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News & Media

News & Media

Going with FLOE to pinnacle of success – FLOE Inernational, Inc., experienced an exceptional year of expansion and growth in 2013….

Minnesota thermoformer firing up mammoth machine - Floe International Inc. is starting up its giant thermoforming machine – a behemoth with a sheet forming area measuring 10 feet by….

Fun FLOE party celebrates 30 years - Dealers from all over Canada joined Floe staff for its 30 year celebration.

FLOE International looks at going global - Wayne Floe’s vision for the future is to be a leader in design, innovation and construction of high quality products.

FLOE’s on the grow - If you have traveled on Highway 65 lately, you have noted there is a construction project underway on the east side of the highway across from FLOE International…

Propelling FLOE to a promising future - With Wayne FLOE at the helm, innovation in recreation and 40,000 square foot expansion keep McGregor company on the cutting edge.

Powersports Business article  May 27, 2013 Floe’s growth allows for new plant, diversification ………

Pontoon meets cabin cruiser at Minneapolis Boat Show
01/29/2013 – Billed as a “sport yacht convertible,” the Floe Craft is made in McGregor, Minn. Founder Wayne Floe has been showing the boat at shows for several years, but with a new factory nearing completion in McGregor, he said he’s close to taking orders.

Just Go With The “Floe”
Wayne Floe designed his first boat lift at the age of 19. He was not simply a creative type, toying around on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Teenaged Wayne had worked part-time helping cottagers install and remove docks, and experienced firsthand the various cumbersome design flaws. He was determined to remedy them….

Floe resurrecting giant thermoforming machine
MCGREGOR, MINN. (Dec. 28, 3 p.m. ET) — A large-machine thermoforming operation is due to start operating in February. Floe International Inc. is building a 41,600-square-foot facility in McGregor that will house what consultants said is the largest rotary thermoformer in the world, a behemoth with a 10-foot-by-25-foot forming area that has been sitting idle for several years.

Dock company sees steady growth
Carefree Dock and Lift is a small-town company with a wide variety of products and services for the lakeside communities in Michigan and Indiana…

FLOE International supports hospital expansion campaign
Thanks to Wayne and Janelle Floe, McGregor area residents now have an even greater reason to give to the Better Together Capital Campaign….

Program aids Hoyt Lakes manufacturing plant
MINNEAPOLIS — Enterprise Minnesota and its client, Floe International, recently hosted state Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisolm, and state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, on a tour of Floe International in Hoyt Lakes to share first-hand…

Program aids Hoyt Lakes manufacturing plant

Mesabi Daily News
December, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS — Enterprise Minnesota and its client, Floe International, recently hosted state Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisolm, and state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, on a tour of Floe International in Hoyt Lakes to share first-hand the impact of the state-funded Growth Acceleration Program on a local business.

Enterprise Minnesota, a non-profit consulting organization that works with manufacturers, administers GAP funding.

GAP provides small manufacturing and manufacturing-related companies with needed help to compete and continue their commitment as employers, job creators and contributors to local community life.

Tomassoni and Rukavina saw first-hand the impact of manufacturing in a local community, meeting with the owner and workers at Floe International. Owner Wayne Floe and President Don VanderMey told the lawmakers about the company’s work and how GAP has helped them access lean services.

Floe International, an aluminum dock, boatlift and trailer manufacturer with facilities in Hoyt Lakes and McGregor, received a GAP grant to help develop their workforce and implement other techniques to increase efficiency. More than 50 companies statewide have received GAP grant monies in just the last year.

Created in 2007 by the state Legislature and authored by Tomassoni, the program allows manufacturers with fewer than 100 employees to receive up to $25,000 per year toward projects intended to help the company grow. The business must match any GAP money awarded. That means a maximum of $50,000 per company per year, including a 50 percent match.

