By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Chad Ouellette was given the moniker “Yooper,” a colloquial term used to describe those that live in the U.P. Eventually, he used his geographic identity to coin his own drywall business, Yooper Wall Systems, Inc.
Ouellette made his way out to Montana in 1987 and worked in Bozeman for a few years as a drywall finisher. Then, in 1990, his sister and brother-in-law, Doug and JoDean Bing, approached him about moving to Big Sky and managing the state liquor store Sky Spirits and Gifts. The family opened and ran the store for four years before selling it in 1994.
At that point, Ouellette started drywall finishing on his own in Big Sky until he could figure out his next steps. After being teased with the name Yooper drywall, Ouellette started Yooper Wall Systems, Inc. in 1994. Now, 30 years later, he is still running a successful drywall business and jokes that he still doesn’t know what his next step is.
Explore Big Sky talked with Ouellette to learn more about Yooper Wall Systems, Inc. and his favorite part of working in the drywall business.
Some answers below have been edited for brevity.
Explore Big Sky: When and why did you start Yooper Wall Systems, Inc.?
Chad Ouellette: After the sale of the [liquor] store, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I started drywall finishing around the area until I figured out my next move.
EBS: Tell me about the history of Yooper Wall Systems, Inc.? How has it grown?
C.O.: I worked by myself for several years just finishing one house after another. It was pretty quiet back then, it seemed there was just enough work to get by. I was able to add a few employees over the years, when in 2005 all hell broke loose. The building boom was on! Within a year we went from drywall finishing with six to eight employees to having 60 people working in the field. I don’t think I slept very well that year.
EBS: How big is your team?
C.O.: We now run 40 to 50 people in the field, I am very blessed to have a great staff that manages it for me.
EBS: What inspired the name of your business?
C.O: I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, they call us Yoopers back there from Upper [Michigan.] That’s how I got the name of my business.
EBS: Tell me about the services that you provide?
C.O.: We really specialize in custom homes. We stock and install all of our own sheetrock and we have crews that do drywall finishing, veneer and Venetian plaster, exterior stucco, acoustical grid and tile, and sound abatement systems.
EBS: What is your area of service?
C.O.: For 20 years, I lived here in Big Sky, and worked out of my garage. My office was in my house. Twelve years or so ago we moved down to Gallatin Gateway and I have a nice big shop and an office there just a mile north of Gallatin Gateway and we work out of there now. We work all over the state but most of what we do is right here in the valley.
EBS: What is the best part of working at Yooper Wall Systems, Inc.?
C.O.: The plaster division gets me out of bed every day, it’s very creative. For years we have done veneer plaster and over the last few years the Italian Venetian plaster world has exploded. It’s ever-changing every day and trying to keep up with all the techniques, the different colors and finishes, it’s challenging and it’s very rewarding.
EBS: What is the best business advice you have ever received?
C.O.: A bit of advice I got from an architect during the recession, he said, “Chad the key is to keep up your quality. Don’t jeopardize your quality and you will be just fine.” I always remembered that and we try to focus on our quality every day.
EBS: Anything else you would like to add?
C.O.: I am just so grateful to all of the builders and contractors that took a chance on me. We have developed some great relationships over the years.