Steve Rollman was a firefighter in Thornton before he started his feed store in Niwot. A couple of back surgeries got him casting around for other opportunities and he found a vacant storefront in Niwot back in 1981.
He decided to buy it and start a rental business, renting lawn equipment, carpet cleaners, dollies. “Pretty much anything people wanted,” he says.
A Family Business Model
The startup was extremely time consuming at the beginning when Steve was operating it by himself. “When you run your own business, you just do everything that needs to be done.”
Niwot Rental and Feed is very much a family business. His two boys, Tim and David, came to work for him when they were young and his son, Tim, the resident bird expert, still works there. David helps out at times and Steve’s wife also lends a hand at the business when she can.
A Jack of All Trades
Steve rewires trailers, stocks shelves, interfaces with customers, does mechanical work. The day I was there he was getting a stack of coupons ready to mail out while his sons rotated the food and organized the shelves. “Practically the only thing I don’t do is the books. I stay away from those!”
Things went well in the rental business for the first several years until the housing market crashed and everything slowed down. But Steve noticed an uptick in the feed side of the business as backyard chickens and goats became more popular in the area.
Plenty of Advice to Share
People come to Niwot Rental and Feed for advice on what to feed their puppy, how to attract goldfinches to their yards, and how to best feed the birds instead of the squirrels (the answer is The Squirrel Buster, a contraption that relies on a squirrel’s heavier body weight to pull down an outside cage that then blocks his access to the feed hole. Genius!)
Anything You Want to Know About Birds…
Tim’s wife originally sparked his interest in birds and over the years he has gathered a wealth of knowledge and stories about them. He knows what feed attracts which bird and which ones prefer clinging or perching. He told me about a falconer nearby whose pigeons were being hunted and eaten by an owl, so he trapped the owl, figured it might enjoy Breckenridge, and drove it out there to introduce it to its new hunting grounds.
You guessed it. When he got home, the owl had beat him back and was casually waiting in his yard.
Running a Small Business Is a Big Task
Steve’s best advice for someone about to undertake the big commitment of starting his or her own business is to go and work somewhere else first. “You can learn a lot just by working for someone else, and if you’re going to spend 60 hours a week doing something, you’d better like it.”
Both Steve and Tim say the highlight of the each work day is the clientele. “They treat us well, and we must be doing okay because they keep coming back.”
I guess so. At this point, they’ve had return customers for 35 years.