“The idea behind the Growth Acceleration Program is to aid small businesses with their technological needs. Often times, they either don’t have the resources, knowledge, or time — or the combination of all three — to get up to speed on the latest technology that might help their business grow and maybe even create new jobs,” Tomassoni said.

GAP funding is making an impact on Minnesota manufacturers, says Enterprise President & CEO Bob Kill. “We are seeing a return of $15 for every $1 invested in the program,” Kill said. “That’s a huge impact in terms of job retention and job creation for the communities where these companies are located.”

FLOE uses a Lean Enterprise to increase its flow
Three manufacturing companies, Superior Thermowood. FLOE International and Savanna Pallet, were visited in October by Aitkin County commissioners; department heads; Aitkin, McGregor and Palisade business people; and a representative from Natural Resources Research Institute at UMD. Local newspaper representatives were also invited.

FLOE uses a Lean Enterprise to increase its flow

Aitkin Age
By Nanci Sauerbrei

December 3, 2008

Three manufacturing companies, Superior Thermowood. FLOE International and Savanna Pallet, were visited in October by Aitkin County commissioners; department heads; Aitkin, McGregor and Palisade business people; and a representative from Natural Resources Research Institute at UMD. Local newspaper representatives were also invited.

It was the second annual tour of manufacturers in Aitkin County organized by Ross Wagner, Forest Industry/Economic Development Coordinator. Across the state, Minnesota Manufacturing Week promotes the manufacturing industry as an integral and dynamic economic development partner. An article on Superior Thermowood appeared previously and Savanna Pallets will be featured in a future issue.

FLOE International

FLOE  International has become a well-known manufacturer of aluminum docks, boat lifts and trailers. The newest plant, opened in 1994 at Hoyt Lakes, handles the higher volume articles like docks and snowmobile trailers, while the corporate office at McGregor builds the more complex products.

Wayne Floe talked about how he started the company in 1983 by working with a local blacksmith on prototypes, then taking the designs to the Fond Du Lac Indian Reservation for production. He moved the business to a small facility and in 1986 bought another building. The business in McGregor began in 1991.

About 100 people are employed at FLOE International. Wayne is the creator and entrepreneur. A six-person team including an engineer, fabricator and drafting technician, is always working on new products. The company operates its own tool and dye and punch press system.

FLOE  International  has undertaken the goal of implementing a Lean Enterprise system which has become widely known as the Toyota Production System. “It is a system that uses visual signals and real time visual information with one-piece production work flow,” said Don VanderMey, president.

“It’s fairly unique,” VanderMey added. “We do more and more with less and less.”

Floe and VanderMey discovered products could be produced more efficiently.

“We used to purchase tubing for wheel kits that eventually needed to be slid together, one inside the other, but had problems. They would become twisted; sometimes a piece wouldn’t fit right,” VanderMey explained. “They had to be assembled and stored which meant a facility for storage…. It stops service and production.

It was a paradigm shift for the McGregor company. “Now, the wheel kits come from the supplier with the tubing inserted, assuring specifications are met and reducing labor costs at the same time,” VanderMey added. Storage areas and production line reassembly for different product lines were also reduced.

Supervisors Bill Watson, Brian Carroll and Tom Peterson explained how the Lean process worked. Lean is a “visual how-to,” Watson explained along the tour.

Production is managed with a tag tracking system. A colored tag is carried along with each item throughout production to control inventory, time, problems and other aspects of production. Various colored tags can indicate build, ship, replace, etc. A controlled inventory eliminates excess materials and storage while creating an immediate financial savings.

“Quality problems are also reduced. For example, wheel kits now come assembled,” said Carroll, and “There’s a left. for every right.” Tracking time helps solve problems throughout production.

There is cross-training of employees for a diversified work force. “The tag system eliminates work orders and unnecessary data entry and paper,” Peterson added

The company has recently introduced a new utility trailer called the Cargo Max. It is a new concept in trailers using an aluminum frame with a molded plastic body and is capable of transporting 1,500 to 1,600 pounds. “It’s the ultimate utility trailer for Joe Suburbia,” said VanderMey. Within the next few months, the company also wants to sell the Cargo Max to mass merchants such as Home Depot, Menards and Lowes.

