A Family Affair
By Jared Ritz
If you drive east from the Beaver Creek Golf Course to the old K-mart building, you're bound to see a slew of car dealerships. Nearly every major motor vehicle company in the United States is represented in that short span of highway, and distinguishing between them can be a difficult thing.
Car dealerships are in no short supply around Havre. But dealers with this much guts may be.
When Jim Reighard bought North Star Dodge in November of 1989, he had no idea what to expect. According to his son, Gary, Jim didn't have any experience.
"We were not affiliated with the car business before purchasing this place," he said. "We were farmers and ranchers."
Jim, 67, moved to Havre from Hobson, sold his dude ranch in Utica, and bought the business, which was on the market due to the untimely death of its previous owner. Jim said he viewed buying the dealership as making "an investment." The investment took off, and he and his wife ran North Star successfully while Gary finished school in Bozeman and went to work as a wing engineer for Boeing in Seattle.
Gary was not a fan of the people in that area, or the fact that he lived seven miles from work and it took him an hour to get there. Gary decided to follow his parents' move to Havre, and started at North Star in 1995 to be parts manager for his father's dealership and shop.
When he arrived, he began working with a member of the North Star Dodge team named Rocky Preeshl. Preeshl had moved to Havre from Kremlin in 1988. He said he started at North Star out of necessity.
"I had a little girl, so I had to get a job," he said.
Preeshl's first job at the business was washing cars. From there, he moved gradually up the ladder, he said, until being made a part-owner three years ago.
Although not directly related, Preeshl has been with the Reighards long enough to where he feels, and is treated, like blood.
"Their family kind of took me in. You kind of feel like family with all of them," he said. "Jim is the kind of person that rewards you for all the hard work you do for him."
In 1995, North Star began its first major expansion a 2,300-square-foot shop to hold car bays. The building was done by a company in town, and expanded their building by a fourth.
Soon after, though, it just wasn't big enough.
The second gamble came in two forms a new line of products and a new shop to house them.
Gary and Rocky have been riding motorcycles since they were about 5 years old, Rocky said. Jim has been known to take a bike out for a spin, too. A few years ago, North Star Dodge was looking for a product in the $2,000 to $5,000 range to sell.
If you add these parts of the equation together, the answer is obvious. They decided to take their favorite hobby and make it more accessible for Havre-area enthusiasts by carrying a brand of motorcycles they thought was the best.
"Yamaha approached us," Gary said. "We thought it would be a good idea to bring it aboard."
This thinking turned out to be correct. According to Gary, in the few years the motorcycle and ATV business has been at North Star, the market share of Yamaha in the area has risen from 2.5 percent to 30 percent.
The second part of the expansion was a little more literal. The plan was to build a 1,700-square-foot expansion, and it was to be built strictly by the hands and tools of Jim, Gary, and Rocky. Well, mainly Jim.
"Jim basically constructed it by himself," Preeshl said. "If something needs to be done, Jim does it."
The process took a little bit longer than it would have if they had contracted it out, but it got done nonetheless.
This business expansion had everyone worried at first, but they had luck and quality on their side.
"Any time you're spending a bunch of money on a new venture, you're worried," Gary said. "We started out with a good product."
In the relatively short life span of the North Star business, a lot of change has gone on. What hasn't changed, and what may be the secret to its success, Gary said, is their dedication to hard work. And to work their employees hard.
"We allow our employees to work half days here," Gary said, straight-faced but obviously joking, "because 12 hours never hurt anyone."