Advanced Business Methods: A Look Back At 50 Years In Business

Written by: Brady Drake

1985 Grand Forks Advanced Business Methods Team Photo

Big dreams, a well thought out plan, a mission; these are all things that could be used to describe the efforts of a young business owner. However, the seed which sprouted Advanced Business Methods back in 1971 was more of an afterthought than anything else.


Back in 1971, downtown Fargo was home to a store called Mr. Music Man. The owner of Mr. Music Man wanted to make copies, but couldn’t because nobody sold copiers in Fargo at the time. However, “Mr. Music Man” sold 3M background music systems and 3M was getting into the copier business.

The Music man reached out to his distributor and brokered a deal. Rather than simply buying a copier, “Mr. Music Man” became a 3M copier dealer so he could have the copier he wanted at cost, with no real intentions of selling copiers as a main source of income.

Eventually, however, a number of business acquaintances became impressed with the capabilities of his copier and wanted to buy their own. Thus, a business was born. Sort of. “Mr. Music Man” wasn’t interested in doing copier sales, but he had a sales associate that was, Howard Schuh.

The two split and Advanced Business Methods was formed as a copier dealer.

The 13th Avenue Location

1976 Advanced Business Methods Office in West Fargo
1976 Advanced Business Methods Office in West Fargo

In 1976, Schuh built ABM’s current office on what was at the time, a very scarcely populated 13th Avenue in Fargo.

In 1976, Schuh thought that 13th Avenue might become a pretty popular road, so he built on it.

Schuh’s prediction could not have been more right! Since their original office construction, 13th Avenue has blossomed into one of the busiest avenues in the city.

A Split and a Reunion

In 1981, Schuh sold the eastern portion of his business to Ken Retzer. At the time ABM had stores in Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck and Minot.

This caused a bit of confusion for customers at the time as the eastern stores were Advanced Business Methods Inc. and the western stores were just Advanced Business Methods.

“There was a lot of confusion between the separation of the store on both sides of the state.” said Sales Specialist Bob Stromberg.

That confusion remained until 2008 when ABM sold its western stores back to ABM Inc.

Since 2008, ABM has expanded to Dickinson and Williston, and has transitioned into an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 2012.

Advanced Business Methods Today

Advanced Business Methods Today

Today, Advanced Business Methods has five main offices and in addition, has technicians based out of Bemidji, Devils Lake, Williston and Wahpeton. In total, ABM has 70+ employee/owners with an average tenure of 17 years.

Sales Specialist Bob Stromberg joined the company 36 years ago and has had a front row seat to the evolution of ABM over that time… He was originally hired to sell typewriters after all. Now, almost every product sold at ABM has its own internal computer system.

“Things have come so far from a technology standpoint,” said Stromberg. “Copiers used to all use liquid ink. It was dangerous and combustible. We’ve had to embrace technology as it evolves to survive in this market.” That excitement coupled with a family-focused culture have kept Stromberg around all this time.

“I think these key values of ABM are a couple of things that help people stay around for so long with us,” said Stromberg. “That extended tenure has been really key in us building towards the future.”

That extended average tenure has allowed ABM to maintain a quality of service over time that can not be topped by the larger distributors out there. They’ll work with you to learn your business needs and implement solutions for the long haul.

They’ve been doing it for 50 years and will be doing it for at least 50 more.

4 Questions With ABM CEO John Ysteboe

John Ysteboe

1. What sets ABM apart?

I believe what sets us apart is the perfect mixture of a few things. First and foremost, our staff. We’re 100% employee owned, and have an average tenure of 17 years with our employees; we always want to make sure they are taken care of because we have found that same responsibility is turned around and given to our customers. Our staff members make a true commitment to their communities, no matter where they are within the State of North Dakota. Secondly, the flexibility of owning and operating our own leasing company allows us to give our customers our best pricing without including a third party and maintaining our customers’ trust in our organization.

2. How have you noticed the organization evolve over time?

With the growth of our company to western North Dakota, we’ve been able to work closer with more and more North Dakota companies to help them in their expansion, not only in our region but by providing machines and services throughout the entire United States. That’s typically accomplished through our manufacturers that we represent or with other local dealers who we have met through the many national organizations that we’re a member of.

3. What is important to ABM?

The first thing I strive to do is take care of the employees who work at Advanced Business Methods. I believe the cornerstone of a company comes from having employees who not only have a stake in the ownership of the company but also enjoy their jobs. When an employee enjoys their job, it shows up in the work they perform which results in happy customers.

4. Where do you see ABM heading?

In the coming years, I see growing leaps and bounds through the addition of more services offered to our customers, as well as the expansion of our footprint in Northwest Minnesota, North Dakota, Northern South Dakota and Eastern Montana.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.