GAP Grant helps FLOE International
Thursday, November 20, Representative Loren Solberg, along with Robert Kill, CEO/president of Enterprise Minnesota, and Mary Connor, growth field specialist from Enterprise Minnesota, toured FLOE International and discussed Growth Acceleration Program (GAP) funding made available through the State of Minnesota. GAP is a program designed…

GAP grant helps FLOE International

Voyager Press
By Chris Steuwve

December 2, 2008

Thursday, November 20, Representative Loren Solberg, along with Robert Kill, CEO/president of Enterprise Minnesota, and Mary Connor, growth field specialist from Enterprise Minnesota, toured FLOE International and discussed Growth Acceleration Program (GAP) funding made available through the State of Minnesota. GAP is a program designed to help manufacturing companies receive training that they could not otherwise afford on their own. Enterprise Minnesota provides many of these training opportunities, including Lean principle based training.

“Lean manufacturing is a business practice characterized by the endless pursuit of waste elimination,” explained Bret Bussman, human resource manager of FLOE International. “A manufacturer that is Lean uses the minimum amount of manpower, materials, money, machines, space, etc., to get the job done on time. FLOE International is one of those businesses which have implemented the Lean manufacturing techniques and have benefited from its results.” group regarding the importance of GAP.

“This program is a necessity,” said Wayne. “Somebody else will provide a better service and product at a better price if you’re not on top of it.” Wayne also stressed the importance of continual improvement and that it doesn’t matter if you’re out in the shop or up in the office, there’s always room to improve everything. “We’re not going to change things overnight — it’s a continual journey – but we’re going to engage everybody’s mind in where the journey’s leading us. If everyone else is on the Lean band wagon, and your business chooses not to and says ‘this is the way we’ve always done it, so we’re not going to change,’ your business won’t be around.”

“Commitment and support by a company’s leadership are essential to the success of Lean implementation,” says Mary Connor of Enterprise Minnesota. “FLOE has an exceptionally strong leadership team that has agreed to be supportive and involved in the program.”

Robert Kill, CEO and president of Enterprise Minnesota, discussed how this grant focuses on growth and new processes for businesses to follow. “If you want to create new jobs, it’s going to come out of growth, not flat earnings,” Kill explained. “We’re trying to make Minnesota Representatives more aware of what takes place, and the best way to do this is by touring the inside of the plant that actually employs the people.”

“It’s a huge return on trying to make companies more efficient,” Kill went on to explain. “We have to take the company through a ‘journey’ (it’s a cultural change), just as Wayne has touched on, because just to provide a couple classes’ doesn’t stick and make a difference,” Kill said. “We think it’s important to make Legislators aware that there are programs out there that show results. The Government conducts a confidential independent quarterly (results-based type) survey of the businesses who participate, to verify if the program worked, if it made a difference, and report how much they’ve saved by doing all this work.”

Kill emphasized that Enterprise Minnesota is dedicated to trying to help get the smaller companies into it. The 50% grant has really proven to be powerful with some of these companies who have never invested on their own, and Enterprise Minnesota would like to have the opportunity to see what kind of employer they are.

“These are the businesses that provide good jobs to people in the community.” Kill said. “We get quite passionate about the value of manufacturing, actually, because these are better paying jobs than other private industry around the state, and we think it’s vital to the economic recovery that we want to invest in.”

“We want to make Legislators more aware of it and of the importance to renew the program to the account of two years,” Kill continued. “We know we can affect a broader base with a little bit of help.”

