As the owner of Mandan-based cigar shop, Big Stick Cigars, as well as firearm store and shooting range, Dupree Firearms, Josette Dupree has cemented herself as a mainstay entrepreneur in the Bis-Man area. Over the years, she’s faced a long list of entrepreneurial obstacles and challenges as she continues to pursue her passions.
Dupree first discovered her love of firearms when she worked for USDA Wildlife Services. As time has gone on, her knowledge and involvement have only grown. Many of her friends asked her if she would train them on gun safety and help them obtain their Concealed Carry licenses, but she wasn’t certified to do so. Dupree, thinking of her passion and goals, then decided to become licensed and is now certified as a firearms instructor.
After she pursued her passion for firearms and gained significant experience, Dupree launched Prairie Patriot Firearms Training with her husband at the time. “When we got the business up and running, we found there was a need here in the Bismarck-Mandan area for a good-quality, clean and safe range to shoot at with certified instructors that properly know how to shoot and teach. It was also a great place to have a gun shop where you can buy firearms at a fair price and get proper training. I also instructed classes, so it was a nice balance of work for me,” Dupree said.
However, future plans for the business were up in the air as the owners were going through relationship issues, including a divorce that took over three and a half years to complete. On top of personal issues in the owners’ lives, the pandemic also strained the store’s business, as it was a challenge to get products into the door to sell, such as ammunition.
Did You Know?
Josette Dupree runs multiple unique businesses out of the same building, including big stick cigars and Dupree firearms training!
“People wanted to use the range, but they had to bring in their own bullets since we couldn’t supply them. Nothing was available. In November 2021, we finally had to close the business due to a very nasty divorce. We had to shut down and I got a bit of backlash from the community for the sudden closure, but it was something that was my pride and joy,” Dupree said.
While this most certainly set her back on her journey as a proud business owner, these life-changing events didn’t keep her down for long. When she was contemplating what to do with her career moving forward post-shutdown, she reconsidered the value of having that passion so largely involved in her life. She knew that she still wanted to teach gun safety and sell firearms, yet she discovered another passion along the way with some help.
“My other passion was a cigar shop. I’ve enjoyed cigars for about 15 years now and I wanted to launch a cigar-oriented shop in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Ultimately, I decided to pursue both of my dream businesses and launched Dupree Firearms Training and Big Stick Cigars. While they are mine, my boyfriend is truly my partner in this. For example, he built my beautiful walk-in humidor that turned out perfect,” Dupree said.
The lease for the space officially began in February of 2022, with doors for Dupree Firearms and the training facility opening soon after at the beginning of March. At the end of March 2022, Dupree opened the long-awaited Big Stick Cigars.
The business’ grand opening took place during Buggies-N-Blues, an annual event that draws a large crowd annually near Dupree’s new business. Dupree stated that she cycled through over 1,000 customers during the event in two days, leading to a natural word-of-mouth campaign. Any afterthought of the opening being a fluke was laid to rest when the Independence Day celebrations brought just as much activity through as before with a packed weekend that boosted the business. Many of these customers can take notice and greatly appreciate the theme throughout the business, as it has a certain old-fashioned theme that brings customers back in time.
“[My boyfriend and I] both thought back in time to Teddy Roosevelt. Back in 1907, right across the street at the train depot, Roosevelt came and spoke to the citizens of Mandan. We thought, ‘If Teddy Roosevelt came off that train right now and walked into our shop, what would he see?’ That was the premise of what we set up. We want to keep the history of Mandan alive, so we have little bits and pieces of the past around our shop,” Dupree said.
Both Dupree Firearms Training and Big Stick Cigars have received an impressive following since opening, with many Big Stick Cigars customers supporting Dupree’s pursuit of becoming the full cigar shop that she envisions. While business owners’ goals vary in size and ambition, Dupree’s includes passing a Cigar Lounge Bill through the North Dakota Senate.
“A group of people and I have been trying to get a cigar lounge bill passed in North Dakota. In the last session, it lost by one vote, which is the closest it’s been. We’re aiming to reintroduce the bill in January. The bill was crafted very specifically with legislative reps to have specific wording and key requirements. The key was that 40% of your revenue must come from cigars and cigarettes can’t be smoked there. You could only do cigars and pipe tobacco, could have a liquor license and you had to buy from that cigar lounge, rather than bringing outside product in,” Dupree said.
