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The ticket to success - Growing on-line company,, expands to Lewistown, Montana

December 6, 2010View for printing

Central Montana may seem far removed from Hindi-language pop stars in India or mixed martial arts contests on the Atlantic seaboard, but a successful on-line ticket printing business based in Harlowton is proving just how small this digitally connected world has become.

by DAVID MURRAY News-Argus Staff Writer has been printing event tickets, processing them and shipping them to customers all across North America for nine years now. What began as a humble, one-person operation now employs 28 people in Harlowton, working day and night., and its newly launched companion company, TicketRiver, now claim more than 80,000 customers worldwide.

Company CEO Lance Trebesch predicts will produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 million individual event tickets this year alone, and the company continues to grow. It's software development and business team, headquartered in Bozeman, operates technical support networks in both the United Kingdom and Australia, and has just opened a new customer support center in Lewistown.

"We expect to employ one or two new customer support people each year, just because our business is growing so much," Trebesch explained. "We supply events with as many as 10,000 tickets, but generally our events average about 1,000 people. Everything from a kid's sweet 16 birthday party where they want a cool invitation, to church Christmas performances, school events, drag races, sporting events, and all sorts of raffles. Amateur mixed martial arts has become a huge, growing segment for us, and we have Indian pop stars coming to us to do concerts in bigger cities with large Indian immigrant populations. It's kind of a flow of American life - a flow of holidays and special events. A flow of what's trending right now, and all of these people find us on the Web."

Company founder Mike Yinger came to Harlowton in 2001 searching for a new production facility for his burgeoning business. The Kansas City native had already established himself as a software architect for the IBM Corporation before founding, but grew tired of his job's global travel requirements. According to Trebesch, Yinger wrote a "print your own tickets at home" software program so he could work from his home in Bigfork.

"He started selling it to small community theater playhouses and other people doing their own printing at home," explained Trebesch. "Then people started requesting perforated paper, so he started in 1997. Finally it got big enough where people wanted him to just do everything. That's when we opened our production facility in Harlowton." has grown exponentially ever since. Trucks delivering paper now arrive three times a week to the old Graves Hotel, the company's Harlowton production site. There, the tickets are printed, cut, repackaged and sent by UPS to customers throughout the North American continent.

"We're pretty much working around the clock right now," said Terry Freeser, operations manager for the Harlowton facility. "The lights have not gone off in quite a while."

According to Trebesch, most of's customers seek the company out because it provides them with a quick and easy-to-use means of producing a wide range of promotional materials including tickets, stickers, event wristbands, posters and flyers, all from the convenience of their home or office computer.

"We kind of live in a 'do-it-yourself' culture right now," he observed. "A lot of artists, performers and musicians set up and market their own events, and want to design and print their own tickets too. We enable people to choose a design template, put their information on that template, and then we print, process and ship those promotional materials out. We're essentially giving our customers the tools to do all of this on a small- to medium-size level."

A new companion web site to was launched earlier this year. TicketRiver allows event organizers to take the do-it-yourself process one step further. "What TicketRiver enables you to do is set up an event and then sell tickets to it on-line," said Trebesch. "Most organizations now have pretty robust e-mail lists. We enable customers to import those e-mail list into TicketRiver, and then when they want to promote a particular performance they can send out invitations to people whom they've had contact with or who have attended events before."

Some may question whether a company experiencing such growth and success might soon be looking for a new production facility - one located in a more intensively developed urban area perhaps. However, Trebesch said that has no intention of moving away from Central Montana any time soon, for a couple of fundamental reasons.

First, because the existing information and transportation networks have become so reliable, having a production facility located within a main trans-shipment point is no longer a necessity.

"You would think we would get a lot of shipping objections because we are so far away from the majority of our customers," Trebesch commented. "But the Internet and the broadband networks are so reliable, and UPS is so reliable, that our customers can get their tickets the very next day - if they choose next-day air delivery. That's really important to our customers."

"Secondly, we've almost always received a very positive, warm response to our customer support representatives," he added. "It's almost cliché to say it, but people from small towns in Montana are genuinely nice and genuinely friendly. I've had customers write me and say, 'Your support people aren't faking it - they are genuinely nice people.' They can hear that through the phone and you can kind of even get that through an e-mail."

Trebesch said it's that sincerity - the willingness of people in Central Montana to do their best to help another person on the phone, whether they be one county over or 2,000 miles away - that has prompted to open its newest customer support center in Lewistown.

"We look at Lewistown as a great growth opportunity for us," said Trebesch. "We have a great operation in Harlowton with a great personnel team that Terry runs, but it's just a small town and we're beginning to run out of potential employees. Lewistown has a higher population base."

"It's fun for us to expand into Lewistown - just because of the kind of community it is," he added. "We hope we can grow and grow into a really nice presence here."

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