Bret Bussman explained why he feels this is an extremely important endeavor. “What would the McGregor area do without FLOE’s business here?” Bret said. “FLOE’s manufacturing facilities have a significant financial impact on both the McGregor and Hoyt Lakes communities and frankly, without Wayne’s vision and the Lean training provided by Enterprise Minnesota, we might not be in business today. Lean principles used as a result of training funded by the GAP program has enabled FLOE to further streamline production, reduce inventory and remain competitive in this volatile economy.”

FLOE International, Inc. Want the best? Go with the FLOE!
Shoptalk readers who spend their free time enjoying ATVs, snowmobiles and/or boats are no doubt familiar with the products manufactured by this month’s featured member. FLOE International manufactures high quality aluminum products for the recreational and marine industries. Across the nation, one can find boat lifts, docks, and trailers carrying the “FLOE” logo…

FLOE International Inc. Want the best? Go with the FLOE!

Arrowhead Manufacturers & Fabricators Association Magazine
By Sandy Kashmark

October / November 2008

Shoptalk readers who spend their free time enjoying ATVs, snowmobiles and/or boats are no doubt familiar with the products manufactured by this month’s featured member. FLOE International manufactures high quality aluminum products for the recreational and marine industries. Across the nation, one can find boat lifts, docks, and trailers carrying the “FLOE” logo.

Wayne Floe was just nineteen years old when he decided to begin manufacturing and selling steel boat lifts and dock systems. The lifts and docks incorporated Wayne’s unique designs and features product improvements that stemmed from his exposure to unsatisfactory options while providing dock/lift installation and removal services in high school.

The original company, founded in 1983, was named “United States Boat Hoist and Dock,” with early production taking place at the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation. The company relocated to an available facility near McGregor, MN, Wayne’s hometown – in 1985 and expanded the product line to include steel snowmobile trailers in 1986. Aluminum docks, boat lifts, and five prototype trailers were also introduced that year. By 1988, Floe had converted all of its product lines to aluminum. The name-change to FLOE International, Inc. occurred in 1989.

Today FLOE International is a 95-employee company occupying some 60,000 square feet of space in two locations. The company is headquartered in rural McGregor, where all floating docks, boat lifts, and large trailers are produced. A second plant, constructed in Hoyt Lakes in 1994, houses about 30 employees and the production of all roll in and stationary docks and small trailers.

With a claim to more than 70 patents over the years, FLOE products have a reputation for providing innovative features and strong value for the price. The roll-in docks, for example, feature “Easy-Level™” legs, a technology that allows the homeowner to level the dock using a cordless drill while standing on the dock, versus standing in the water. The Quick-Connect™ system makes it easy to connect and disconnect each section to create a customized dock system, as do the adjustable wheel kits on every dock section. Boat lifts and docks continue to be the company’s “bread and butter.”

For some waterfront properties, including commercial marinas, a floating dock system is more adaptable to the water conditions. A soft lake bottom, water depths more than eight feet, or major fluctuations in the depth of the water are conditions best addressed with a floating dock system. Construction of a floating dock involves attaching a heavy duty extruded aluminum frame to a foam-filled, rotationally molded float. FLOE’S floating dock systems are also strong on innovative features, including the track system, guide poles, quick release hinges, and more. One of the company’s largest marina projects, at the Minnesota National Golf Course a few miles north of McGregor, involved the construction of more than 1,100 linear feet or 3,084 square feet of dock.

The marine product line also includes a variety of dock accessories, such as the four foot bench that can be attached to provide deck seating. Some of the accessories, such as the hammock stand, swim ladder, dock steps, and handrails, are manufactured in-house.

Last but not least for the marine product line, FLOE offers an extensive line of boat lifts sized for personal watercraft on up to pontoons or cruisers. Here again, the patented Easy-Level™ system as well as the patented Ball-Screw lift technology, contribute greatly to customer satisfaction.

