and calls. Plus, some of them have specifically mentioned what we’re doing from a safety standpoint,” says Keely. With more customers discovering Black Hills Balloons, Keely and Damien are excited about the future. “People who came absolutely had a blast. And they’re not only coming back, they’re telling their friends,” says Damien. “So, the secret of the Black Hills is going to be a little less secret.”
Prairie Berry Winery
Hill City, South Dakota
A fifth-generation winemaker, Sandi Vojta grew up on the prairie learning to pick berries and make wine with the help of her father, Ralph. Years later, Ralph and Sandi started their own winery called Prairie Berry. It was not an instant success. They faced their share of obstacles, including skepticism about having a woman as the head winemaker. “I was a female winemaker running a fruit winery in South Dakota,” she said. “That was unusual at the time, but we just kept our heads down, worked hard, and overcame.” Over time, Prairie Berry’s handcrafted wines did well enough to warrant expanding. The company added Miner Brewing Company to its roster in 2013, along with a Black Hills events venue and a Sioux Falls location in 2014. As the company’s portfolio grew, so did its need to market itself online.
To help it reach its diverse customer base, Prairie Berry relies on a number of Google products to manage its digital presence and promote its online sales channels. In 2018, Google Ads was responsible for more than 14% of Prairie Berry’s total website traffic and 37% of traffic to its Sioux Falls website. Google Ads has helped Prairie Berry generate an impressive 334% return on investment for e-commerce sales. The company also uses G Suite apps such as Gmail, Docs, Calendar, and Sheets to communicate across teams. “We’ve got two corporate locations that are 400 miles and a time zone apart,” said Jenna Fischer, digital and consumer strategist at Prairie Berry. “I don’t know how we’d collaborate without G Suite tools.”
Between its Google-supported digital efforts and its brick-and-mortar presence, Prairie Berry is able to reach and serve more than 200,000 customers annually. The company plans to keep expanding its distribution, including Nebraska in 2019. “We’re really focusing on the states that surround South Dakota so we can get Prairie Berry to more people,” said Matt Keck, chief operations officer at Prairie Berry. As founding members of the South Dakota Wine Growers Association, Sandi and her team are passionate about their regional community. Prairie Berry regularly hosts events that benefit local businesses and often donates products and funds to important charitable causes. This year, the company plans to release a beer in collaboration with the organization, which helps female brewmasters and other industry professionals advance their careers through education. Moving forward, Sandi hopes to continue bringing joy to her customers: “Our products allow people to be able to create memories and experiences. It’s amazing.”
Strider Sports International, Inc.
Rapid City, South Dakota
As a motorcycle enthusiast, Ryan McFarland couldn’t wait to share his passion for biking with his son. By the time his toddler was two years old, the eager father had already prepared a fleet of little vehicles—everything from four-wheeled scooters to an electric dirt bike with training wheels. “I was super excited to see where all of this was going to go, and had dreams of big adventures with him,” Ryan recalls. “But then I realized that all of this stuff was too tall, heavy, and complex.” Undeterred, he spent a Saturday afternoon modifying a bike in his garage. The result was what is now the Strider, a simpler and smaller bike that “truly fit my son exactly where he was in size and developmental ability,” Ryan describes. “His confidence shot way up, and he wasn’t afraid of biking anymore!” As strangers constantly stopped Ryan to ask about his son’s bike, the business opportunity became clear. A year later, in 2007, he launched Strider Sports International, building simple bikes for children of all ages.
Strider Sports International is a Rapid City-based company with a worldwide presence. Using a digital-first marketing strategy, they have sold nearly 1.9 million bikes across 75 countries. AdWords, Google’s advertising program, helps fuel their growth and drives nearly 30 percent of their online traffic. The team also reviews their Google Analytics daily to optimize ad performance, observe traffic trends, and discover new ways to improve their website. All the while, their YouTube channel taps into the excitement of parents seeing their children ride a bike for the first time. “We have a highly engaged customer base out there. They’re so thrilled about what their kids are doing on the Strider that they’re making marketing videos for us,” Ryan says. “The Internet really is the prime location to run a business in today’s world,” he adds.
