Siblings return to Missoula to purchase local business

Patrick Owen and Becky Colman returned to Montana to purchase Fuel Montana Media, an outdoor advertising company based in Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

A pair of siblings who left Polson to go their separate ways, one to Arizona and the other to Michigan, have reunited in Missoula as the new owners of Fuel Montana Media.

Patrick Owen and Becky Colman purchased the established media company in November and are feeling their way though their new endeavor, one that sells pump-top television advertising at nearly two-dozen gas stations across Montana.

“We knew we wanted to move back,” said Colman. “We both looked at jobs here and we talked a lot about it and decided we wanted to open a business together and work at a business together.”

Before doing so, Colman – a former college softball player – had been living Arizona where she worked on corporate partnerships for the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball club. Owen, a former University of Michigan wrestler, was working as a managing consultant.

Intent on returning to Montana, the two started researching business opportunities in Missoula. While they considered purchasing a franchise opportunity, they wanted whatever they did to be locally focused.

As it turned out, David Bell was looking to sell Fuel Montana Media.

“We didn’t actually purchase the company until November,” Colman said. “We looked at a few franchise opportunities. But one big thing we wanted to do was something more local. We liked that it was locally owned.”

Owen described his new business as outdoor digital advertising. The concept is simple – take advantage of motorists waiting for their vehicle to fill with gasoline. While they wait, the pump-top television screens display local weather and sports – they have a partnership with the local CBS station – interspersed with commercial advertising.

Monetizing the pump-top displays places them in competition with more traditional television, radio and print advertising options. They typically sell 15-second spots. Customers must provide a finished ad, they said.

Patrick Owen looks inside one of the pump-top monitors at the Fuel Montana Media office in downtown Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

“We want to be in the mix as people are making advertising and marketing decisions and considering their options,” said Owen. “That captive outdoor audience is something that might be appealing. Right now, we’re spreading the word and meeting with ad agencies so we’re top of mind when they’re meeting with their clients and setting up their plan.”

The business isn’t a dramatic change in course from their former occupations. Both worked in the business world before taking the plunge as entrepreneurs. Owen attributed his former consulting job for giving him the courage to purchase his own business.

“When I was doing the consulting work, doing the research and meeting with the stakeholders, I started to get more confidence,” he said. “I feel more confident I could own a business and run a business. I think (Colman) had some of that too. We both felt, if we were going to move back, we were going to work for ourselves.”

The company includes 170 monitors displayed at 23 Montana gas stations, including Noon’s in Missoula and Casey’s Corner in Bozeman. They expect to bring two other gas stations online in the coming months.

While they don’t plan to add any employees just yet, they do have business plans for the future. Among them, Owen said, they look to expand the placement of the monitors to venues beyond gas stations.

“Our year one stuff, right now, is to maintain what we have and keep the quality, and be sure we’re able to handle the maintenance on the machines,” said Owen. “We’re working on building the sales part before we look at expanding. We’re learning all the technology.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com