Like the marine products, FLOE’S trailer product line is rich on options and innovative features. Versa-Track tie-down system, Versa-Lock, rear bumpers, v-fronts and enclosures are but a few of the many options available. FLOE’S open bed trailers are available with tilt or ramp options. The small utility trailers are designed for off-road work and play. One of the company’s newest products, the Cargo Max, combines the durability of a high density polyethylene body with a rigid aluminum frame to provide a versatile, light-weight trailer package. FLOE also manufacturers trailers for private label; namely, all “Polaris” trailers on the market are manufactured by FLOE International

FLOE has developed an extensive dealer network to sell its products, complimented by inquiries and sales generated on the internet. Due to the seasonal nature of marine products, the company does typically experience a slow season beginning in the summer, although trailer sales help level the production cycle.

In January of 2006, FLOE partnered with Enterprise Minnesota (formerly Minnesota Technology) to compliment the implementation of lean enterprise principles troughout their two production facilities. They partnered with Hibbing Community College to access a Minnesota Job Skills Partnership grant that focused on both lean principles and cross training existing employees in welding and assembly. More recently, management experienced Enterprise Minnesota’s “Eureka! Winning Ways”, a program designed to generate new revenue-producing ideas.

Several members of the management team at FLOE International are relatively new to the company, bringing an influx of outside experience and perspective as the company looks to the future. There’s still a wealth of internal knowledge and experience to draw on as well. Wayne remains CEO of the company, and President Don VanderMey has been with FLOE for over 12 years.

For a quarter of a century, FLOE International has succeeded in providing jobs, meeting customer needs through an innovative product line, and responding to changing market conditions to remain competitive. Your fellow AMFA members congratulate you.

FLOE celebrates 25 years
For the past 25 years FLOE International has become a leader in the dock, boat lift and trailer industry. According to FLOE International CEO Wayne Floe, a big reason for 25 successful years has been…

FLOE celebrates 25 years

Voyager Press
By John Grones

August 12, 2008

For the past 25 years FLOE International has become a leader in the dock, boat lift and trailer industry. According to FLOE International CEO Wayne Floe, a big reason for 25 successful years has been . . .

“. . . the right people doing the right things.”

Wayne expressed his gratitude at a 25th anniversary celebration held Friday, August 1, at Pier 65. He talked about what over the years has made him most proud.

“Without question, it’s the team at FLOE that I’ve been able to surround myself with,” Wayne said. “We have more talent and dedication at FLOE than is imaginable. Because we have such a strong group from manufacturing to marketing, I’ve been able to really focus on the future and the development of innovative products that continue to propel us ahead of our competition.”

It has been over 25 years since Wayne, a teenager at the time, started his own dock and lift installation and removal business. “That experience enlightened me about how shorefront equipment should work,” he said. “It became apparent that many of these products were falling short in areas of quality, user friendliness, and ‘curb appeal.’”

During the next 25-plus years, Wayne has continued a passion to develop top-quality, easy-to-use dock and boat lift systems with an appearance that beautifies the shoreline.

The FLOE trademark is now well known nationwide.

At the celebration, friends, family, staff, dealers and community members enjoyed a ski show performed by the Bald Eagle Waterski Shows. The evening also included live music by Straight Rocks and High Noon.

Later in the evening, Wayne proposed a toast for the first 25 years and released a Silver Salute Firework into the sky. Wayne personally thanked everyone that has contributed to FLOE’S success.

FLOE President Don VanderMey expressed his appreciation to the FLOE employees for making the company what it is. “I also want to thank the dealers, suppliers, and the retail public for all of their support and dedication,” Don said. “Thank you, Wayne, for starting such a great company.”

Wayne shared how very thankful he is to have such a great dealer network from all over the country. “They are the best of the best,” he said, “and I also want to thank our supplier base for what they do for us.”

“A special thanks to the local people who have given us so much support at the retail level. I feel very fortunate to have such an overwhelming amount of local support.

The final toast went out to the next 25 years.

Following the salute Wayne introduced his wife Janelle and gave her five roses for their fifth anniversary. With the crowd’s participation, Wayne sang “I’m Hooked on a Feeling” to her.

