Mike Wall
Anne Sherwood / www.annesherwood.com Mike Wall

Mike Wall runs a company that started operations in Montana 22 years before it became a state. The third generation of a family that bought the Power Townsend branch in Helena, he's kept that community fixture vibrant by overseeing a full-service home store, even selling plants and trees during Montana's all-too-brief growing season. At the same time, Wall cultivates local builders by sitting on a bank board and providing financing of his own.

Extensive Roots The company was founded in 1867 by T.C. Power. At one time we ran steamboats to haul freight and passengers from St. Louis to Fort Benton, Mont., and then transported that freight by wagon train as far north as Calgary and as far south as Salt Lake City. The company had 28 hardware stores, but this is the only store that's left. [T.C. Power] was the first U.S. Senator from Montana.

Comparative Comfort Helena's market is flat. We do have some housing growth, but it's not like it was in the past, obviously. But Helena's the capital city, it's a big government town, so that helps us immensely. We're way better off than some of the glamour spots: Bozeman, Flathead, Missoula. We're flat on sales, but that's better than 30% down you hear in some other areas.

Nursery School We run a seasonal nursery. We put it up in May and will run it through about the first week in August. We sell locally grown flowers that are heartier than what comes from the Home Depot and Lowe's. The same thing goes for trees; we buy trees from northwest Montana.

Bank On Us We do construction financing for contractors that do business with us. The banks won't do it, so somebody has to do it to keep the builders busy. We will buy the ground, pay the subcontractors, basically act like a bank. If they have a take-out loan [a long-term loan to replace interim financing], we'll do those automatically.

Change of Heart A lot of restrictions are coming from [bank] regulators because they want more capital in banks and they want gold-plated borrowers. You used to be able to get a home construction loan for zero down. Now you have to have 20%. Most banks are not at all interested in speculative housing or land or home development.

My Yardsticks Number one is to try to beat last year sales-wise. So sales are the key and then happy people are important. We always look at–for instance, when talking about the greenhouse–bringing in new products every year, which brings in new people and new customers. Getting our salespeople trained up on those new products is a major part of our success, too.