Editor’s note: Brittany Booker, the author of this business feature story, is a senior at the University of Arkansas at Monticello where she is majoring in English with a Journalism minor. The photos are courtesy of Greg Carter, a junior at UAM and employee of  the Marketplace I and Marketplace II.

A Vision

Two Monticello citizens’ determination now offers Monticello a new way to sell items professionally and in an organized fashion.

Gene and Shelly Launius moved to Monticello for Gene’s schooling at the University of Arkansas at Monticello where he majored in Forestry. Now they own six businesses including J&L Timber Company, Commercial Rental, Residential Rental, Prestige Furniture, The Marketplace I and The Marketplace II.

Since moving to Monticello, they witnessed ups and downs in Monticello’s economy. Witnessing that struggle and owning an empty building, the idea of The Marketplace I surfaced. The Launius family talked to potential vendors then decided to move forward with their new business idea, small retail spaces under one roof.

The Marketplace II

After success with The Marketplace I when it opened in September 2009, the family decided – with input from a vendor who expressed her thoughts about a retail shop – to open The Marketplace II in the same building with their furniture store, Prestige Furniture.

They keep their businesses running smoothly and successfully with rules for both of the Marketplaces. Clothing items and shoes in each booth must be new. Illegal or unsavory items are not allowed. In The Marketplace II, all of the merchandise in each booth must be new.

The retail items vary from booth to booth. For example, The Marketplace II’s newest vendor sells gift items, accessories, purses and pictures. The Marketplace I’s newest vendor sells fishing bait, fishing lure and tackle.

The Marketplaces continue to grow with 170 vendors in Marketplace I and 45 in Marketplace II.

Gene and Shelly Launius envisioned a way to help Monticello and brought that vision to life.

Keeping a Vision Going

The Launius family devotes an estimated 77 hours a week to their businesses, leaving little personal time, but they take pride in their businesses and are willing to do whatever it takes to make them successful.

“We have to fight the worst fires first,” Gene said.

Gene and Shelly keep their finger on the pulse of consumers through customer feedback. Their customers share their ideas and thoughts, which gives them a good idea of what the public wants.

Not everyone has retail experience, which sometimes makes it difficult when a person wants to open a booth. It takes time for vendors to understand how everything works in a multi-vendor mall.

In a multi-vendor mall, customers shop from booths rented to vendors and each vendor collects the proceeds from their sales. Both Marketplaces handle the sales tax collections and sends the revenue to the state. This gives vendors the opportunity to sell their items in a retail atmosphere without the responsibilities of owning their own store.

Jobs That They Love

When Shelly Launius grew up in Hector, Ark., she dreamed of interior design. She fulfills that dream through Prestige Furniture, a business she and her husband bought in 2002. She enjoys selecting furniture and decor for the furniture store and helping customers pick out items for their homes and giving them ideas.

The businesses give the owners other perks, as well. “The satisfaction of knowing we impact people’s lives and businesses in a positive way is the best part of our businesses,” Shelly said.

The Launius family takes satisfaction in helping create a source of income for their vendors who can work as often as they please and helping some vendors save stores that otherwise would close.

“We are so glad we have something to offer Monticello and surrounding towns,” Shelly said.

While Shelly dreamed of interior design, Gene dreamed of hunting and fishing. He may not be sitting on a deer stand or fishing, but he takes a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that his businesses help his neighbors.

Gene and Shelly enjoy every aspect of their businesses except the paperwork. “The only thing we do not like about the job is the paperwork,” Shelly said.

Changing Lives

The businesses have helped change the lives of many of its vendors, employees and customers.

Monticello is home to the University of Arkansas at Monticello, which means college kids bombard the town every fall. Many of the students are looking for jobs which are scarce. The Marketplaces fill that need, creating jobs with flexible schedules for both college students and permanent Monticello residents.

Marketplace employee Greg Carter, a junior at UAM, works at both Marketplaces. “This job gave me ways to pay my bills since I transferred from SAU,” Carter said. “Jobs are scarce in Monticello.”

Gene’s understanding of the complications of going to school and working, opened doors for Carter and several more college students.

Gene and Shelly are also setting a good example for the students. “Seeing how Mr. Gene and Mrs. Shelly are has inspired me to know I can be successful in life,” Carter said.

Creating job opportunities and mentoring young people are only two ways the Launius family helps Monticello.

Brittany Valladares, a Marketplace employee and UAM student, tells how The Marketplaces help her in different ways. In addition to a good source of income to help her pay her bills, Valladares said The Marketplaces provide a good place to shop.

“I don’t have to drive two hours to Little Rock or Monroe to look for things I need,” she said.

The Marketplaces have also helped local merchants save their businesses.

Keepsakes

For Michelle Gilliam, the Marketplace II gave her a chance to save her store. Gilliam, owner of Keepsakes, which sat on Monticello’s town square for 16 years, moved her shop to The Marketplace II in June 2011.

“I have a lot more freedom now than I did when I had my own store, Gilliam said. “I’m not tied down to anything.”

Customers like Monica Dunn, a waitress at Piggy Sue’s, enjoys shopping at both Marketplaces. “It’s a store that appeals to all ages,” Dunn said. “So everyone is happy to go there.”

A Vision Come True

When Gene and Shelly started The Marketplaces their intent was to help their community and they’ve done just that, creating jobs, business opportunities and a unique and affordable place to shop right here in Monticello.

For their efforts, The Marketplaces were the recipient of the Drew County Industry of the Year Award in 2010.

They are planning another expansion sometime in the future.