A decade ago, when Billings was about to take another westward leap, the three owners of Western Ranch Supply bought 80 acres at Interstate 90 and Zoo Drive.
Shayne Vandivort, Keith Robinson and Rob Erickson bought the land just as the first commercial development was hitting that interchange.
In May last year, they took advantage of some hungry contractors willing to bargain and historically low interest rates to start building a second Billings store, which opened on Friday.
“With the interest rates sitting where they are and then creeping up, we felt now is the time to act,” said Vandivort. “We’re saving ourselves quite a bit of money.”
The partners will continue to run the original Western Ranch Supply at 303 N. 13th St.
Rain started falling just in time for the opening of their 37,000-square-foot store on the southeast corner of Zoo Drive.
This spring, the country was so dry that some ranchers were selling their cattle at a loss, Erickson said. The grass was stunted and they couldn’t afford hay to feed through the summer months.
“It was going to be devastating,” Erickson said.
But after the first 2-inch hit of moisture, he fielded three calls on a Monday morning for orders topping $15,000.
“All of a sudden, we’ve got grass. We can keep our cattle. We’ll have money this fall,” Erickson said, repeating what the happy ranchers were saying.
Ranchers are the prime customers for Western Ranch.
“If they’re having a good year, we have a good year. If they have a down year, we do, too,” Vandivort said.
Stockman Bank of Billings financed the building, whose price was not revealed.
In 1998, Ray Frank of Billings handpicked these three employees to take over the business he started in the 1950s. Western Ranch also built a store in Great Falls in 2006.
The partners have sold off the rest of their 80 acres by Zoo Drive to other developers. Gardner Distributing, a pet food supply company, is building a large warehouse just to the east.
Both the downtown and West End stores sell vet supplies, horse gear and livestock equipment. The new store also has room for plumbing, welding, some power tools, pet supplies and clothing.
The walls are covered with family photos: Erickson riding a bareback bronc in Canada and Vandivort at 5, roping his first calf near Roundup.
Ropes are displayed prominently, not hidden away in piles.
Preston Ostrum, 4, of Huntley, and his great-granddad, retired veterinarian Dick LaFrance of Hardin, were checking out the store on Monday, throwing ropes at the calf dummy.
Western Ranch still offers free shipping across Montana and into northern Wyoming and western North Dakota.
The three owners now work out of the West End store and have no plans to hire a manager.
“If I need to go down and ring out a customer at the till, we’ll do ’er,” Vandivort said.
Longhorn General Contractor of Huntley erected the prefabricated building, which was completed four months later than expected. Custom features postponed the project, Erickson said.
“Like any construction project, you’re just antsy to get things done, but business slows down in June, so moving inventory is easier,” Vandivort said. “All in all, the building we got is absolutely beautiful.”