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'Shark Tank' for Billings: How a downtown women's boutique owner got her start

'Battle of the Plans' is a free competition and a chance for Billings entrepreneurs to come up with the next greatest business idea, pitch it and get cash
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Posted at 4:56 PM, Mar 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-04 18:57:22-05

BILLINGS- Opening a women’s clothing boutique wasn’t something Linda Brooks planned to do. In fact, she’s trained as a nurse.

Five years ago, that plan changed when she opened Something Chic, a modern contemporary women’s clothing store in downtown Billings.

“It was kind of the springboard for me,” she said.

Brooks won a competition in downtown Billings called Battle of the Plans in 2017, which helped her launch her business. The contest is back this year, offering a chance for Billings entrepreneurs to come up with the next great business idea, pitch it and win cash.

“We hear all the time.; I wish downtown had… and it’s like dot, dot, dot” said Lindsay Richardson with the Downtown Billings Alliance, which sponsors the contest. “So, if you wish Billings had, whatever you’ve been dreaming up, this program is for you.”

As Brooks looks over her merchandise, perfecting each carefully hand-picked item on a nearby clothing rack, she recalls her journey.

“I have always loved fashion,” she said. “It goes back to 1996 when we had a new girl in class, and it was the first time I saw Dr. Martens… “

Coming from a small rural town in eastern Montana, Brooks remembers walking into the downtown boutiques in downtown Billings, wanting her own store one day.

“I always dreamed of, it would be so cool to own one myself. But it wasn’t feasible to me, and I didn’t even know how to go about it,” she said.

Trained as a nurse not a businesswoman, she knew for that to happen, she needed a monumental nudge.

“So, I entered the Battle of the Plans,” she said.

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Started in 2016, Battle of the Plans requires an executive summary on a new business concept for the downtown. That’s submitted during the first phase, which opened March 1.

Next, those ideas get flushed out with the help of business leaders, helping to establish the business concept through financing, equipment needs, products and merchandise.

Richardson says the grand prize includes $40,000 in reimbursable funds toward eligible expenses for two businesses, one new and one expansion.

Richardson says the concept is a way to invite downtown businesses in the core of Billings.

“We have about 30 plus businesses new to downtown, and we just want to continue that,” she said.

Brooks won the competition in 2017, but along the way she says she had to prove herself. She said she got her start-up cash the hard way, by working for it.

“I decided to go to travel nursing away from home,” she said. “I went to Portland for three months, went to Denver for three months and went to Pueblo for three months, and I saved $25,000 in startup capital.”

In addition, Brooks started a crowdfunding campaign to help her raise the collateral cash she needed to secure her small business loan.

Then she opened Something Chic in May of 2019, becoming a business success story for downtown Billings.

Now a successful business owner, looking ahead to the next great chapter. Brooks says she plans to enter the Battle of the Plans this year, to expand her business model with a men’s store.

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“I think the journey of how long it took me, is what I needed to prepare me for this,” she said.

More information on the Battle of the Plans can be found here.