“Furthermore, you have to have a fresh air intake system, similar to a shooting range, so the air is always rotating and being purified. When you have these air systems, you know people are sitting by you smoking cigars but as soon as they leave, the smell is gone. We were trying to make it very specific so that nonsmoking folks had a hard way of saying no. It’s a personal choice on an already legal product, but it still keeps getting hammered down. My fingers are crossed that we get it accomplished at the next session.”
While getting the coming Cigar Lounge Bill passed is extremely important to Dupree’s vision for her future as a cigar lounge owner, it’s far from the only goal that she has for the future of Big Stick Cigars, Dupree Firearms or her training area.
“I’m hoping by Buggies-N-Blues 2023 that I can have a full-time employee with me. One full-time employee, as well as a part-time employee, would be great. I’ve begun discussions with some people about becoming an investor to help us make Big Stick Cigars a nice, really comfortable lounge. But again, additional funding is needed to properly carry that out. I would also like to launch mobile cigar units,” Dupree said.
“What we’ll do is travel around to different events including street fairs, weddings and bachelor and bachelorette parties. Folks can walk in and purchase their products, then use them in an outdoor smoking lounge. Cigars are a niche product that is growing by leaps and bounds and I’d love to sell my cigars at these events. So I’m working on that. I just want to keep re-establishing myself and I’m slowly getting there. The biggest thing, personally, is just to continue doing what I enjoy, and not ever let anybody take that away from me.”
As Dupree has faced a certain amount of challenges and hardships over her entrepreneurial career, it is impressive to see the lengths that have been taken to get multiple businesses off the ground and running with a mainstay audience. Through the obstacles she’s faced, Dupree has collected a wealth of knowledge, resources and advice for other business owners with the odds stacked against them.
“When you’re self-employed, it’s very hard. The first three years are the hardest when you’re trying to get your name out there. It’s critical to always stay on top of daily tasks and look at financial numbers and forecasting coming in. For example, there’s one type of cigar that I really enjoy. However, I need to also remember that there are other things out there that other people like, so you have to be flexible. You need to have that variety and not give up,” Dupree said.
“I’ve had smaller towns call me across the state and say that they have 20 people in our town that want to get their concealed weapons license. With my two days off per week, I’ll be conducting those concealed weapons courses and working on my website to add an online cigar shop.”– Josette Dupree
“Also, it’s important to stay on top of what the next month or quarter is going to look like, and if you have to do other little side things to keep that cash flow going. My biggest sources of advertising are currently my websites and Facebook because my money is mainly going back into inventory for both businesses. Keeping your money in the right spots and going towards what’s most needed for your business is so crucial.
“A unqiue thing that I do is if a customer wants to buy a full box of a specific cigar thet enjoy, I can order it for them at the base price plus $10. There are so many folks around here that have their personal desktop or even bigger humidors in their home so I’m trying to help them. I want them to buy from me locally without going online. By going through me they don’t havw to get slammed with high shipping and delivery fees and more.”– Josette Dupree
Keeping a close eye on finances and where money should be going is important, as well as how to project your brand into the business community to increase awareness. Another aspect of entrepreneurial efforts not to be overlooked is mentorship, as well as the overall importance of having someone near you who may have gone through a similar situation in the past.
“I’m very fortunate that I have some incredible mentors who own cigar shops in surrounding states. Every now and then, I’ll go to one of my mentors for help and they’ll be extremely supportive, so having some form of mentoring is so valuable for any entrepreneur. Networking and creating a bond with other business owners around you can help greatly,” Dupree said. “One of the biggest takeaways that I could give anyone reading this is to follow their passion. I did some soul-searching after losing my first business in the divorce. Life is way too short. I have so many things I want to accomplish yet I don’t want to go away from my passion. It took me many years to discover what brought me joy, and that joy is the discovery of personal protection for community members.”
CONTACT DUPREE FIREARMS TRAINING
Phone: (701) 751-1029
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: Dupree Firearms Training
Address: 406 W Main St, Suite 5 Mandan, ND 58554