Growing up in North Dakota, Colter Boehm had more than a 5-by-5 sandbox to play in. He had his family’s entire ranch.
“When he was little, we had tool boxes everywhere in our shop, and he would just drag tools out in the yard, or out behind the house, or back behind the shop, or out in the pasture,” Colter’s father Jeff said in an interview, recalling what his son was like as a young boy. “I’d be working on stuff and be like ‘where are all my tools? The hammers are all gone, some of the wrenches are gone,’ and you know we’d go out and start looking for them. He had the freedom to do that, too.”
This tight-knit family life on the farm played a big part in a work ethic that led Colter to open a business with his father at just 19 years old. He and Jeff opened Bobcat of Juneau, one of several equipment providers and rentals in Juneau, 11 years ago. Now, instead of a farm, Colter has 6 acres of industrial property filled with heavy equipment to build and renovate the Juneau community. It’s the only place in Southeast Alaska that has a full section of Bobcat equipment rentals, says Colter.
When the idea to open an equipment yard came to fruition in 2007, there was no hesitation that it had to be a Bobcat facility given Colter’s experience working at a dealership in college.
“I grew up in North Dakota, and that’s where all the Bobcats are made, so I grew up only a couple hundred miles away from the factory,” Colter told the Empire in a recent interview. “It’s like Juneau with Alaskan Amber — kinda that big. In North Dakota, everybody had a Bobcat. It was a thing the state was proud of.”
Colter was 14 when he first ventured up to Juneau with his dad and began to commercial fish. His family came to own the Juneau U-Haul where Pavitt’s kid gym and nursery is located now and while helping with the business, Colter realized another rental equipment yard in Juneau was needed. In 2007, Colter and Jeff purchased the Lemon Creek property to become Bobcat of Juneau.
The facility’s early to mid years started off small, as Bobcat employee Ken Christensen remembers.
“When I started here four and a half years ago, we had one mini excavator, a little backhoe and one skid-steer — that was it,” Christensen said. “It hasn’t really taken long in retrospect to build all of this, and it’s really because Jeff and Colter are here six days a week, 12 hours a day non-stop.”
It’s been 11 years since the business has opened, and 19-year-old Colter is now 29 years old and the father of three small kids: a 2 and 4 year old and a 6-month old baby. Jeff is still co-owner of the business as well, and it’s still a family affair.
Family, even if it’s not his, motivates Colter the most in his business he says. Bobcat of Juneau supports six employees and their families, which keeps Colter moving forward even if the state’s construction budget does not look so promising.
Southeast Conference “Southeast Alaska by the Numbers” 2017 report projects construction activities in the state will be down in the 2018 season. When business owners were asked for their opinion on the economic outlook of the construction and architecture fields, the general sentiment was that the industries were getting “worse” if not “much worse.”
Despite industry forecasts, a highlighted reason why Colter’s business confidence remains strong comes from his open door policy to work with homeowners, even those who “may have only operated a Prius.”
“There has been cut times when I have traveled to someone’s house two or three times to look at (a project) and tell them ‘yeah this is what you need’ and ‘rent this here’ and then they come in and keep asking questions and finally they say ‘OK, yeah, I’ll rent it,’” Colter said.
A business model based on giving consultation and in-person assistance to homeowners has made all the difference to Bobcat of Juneau, even if it sometimes means a total profit margin of $50.
“In the long-term, they tell all their friends about (our customer service), and that business model has worked out extremely well for us, versus someone coming in and saying ‘I need to rent an excavator’ and us saying ‘Oh we don’t rent to homeowners’ or ‘Figure out what you want and come back.’”
Bobcat of Juneau also has some informal customers who frequent the shop. On Saturdays, Colter’s wife drops off his two sons so that they too can have a childhood equipped with experiences similar to Colter’s life out on the ranch. The time shared with his sons is valuable to Colter because it exposes them to the different industries and trades that are out there.But this time does come at a cost.
“Usually by Monday I’m missing tools,” Colter said, smiling. “My mechanic keeps his toolbox locked because (my boys) go wander around and open up toolboxes and take wrenches out.”
Colter Boehm was nominated by his mother Char as this month’s People of Juneau profile.
• Ray Friedlander is a Douglas writer who contributes the monthly People of Juneau feature to the Juneau Empire.