Collection Bureau Services, Inc. (CBS) of Missoula is the winner of the 2018 Montana Family Business award in the small business category (10-30 employees), presented by Montana State University Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship State Farm Insurance Family Business Day.
Collection Bureau Services started after many lunch and dinner discussions between founders, Marlene and Gilbert “Gil” Koch. Gil always wanted to own his own business and in May 1976 his dream became a reality.
The Koches set up shop in a one-room leased space on the third floor of the Higgins Building in downtown Missoula.
At the time, their son, Jeff, was 16 years old. He helped lug desks up all three flights as there was no elevator. Today, Jeff is CBS’ president. All five of the Koch children, at some time or another, played a role in the business, during their high school and college years. The experience helped give them solid foundations upon which to build careers in teaching, finance, computers and medicine.
In the beginning, Marlene would work at the office in the mornings with their daughter Beth, playing under the desk, while Gil met with clients and made sales call around town. After a few lean yeas Gil purchased “the little red house” at 212 E. Spruce Street and CBS moved their offices, ready for the next level of growth.
Jeff returned to Missoula in 1987 to learn the ropes of CBS, starting out as a collector. Meanwhile, Gil had brought in a partner, Doug Klein, to expand CBS into a full-fledged Credit Bureau, providing credit reports to merchants. Doug concentrated on the credit reporting while Gil continued as bill collector. Doug remained as a partner until his retirement in 2009.
In 1986, Gil became one of the first business owners among the Montana collectors to implement the use of computers. Marlene says, “We traveled to view the first giant sized computer which was in Idaho and took up most of the 12 x 15 foot room in which it was located. It resembled an elaborate beehive set of ‘combs’ and loomed menacingly at nearly 7 feet, with a constant humming. By the time we installed ours it was not as gigantic, but still unwieldy.”
However, that technology had a dark side. A modem in the credit reporting department overheated after- hours and there was a disastrous fire. Fortunately, Gil made backup tapes and CBS was up and running within 24 hours at a temporary location.
Today, CBS remains at the original location in the office that was built after the fire. Current Vice-President, Jennifer (Koch) Whipple grew up in the business. She started as a filer and earned her way through the ranks. . . . so, the third generation is in place to continue the journey.