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Montana RV operators
From left, Bob Bjordahl, Gary "Smitty" Smith and J.P. Holland operate Montana RV, which has locations in downtown Billings and in the Heights.

Finding a niche and filling it is the oldest rule in business.

And, that’s exactly why Bob Bjordahl started Montana RV.

While visiting family in Billings several years ago, he noticed there were plenty of options for buying a new RV or camper, but not many options for buying a good used one.

“We have found that a large segment of the public is looking to save money by purchasing a pre-owned unit rather than facing the depreciation of a new one,” he said.

Montana RV has done so well at its original location at 1902 First Ave. N. in Billings that the company has expanded to a second lot in the Heights at 637 Wicks Lane.

And, you can’t knock the timing of Bjordahl’s expansion.

“The recession has actually been a blessing for us,” he said. “Many people now choose to take vacations closer to home and are doing more camping on a long weekend basis. Money saved by purchasing a nice, used RV allows them to do so.”

The oil boom in the northeast part of the state hasn’t hurt them either. With the housing shortage in the Bakken Field, workers have have turned to campers and RVs as a practical solution.

The company may be reached downtown at 245-0811 or in the Heights at 248-1399, or through its website at http://montanarv.wordpress.com. Here’s what else Bjordahl had to say about not only finding a niche, but building it into a thriving business:

What is the nature of your business?

Sales of pre-owned RVs, campers, trailers, fifth-wheels and motor homes.

Where did startup funding come from?

We sold our home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and used that money to purchase the downtown lot and inventory.

How long have you been in business?

In total, more than 28 years. I worked my way through college, graduating from ASU in Tempe, Ariz., and got my MBA and realized that I didn’t want to sit in an office and work for someone else. I then started buying and selling cars and trucks and transitioned into the wholesale side and then into the retail side when we moved here eight years ago.

What was done to overcome those challenges?

Keeping our large inventory stocked with RVs that people are interested in. Our goal is to establish the floor plan that fits their needs at a price they are comfortable with. After that criteria has been met, we also offer financing at the lowest rates available. Having perhaps the largest inventory in the area helps immensely. Another plus has been the lack of housing in the oil and gas fields. We have helped a lot of those folks find a unit to live and camp in. All of our units are thoroughly inspected and certified to work as they are represented.

What is being done to expand the business?

We just opened the second location earlier this year. It is amazing how many people come to the downtown location and have never heard of us. We are hoping with the second location being next door to Walmart in the Heights that more people will know that we exist. We will have more high-end motor homes and towables at the Heights location. We have gotten our website up and running, and that has helped with our traffic also.

Your best business decisions?

To keep true to our original concept to only sell nice, certified, pre-owned units. It has been very tempting to add new lines to our inventory, but we are going to stick with what works best for us at this time. We are not trying to compete with the big outlets offering new RVs in the area, and it feels good to have that “mom and pop” feel.

Your worst business mistake?

Advertising in the wrong market. It took several years for us to realize that our best investment was to advertise in The Billings Gazette and the Thrifty Nickel. People seem to want to be able to look at pictures and prices of RVs to make buying decisions.

What advice do you have for someone running a business?

It is exciting to think about running your own business, but the reality is that it is a 24/7 obligation. I work seven days a week and it can be exhausting. Find something that you really enjoy doing, and then plan on putting in a lot of long hours to create a really successful business.

How many workers do you employ?

My brother, JP Holland, is our full-time salesman at the downtown lot. He does a great job and puts up with me micro-managing his every move. I work at the Height location and Gary Smith “Smitty” is our “go-to” salesman when we need help at either lot. Our awesome technician is Jim Klaussen of Jim’s RV Solutions, whom we couldn’t manage without. We have two wonderful ladies, Barb Smith (Smitty’s wife) and Karen Kuhar, who clean our RVs for us. With the growth that we are experiencing, we will most likely need help in the sales end of the business.

What is your five-year plan for the business?

We like to look at our year-to-year sales and sell a few more RVs each year than we did the year before without losing sight of the fact that customer service and needs always comes first. The new location next to Walmart in the Heights is showing much promise already, so this year should show good growth.

What question would you ask other entrepreneurs?

How do you find good, qualified employees for your business? We are very fortunate to have the first-rate staff that we have, but would be in a bind if we were to lose any one of them.

If you weren’t doing what you are now, what would your dream job be?

Good question! I love to fish, hunt and goof off with my family and friends. I suppose that being a fishing and hunting guide would be my dream career.

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