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They’re not in Kansas anymore: Friends move to southwest ND to open plumbing, HVAC business

Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand Cole Gresens, left, and Philip Smith left Kansas for southwest North Dakota and have opened Top Notch Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in Gladstone.

Philip Smith and Cole Gresens took a gamble branching out on their own.

After working for others for more than a decade each, Smith and Gresens set up Top Notch Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, which officially opened in January in Gladstone.

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“We take just as much pride in our service as we do our work,” Smith said

They came from Kansas with another company to do work and saw opportunity in the oil boom to create a different type of HVAC company.

They try to not only provide great service to the customer’s home and appliances, but to the customers themselves.

“We’re pretty friendly compared to some people that we’ve met,” Gresens said. “We usually talk with the customer and try to establish some sort of relationship with them.”

While many HVAC specialist and plumbers are swamped with work in new construction, Top Notch is focusing on service.

“We’re trying to serve people, and businesses, too, if they need help,” Gresens said.

In addition to the Dickinson area, they service as far north as Williston and Watford City, but haven’t made it as far south as Bowman or Hettinger yet.

A previous oil boom and shady companies have created hurdles that Top Notch is jumping over.

“I’ve noticed that there’s a little bit of reluctance,” Gresens said. “Probably they’ve been burnt before.”

Smith knew by the age of 20 that he didn’t want a desk job, and that he wanted to be outside and work with his hands.

He attended trade school in his hometown of Manhattan, Kan., but most of his education took place on the job over the past 13 years.

“You can sit in a classroom for two years and you’re still very green when you get out in the field,” Smith said.

While the business climate in Kansas isn’t as rough as some other states, a startup like Top Notch would have been difficult to establish.

“We haven’t really advertised yet and we’re still pretty busy,” Gresens said.

One of the biggest changes for the two is having to complete their own paperwork.

“I respect secretaries a little bit more,” Gresens said.

Gresens, the bachelor of the two, spent the first half of his life in Miles City, Mont., before moving to Kansas with his family, so he’s familiar with the area.

“I’d been up here before the oil boom — I was actually in Williston in 2005,” Gresens said. “It lived up to the hype. It was quite impressive, what they had done since I had been there.”

Smith is spending time away from his growing family — he and his wife are expecting their second child this spring — to establish the company.

“I’d have my family up here now if I could find an affordable place to live,” Smith said.

Until then, he’s going to work hard in North Dakota.

“We’d like to have a shop and our families up here, that’s the goal,” Smith said. “Going back and forth to home is not fun.”

Top Notch Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning

City: Gladstone Cellphone: 701-300-3310

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206