The evening concluded with a spectacular fireworks show and more great tunes from the band High Noon.

“In closing I just want to mention that this 25th anniversary celebration brought together a lot of great people and personally brought me down a very heartfelt memory lane,” concluded Wayne.

Touring community manufacturing
Three area companies – Floe International (McGregor), Superior Thermowood (Palisade) and Savanna Pallets (McGregor) – participated in a manufacturer’s tour on October 21, which is done in conjunction…

Touring community manufacturing

Voyager Press
By Chris Struwve
Staff Writer

Three area companies – FLOE International (McGregor), Superior Thermowood (Palisade) and Savanna Pallets (McGregor) – participated in a manufacturer’s tour on October 21, which is done in conjunction with the State of Minnesota’s Manufacturing Week. Ross Wagner, Aitkin County Economic Development and Forest Industry Coordinator, organized this second annual Aitkin County Manufacturers Tour and feels it’s a necessary endeavor.

“The main importance of the tour is to let our manufacturing businesses know that we appreciate the jobs and value they bring to our county,” Ross said after the tour. “We feel the tour is important because it’s a good way to celebrate Manufacturer’s Week.”

Ross wanted the county commissioners, other county officials, local and state folks to see firsthand what the manufacturers do, what they make, and how they make it. Ross also expressed the purpose of the tour is to gain knowledge. “I think it’s good for the people who go on the tour to be knowledgeable about our manufacturers as they go about their day- to-day business.”

 

Superior Thermowood in Palisade

The tour began at Superior Thermowood in Palisade, which was founded in 2004. Chuck Ramsbacher, one of the current owners, briefly talked about the company and what it’s about.

“Superior Thermowood has the only Jartek Thermowood kiln in the United States,” Chuck explained to those attended the tour. “This new process for drying wood is the thermal modification of wood and was developed by the Finns as an alternative to chemically treated wood. The wood is dried at an extremely high temperature, up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lowering the moisture content during the process lowers the ability for wood to expand or contract.”

Chuck continued with a tour of their thermo boiler. The wood is first heated by steam created from the LP gas-fired boiler and steam generator. In the treatment stage the process uses steam and heat.

“I think it is important to let the public know that this process adds value to wood products by making the wood more durable and stable while lowering the wood’s ability to expand or contract,” Chuck explained. “In addition, it makes the wood more water proof, more rot resistance, not as susceptible to mold or mildew, and makes the wood impervious to insects. The wood also takes on the same color throughout the entire board, which makes it great for flooring applications, and can also be used in any application except structural applications.”

Chuck also discussed how Superior Thermowood is good for the area. “Our company will provide an added value process whereby Superior Thermowood will use wood produced or wood grown in Aitkin county.”

 

FLOE International north of McGregor

The next stop on the tour was FLOE International in McGregor. Floe is one of the world’s premier manufacturers of aluminum trailers, docks and shore stations.

Owner and founder Wayne Floe started up his company in 1983, working with local blacksmiths to build prototypes that he could sell. “Once I had the designs, I’d take them to Fond du Lac to sell them on my idea,” Wayne shared with the group. “They took my prints and started producing product, so I stayed working with them until this phase was finished. Once it was working, I left and started contacting dealers to handle our product.”

A year later Wayne had enough business where he could rent space and buy $5,000 worth of equipment, and in 1991 he moved into the building they’re now in. In 1994 FLOE expanded to Hoyt Lakes where they currently run their second operation of roll-in docks and snowmobile trailers. Fifty percent of their sales volume comes from Hoyt Lakes.

One thing that’s unique about FLOE is that they make their own equipment and build their own product. “I figured out that I could build my own equipment cheaper than I could buy it,” Wayne explained, “so we just started doing that, along with creating our own tool-and-die work here.”