With over 4,000 U.S. retailers, 43 international distributors, and an annual growth of 20 percent, Strider Sports International has come a long way since that Saturday afternoon in the garage. They have also started a nonprofit, the Strider Education Foundation, dedicated to helping kindergarteners across the U.S. learn how to ride a pedal bike. “This really has taken on a life of its own, beyond the product,” Ryan muses. “We can’t imagine a childhood that doesn’t include biking, and that’s why we do what we do.”
Dakota Angler & Outfitter
Rapid City, South Dakota
Dakota Angler & Outfitter has seen 500% growth in average monthly online sales
Dakota Angler & Outfitter opened as a fly-fishing shop and guide service in the historic Black Hills in 1996. After working there all throughout high school and college, Hans Stephenson bought the business and set out to modernize it in 2006. He shifted to online sales, which in turn helped improve business in the physical store. “The increase in web sales led us to carry a larger and more diverse inventory. Since we don’t have a warehouse, we featured those additional items in our physical store, which attracted more customers into our shop,” Hans says. “The web gave us the resources to expand both our online and brick-and-mortar businesses. And it’s been fun seeing the two work and grow together since.”
Hans relies on AdWords, Google’s advertising program, and Google Shopping campaigns to draw fly-fishing enthusiasts to his website and store. “They’re our primary growth accelerators,” he says. “We used to average 60 or so online sales a month. Now we’re around 300.” And thanks to increased sales, the business has grown “from a seasonal operation into one that’s busy year-round.” Hans uses Google Analytics to gauge his customers and understand what digital content interests them most. Working from home following the birth of his daughter, Hans also began making YouTube videos on how to tie flies as a way to promote his business remotely. The tutorials were a hit, and “the more we did them, the more we heard from people around the country,” he explains. “We've even had international travelers who have bought our products and watched us on YouTube make a point to come to our shop while on vacation.”
Today Dakota Angler & Outfitter has loyal customers across the U.S. and in at least eight other countries. The business donates time and equipment to a local fly-fishing club, which is active in restoring local natural resources. Hans is also proud to be working alongside other small businesses in a major revitalization of downtown Rapid City. “Our town is committed to making the downtown a focal point and as vibrant as ever,” he says. “There’s a really bright future for us here, after a long time of decay. I'm really hopeful that we're going to see this area continue to evolve, grow, and get better.”
The Children’s Museum of South Dakota
Brookings, South Dakota
The Children’s Museum of South Dakota has more than 100,000 visitors annually
Manufacturer and philanthropist Dale Larson and his family founded The Children’s Museum of South Dakota in 2010. Based in a former elementary school, the museum caters mostly to kids 12 and younger. Visitors can roam 44,000 square-feet of indoor space and four acres of prairie. Over 5,000 objects, which workers call “loose parts,” give children something to touch and explore. Outside, an animatronic dinosaur called “Mama T. Rex”—25 feet high and 60 feet long—is a guest favorite. “We’re very interactive, very hands-on,” says Randy Grimsley, Director of Marketing. “We provide a different journey, a different experience for our guests every time. It is what they make of it.”
The Children’s Museum draws many vacationers headed for Mount Rushmore and other nearby tourist destinations. They use AdWords, Google’s advertising program, to inspire these families to stop and visit the museum. “Through AdWords, we're able to open the doors to people who are looking for children's activities,” Randy says. “Many people are looking for what we provide, not our name. So the link that connects us is AdWords.” YouTube videos bring to life what visitors can do at the museum. Google Analytics helps track the performance and efficiency of their website. “Analytics allows me to see what is working, and what isn't, and to adjust accordingly,” Randy adds. Google Apps for Work helps the staff communicate and share documents.
Located in a community of 25,000 people in rural east-central South Dakota, the museum has already attracted more than 600,000 visitors, drawing visitors from all 50 states and about 30 countries. “They may not even be thinking about a children's museum, but we can appear in front of them online,” Randy says. At least two-thirds of their website visitors are finding them through Google. “In the old days, marketing was a shot in the dark, just trying to grab people’s attention when they were on the road. Now they’re planning trips online and we can be part of their plan.” Those marketing efforts are paying off. “We're known in the museum industry, for sure,” Randy says. “And we're becoming more and more known in the tourism and travel industries. If we continue on this trajectory, we'll all be happy.”