It’s Father’s Day, and everyone at Vann’s hope you have the best day with your dad, filled with fun, BBQ, and time spent with family.
And here, Father’s Day makes us think about Vann’s founding father, Pete Vann.
He began this company in 1961 in Missoula, MT, and it’s been here ever since (though we’ve expanded to five other stores throughout Montana). You can find a little of his, and his family’s, history on our website, and you can see how he grew his store in Missoula to be the largest independent retailer in Montana. In 1996, Pete made his employees part owners in the company. He built a firm foundation for our company to grow on and, in 2005, he sold his company to the employees, making them the full owners of his legacy.
Pete’s retired now, living in Arizona, and enjoying a bit of golf, and some this and some of that. You know, retired. But he’s still missed by the people who worked with him.
Pete knew what you build a business on — it’s the people. Hire the best, treat them well, that’s how you make sure your employees stay with you.
We are lucky to have people working here who worked with Pete, making sure the store stays true to his vision and his character.
I talked to three long time employees of Vanns, Darrell Messmer, Amy Greger, and Debbie Liberko, and they all had some pretty clear memories of working with Pete Vann. Hard worker, a funny guy and a great salesman. But they also remember that when it came to business, Pete was smart, and he was innovative.
They remember Pete was one of the first in Montana to bring in truckloads and even trainloads for sales — long before “big box” became the norm. In fact, Pete’s first big load of GE TV’s, the ones that helped put Vann’s on the map, came by train.
Pete wasn’t afraid to buy boxcars full of merchandise to get the best price from his vendors, and passing that low pricing along to his customers. This was long before the internet, so purchasing that much merchandise was a big, big decision. But, Pete made that choice many times, helping to establish Vann’s as a leader in price as well as service.
And buying big wasn’t his only talent. Pete worked hard at these big sales. Amy recalls that Pete had a gift; he remembered people and he remembered their names. That memory for his customers made him the person people sought out whenever they came in. So at those old Trainload sales, he was running from the moment the doors opened till long after the store closed. And he loved every minute of it.
He was still being sought out by his customers until the day he retired.
Pete always saw the potential in a product, and did what he could to back up his products to his customers. When the VCR was launched, Vann’s became the first video rental store in Missoula. Because, after all, what good was a VCR without anything to play in it? When microwave ovens came out, Pete was instrumental in starting in-store cooking classes, so people weren’t just buying some unknown product — they were buying a product they knew would fit their lifestyle.
Believing in your product, and then backing up your product with service is a Vann’s trademark we still try to uphold every day.
Above is a one of Pete’s famous commercials. He’s still known throughout western Montana for them, even years after the last one hit the airwaves. He made new ones all the time, and was never afraid to poke fun at himself. Pete was always proud of his Catch-up Sale in February, and this commercial was a natural fit for him.
But what Debbie remembers most about the commercials is this — Pete leaving a morning full of meetings, walking onto the sales floor, glancing at the script, and stepping out and making the commercials. One take, maybe two, and they were in the can (in the can meant that the film was put into an actual metal container; it’s how they did things back in the day). He was at home in front of the camera, being the salesman, and often the ham. It’s part of how he told his story, and the story of the company he built, in his own way and in his own style.
But Pete wasn’t all business. He belonged to many community clubs in town, including the Rotary and the Ruff Club, that helped Missoula grow and prosper. Every Thursday he went off to “do a little business on the Southside”. Which meant he was sneaking off to play some golf on his favorite course. Of course, these days he doesn’t have to wait for a Thursday afternoon in summer anymore to get out on the course (he might still have to sneak off, though).
Darrell, Debbie and Amy were all very pleased that we are taking this Father’s Day and remembering Pete Vann. As I spoke to them about Pete, and heard their stories, you could see the real affection and respect they had for Pete. It isn’t possible to put in all the stories they told me, but I can include the feeling of camaraderie and friendship that they all had.
And, of course, pride. Pride that they’d worked with Pete, and helped grow Vann’s into the store it is today, with 5 locations in Montana and our online business. Vann’s continues to grow and prosper in the Missoula valley, always moving forward while looking for new and innovative ways to help our customers.
We’ve been here for over 50 years, with plans of spending at least 50 more, and we’ll always be able to use Pete Vann for a role model, for low pricing, helping the customer, and service after the sale.
Happy Father’s Day, Pete! And Happy Father’s Day to all the other Father’s on your special day. Make the most of it.