Don VanderMey, president of FLOE International, stressed the important role their company plays in this area: “The largest impact FLOE has on northern Minnesota is providing over $3 million dollars of annual payroll to local workers and families.”

Don also conveyed a new process they’ve implemented called Lean Enterprise, to help streamline production: “Lean Enterprise is a system of eliminating waste at any part of the organization,” Don explained. “Waste is denned as anything a customer is not willing to pay for. Examples include excessive processing, which leads to streamlining and standardizing all production processes.”

Another example Don gave was excessive inventory. He said that by using the Kanban (signal card) tools of Lean, FLOE has been able to reduce total inventory by 50% while reducing lead time to customers by 75%. This system has become well known from its high success with Toyota. “Lean focuses on drawing positive change ideas from all people in the company leading to a team environment, as opposed to management determining all the methods used,” Don said. “It has completely changed the culture at FLOE. Turnover historically ran at 20% or more, and it is now virtually zero.”

 

Savanna Pallets in McGregor

Savanna Pallets is a provider of pallets for all the larger manufacturers in the state of Minnesota. They currently employ around 75 people at McGregor and have another facility in

Cloquet where an additional 25 people are employed. Al Raushel, owner, talked about his dad starting up the company in 1967, and how the whole industry has really evolved since then.

“Savanna Pallets produce 50 semi-loads of pallets and 25 semi-loads of wood residue every week, and use approximately 20,000 cords annually,” Al explained. “We anticipate the 20,000 to go up to about 36,000 in the next year or so.”

There’s a sawmill on-site which provides about 33% of the wood that they’re using. Here, all types of wood are used, taking what resources they have available.

“We have a certain amount of flexibility with what we can use for pallets, and with the resources available, we’re able to do it economically,” Al told the group. “This reflects on the price we can offer in the marketplace and has been fairly successful for us.”

Al forecasts an 83% growth in the sawmill portion of the business due to the planning of purchasing LESS wood from outside the area. “Right now we’re buying a lot of the pre-cut wood from Canada,” Al clarified, “but we want to process more of our wood internally and locally, which would allow us to better control the quality.”

Overall, pallet demand will be down due to economy. However, Al reassured everyone, saying he’s optimistic that Savannah Pallet’s business should hold relatively steady, generating work for the area.

Making waves in manufacturing
Floe International has made waves in the manufacturing industry, and not just because they produce dock and boat lift systems. The vision of founder and CEO Wayne Floe also plays a big part. Called a legend by many in the industry…

Making Waves in Manufacturing

Minnesota Technology Magazine [link]
April 2008

FLOE International has made waves in the manufacturing industry, and not just because they produce dock and boat lift systems. The vision of founder and CEO Wayne Floe also plays a big part. Called a legend by many in the industry, Floe started a dock and lift removal company as a teenager. He thought many of the docks and lifts were difficult to operate, looked unsightly and could be improved. Proving that necessity is the mother of invention, Floe began to make quality, attractive and easy-to-use boat and dock lifts himself.

With two plant locations — one in Hoyt Lakes and the other in McGregor — FLOE has, in the last two decades, become a leading manufacturer in high-tech aluminum products for snowmobile trailers, dock systems, boat lifts and utility ramps, among other products.

Ray Preble, vice president of manufacturing for the Hoyt Lakes division, credits much of the company’s growth to the innovative and entrepreneurial vision of the company’s founder and its implementation of lean. While many companies go through a one-time process of applying lean, both Preble and Floe believe they will always apply lean to the corporation. “Lean is an ongoing system that we’re implementing in both plants,” says Preble. “It deals with the raw and finished goods materials. We’ll never get away from lean — we’ll just get better at it.”

Floe has been involved with Minnesota Technology, Inc. (MTI) for the past several years and looks forward to an advantageous relationship with the company in the future. When Floe International first started to aggressively execute lean through instruction with MTI, Preble says, many areas within the company improved instantly, especially in terms of their inventory. “When we first started to implement the raw material card system, we had lots of excess inventory.” Preble says. “Now, we only use what we need before we place an order. We no longer have extra inventory for this particular product. That was an instant financial savings right there.”

