Nellie Hofland (l) and Gwen Bohmbach (r)

Nellie Hofland (l) and Gwen Bohmbach (r)

by Jessie Veeder

Gwen Bohmbach and Nellie Hofland get mistaken for sisters on a daily basis, their petite frames, bright eyes and friendly demeanor easily convincing new acquaintances of their relation.

“I can see where they might draw that conclusion, I mean, we’re always together,” laughs Hofland. “Sometime we correct them, but sometimes we just go with it.”

Hofland and Bohmbach might not be sisters, but they are friends—friends, roommates, and successful business partners and owners of Dickinson based B&H On-Site Testing LLC, a 24/7 on site drug and alcohol testing service in the middle of the land of opportunity the world has come to know as Western North Dakota.

From friends to business partners

Bohmbach and Hofland met through college friends ten years ago and have remained connected ever since, their rural backgrounds—Bohmbach grew up on a cattle ranch near Keene and Hofland spent her childhood on her family’s cattle and sheep ranch northeast of Reeder—helping lay a foundation for a friendship that would eventually find them living together and working side by side in the West River Regional Medical Center in Hettinger.

That was nearly four years ago before Hofland took a job as a phlebotomist at MedCenter One in Dickinson and Bohmbach pursued a nuclear medicine certification to add to her radiologic science degree at Rapid City Regional Hospital.

As the women were gaining ground as young healthcare professionals, the familiar landscape of Western North Dakota was rapidly shifting, placing Bohmbach’s childhood home in the center of the Bakken Boom.

And while Bohmbach saw the impacts out the window of her parent’s home, Hofland saw change coming through the door of MedCenter One. Because of the increased focus on health and safety in the rapidly growing oil industry, Hofland went from performing five drug and alcohol screenings a week to over thirty.

“We’re right in the middle of all of this activity, all of this change,” said Bohmbach. “It gets you thinking about how you can be a part of it.”

It wasn’t long before Bohmbach’s ties to Western North Dakota and experience in the health care industry had her phone ringing with requests to perform drug screenings. Intrigued by the idea of being her own boss, she called up her friend.

“I asked Nellie, why can’t we do this on our own,” said Bohmbach.

Bohmbach’s idea sparked an interest in Hofland who sat with it for a few days and then called her friend back.

“I said ‘Are you serious? Because if you’re serious, I’m serious,” laughed Hofland.

That was the end of June, 2011. By August B&H was up and running.

Gaining ground

It’s surprising timing unless you know these women, whose confidence, energy and trust in one another outweigh the doubts they might have had about successfully running a business together.

“The first few months were the hardest,” admits Hofland, who quickly learned that running a business in an area in constant change requires innovative methods. When the team’s first and only television advertisement yielded no results, they took a different approach.

“We realized then that our clients aren’t watching television, they’re out there working,” said Hofland. “We can do all the advertising we want but our clients want a personal relationship. They want to know who we are.”

So Bohmbach, armed with her outgoing personality and her connection to the area, started knocking on doors and introducing herself. When the women go to the bar or out to a restaurant they bring their business cards with them.

“I have classmates and friends in the industry,” said Bohmbach. “Once they knew what we were doing they would introduce me to their co-workers and friends and we would get some contacts that way.”

But once the connections are made, both Bohmbach and Hofland agree that it’s the quality of work and their reputation that carries them the extra mile, a burden of entrepreneurship that the women happily bear.

“I like knowing that my decisions directly affect the outcome of our business,” said Bohmbach. “Even our bad days are good days.”

It’s this attitude, and the fact that they have been known to bring homemade chocolate chip cookies to a work site, that keeps the women of B&H on the top of their game.

The cookies and the increased focus on safety in the oil industry and beyond.

“Companies can’t afford accidents,” said Hofland. “They have to stay safe in order to keep their doors open.”

Staying safe means ensuring their employees are drug and alcohol free. That’s why the team is committed to providing around the clock service, a policy that makes them accessible for clients who may need to screen employees returning to duty, hold random screenings or test for substance use after an on site accident.

In order to fill that need often times Bohmbach and Hofland work separately, tending to scheduled and immediate appointments that cut a wide, 200 miles radius swath around Dickinson. When the job calls for testing a large amount of employees, the two work together.

“The people are my favorite part of the job,” said Hofland. “It’s so interesting to hear their stories, see photos of their kids and learn about why they’re up here working so hard.”

Veterans in the industry

There’s a certain amount of fearlessness that goes along with running a business that sends these young women out on busy highways and winding back roads into the night, but the team has experienced nothing but professionalism and respect from their clients.

“Our clients have been especially accommodating and cordial. They want us to get in there and get our job done so they can keep working,” said Hofland. “I feel safer on a rig than when I’m out shopping alone.”

But the oil industry is only about seventy percent of B&H’s client base. The team also works with the Association of Counties, railroad companies, utility companies and even parents who want to screen their children for suspected drug use.

And although B&H has only been operating for a year and a half, out in the oil fields of Western North Dakota where dozens of new businesses work to gain footing each week, Bohmbach and Hofland are considered veterans in their industry.

“We got into it knowing that it’s now or never,” said Hofland, who credits their timing and southwestern North Dakota location with much of their success. “Now we want to branch in whichever direction we need to go to satisfy our clients.”

Recently they have partnered with the North Dakota Department of Health to offer free HIV and STD screenings and will soon be offering safety training.

In March they opened a small office in Killdeer to offer a point of contact for clients and they’re currently working on hiring an intern to help meet the demands of a growing business.

“We know we have to keep working hard to keep succeeding,” said Hofland. “If it ever gets slow we’re going to be back out there pushing the pavement.”

But at the end of a working day that sent this team—these friends—miles apart in separate directions while they work toward a common goal, you will catch them joking about Hofland’s obsessive organizational skills, Bohmbach’s ability to talk to anyone, and the fact that they had to explain, once again, that they are not sisters.

Then they’ll head home to wake up the next morning and start all over again in the land of opportunity.