There's an oft-used metaphor when people go through difficult times: Diamonds are created under pressure. By undergoing challenging experiences and persevering, we become better versions of ourselves.

Such is the case with Pamela Mower, president of Montana-based Northwest Drywall and Roofing Supply. One wouldn't know it at first glance, as she and her husband, Mike, have successfully grown the family-owned distribution business from one location to five, which is no small feat in a state with a population of just over 1 million.

But Mower is the first to admit that she hit the ground running when she started and is still, at 67, on the hunt for wisdom nuggets.

"In 35 years, I'm still learning. I have a lot to learn still … I'm at a point I feel like I should have been 15 years ago," she said, laughing.

That positive attitude, perseverance and eagerness to learn from her peers are leading Northwest Drywall and Roofing Supply into the future as it continues to grow in the Treasure State.

Trial by Fire

Mike worked in the oil and gas industry, which was lucrative but often required domestic and international travel. When the couple decided to raise their kids in the beautiful state of Montana, they knew changes had to be made. As Mower says, they searched for an occupation that allowed them to establish themselves in a small community – Kalispell.

"[Mike] actually found Northwest Drywall and Roofing Supply, which was a tiny, tiny business in a town that hadn't been discovered yet," she said. "Montana was not really growing back then."

Despite being in a small town (pop. 12,605 in 1990) and with no experience in the building and construction industry of her own, the Mowers took the leap in 1988. Since Mike was still traveling for work, Mower took on the role of running their new venture.

"I learned everything the hard way," she said, laughing. "There weren't really mentors, so I made a lot of mistake, and we did a few things right, and I have a pretty hard head, so I kept after it. I think persistence is a quality that I do have."

Along with leaning on her husband's construction and management acumen — which Mower said has been nothing short of brilliant  she credits her father for her grit and gumption. She said the World War II pilot went into medicine after the war and helped establish a large hospital in Kansas City.

"Sometimes you need to just go for it and not get in your way and just continue on," she said. "His example was excellent."

Mike eventually quit his job in 2005, taking on a consulting role to help run day-to-day operations, with Mower saying he has been a "tremendous sounding board" for her. In 2007, Northwest Drywall opened its second location in Belgrade, which Mower said was a culmination of many things but was due, in no small part, to finally finding the mentorship she had been missing from her early days.

Finding Kinship

A quick glance at Northwest Drywall and Roofing Supply's "About Us" page on its website proves how much the company values collaboration. It is a member and registered with nine associations, the most recent of which is the Independent Distributor Alliance Corporation, which it joined in April.

Around the time they opened their second location, Mower attended meetings and events held by these associations. She quickly learned the value of being a member of cooperatives, especially those where she could meet other independent distributors.

"That was a turning point for me … that was absolutely pivotal," she said. "Anyone who doesn't have the expertise or feels they need more and isn't involved in a cooperative with the industry they're in should really look hard at getting involved immediately. It makes all the difference in the world."

In addition to meeting like-minded distributors, Mower has met other women in a traditionally male-dominated industry. She said these connections taught her a lot about managing her business.

"I think there's probably a few more women on the gypsum side of things than on the roofing side, but it's just phenomenal to meet women and … you just immediately bond because you already know each other, because we're all fighting the same battles and doing the same things," she said.

When asked what advice she would pass on to others in the industry, she reflected on a conversation she had with a colleague whose friend purchased a window and door business out of state, only for most employees to leave. Baffled, this friend asked Mower what advice she could pass along.

"I said, tell them to figure out what their industry cooperative or group is and become a member, and then learn from other people they don't compete with," she said. "You don't have to learn everything the hard way anymore.

"Also, go talk to your bankers, learn from your bankers, go take classes in financing," she added. "Ultimately, we're a banker to our customers, and you've got to learn how to handle that and do it professionally and well."

A Future of Growth

With alliances firmly established and improved know-how in Mower's toolkit, Northwest Drywall and Roofing Supply is on a growth trajectory. As president, Mower constantly looks toward the future, seeking paths and initiatives that will take the company to new heights.

Northwest Drywall expanded into Helena, Mont., in 2013, and 2020, opened a fourth location in Great Falls. They recently ventured into Missoula, where the University of Montana is located – a bold move, as it is a more densely populated area.

"That area has probably got more competition there now than any others when we moved into them, so that's going to be different and interesting for us," she said.

In a state like Montana, being spaced out is a key strategy for success. The new Missoula location is roughly 120 miles from the original Kalispell facility, while the Belgrade is approximately 320 miles from Kalispell.

"For a state with just over a million people, you have to have three or four stores to make [the] business of probably what a store in a large city could do," she said. "Greenfields are difficult, but somehow or another, that's what you have to do in Montana."

The roofing industry remains a hotbed for merger and acquisition activity, and the distribution side is still ripe with opportunities. With all the success Northwest Drywall and Roofing Supply has seen in a growing and relatively remote state, it is little surprise that Mower receives phone calls with inquiries about acquiring the business. But Mower, perhaps leaning on her persistence, is steadfast.

"We are not for sale," she said.

Mower praised another factor that sets Northwest Drywall apart from the competition: its people. She said they go above and beyond, delivering supplies promptly despite the long trips necessary. She said that when hiring candidates, they seek intellect and truthfulness as their primary qualities.

"We have terrific management here at Northwest Drywall and I'm real pleased with all the people I work with. I have huge respect for them," she said.

Fostering a culture of respect, coupled with high hiring standards, creates a sense of fellowship with customers. As hungry as the company may be for growth, however, it is choosey.

"We promote our contractors, and we don't want everybody's business," she said. "We want the business that we want. We want the good business and we promote that."

This culture of respect extends into the communities where Northwest Drywall does business. Whether sponsoring softball teams, donating to community colleges or buying a hog at a 4-H fair, the company makes its presence felt.

"It makes a difference. This is our community and we care about it and we serve it well," she said.

The philanthropy is more than a gesture or clever advertising – after all, Montana is where the Mowers moved to raise their children. They love taking advantage of the beautiful nature surrounding them, such as exploring Glacier National Park – especially when they can hit the Going-to-the-Sun Road on e-bikes.

Regardless of Mower's learning-as-you-go entry, she has no regrets about joining the distribution industry.

"I consider myself so fortunate to have accidentally tripped into this business and to know the people that I know. I have huge respect for the contractors who do all the work out there, and I just feel like a very, very fortunate person to have been able to be in this industry.

"And I also, on that level, feel very fortunate to have been able to meet the other people I know who are involved in this industry around the country from the distribution side."