Floe looks forward to not only saving money, but expanding his company and its profits. While he’s hired a team of managers to oversee the day-to-day operations, Floe continues to drive the overall vision for the company by marketing, exploring emerging markets and technologies, and designing new products. Currently, Floe is working on a product that, if successful, will boost the company’s growth by 50 percent. If past progress is any sign of future success, FLOE International is off to a good start.

Nicole Russell

FLOE International, Inc. and Wayne Floe settle patent dispute with Triton Corp.
On December 30, 2004, FLOE International, Inc. and Wayne Floe brought an action against Triton Corporation for infringement of U.S. Patent…

FLOE International, Inc. and Wayne Floe settle patent dispute with Triton Corp

December 3rd, 2007

On December 30, 2004, FLOE International, Inc. and Wayne Floe brought an action against Triton Corporation for infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 6,439,814 and 6,616,388 in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. The parties have mutually agreed to settle that action. As part of the settlement, Triton has agreed to a license to U.S. Patent Nos. 6,439,814 and 6,616,388, the terms of which are confidential. Regarding the settlement, Wayne Floe, CEO of FLOE International, Inc. and the named inventor of the patents, stated: “We believe this settlement reinforces the value of our patents, and we are pleased to reach a business solution with Triton.” Rochelle Priesgen, CEO of Triton Corporation, stated: “We look forward to putting this dispute behind us and competing in the market.”

Introducing the new FLOE ATV Pro
You expect a lot from your off-highway vehicles, but to get them to where you want to go, you need to expect a lot out of your trailer also. With FLOE’s ATV Pro trailer you will be off of your machines, in your vehicle and down the road before your buddies even get their straps out.

Introducing the new FLOE ATV Pro

FLOE Press release
August 2007

You expect a lot from your off-highway vehicles, but to get them to where you want to go, you need to expect a lot out of your trailer also. With FLOE’s ATV Pro trailer you will be off of your machines, in your vehicle and down the road before your buddies even get their straps out.
• The ATV Pro has a fully extruded, tubular structure.
• The size is perfect – at 8’ long your off-highway vehicles will find a comfy ride on their way to your destination.
• The trailer bed tilts to make loading easy and incorporates FLOE’s one piece tongue receiver and patented fast-action tilt clamp
• Can also be used with lawn and garden equipment and loading can be made even easier with our optional folding ramp.
• The ATV Pro also features FLOE’s patented rear bumper and two Versa-Tracks with their built-in decking retention system.
• Accepts all Versa-Track accessories.

Key features
• All aluminum construction
• Standard FLOE patented Versa-Track™ system
• Tilt bed with FLOE’s patented tilt clamp
• 5/8” treated plywood deck
• Torsion axle suspension with Turbo-Lube hubs

Optional Loading Ramps
For the ultimate in ease of loading and unloading, you can add FLOE’s new ramps to any Versa-Max, All-Terrain Pro or ATV Pro trailer.
• Low profile design minimizes drag.
• Designed to stand up to the weight of even the largest ATVs and UTVs.
• All extruded design and 360° welds on all joints.
• All hardware is corrosion free stainless steel and aluminum.
• Available in 100” and 54” widths; 35” and 60” lengths

FLOE Industries goes lean on SYSPRO SRP base
Recently, Floe experienced a surge in efficiency and productivity by switching to a Lean manufacturing environment. Floe utilizes Kanban, a JIT system which covers a cycle of replenishment for production and materials. Floe accomplishes this…

FLOE Industries Goes Lean on SYSPRO ERP Base

APICS Magazine
June 2007

FLOE International, Inc., headquartered in McGregor, Minnesota, manufactures two major lines of aluminum-based products. One consists of boat docks and boat lift systems and the other encompasses recreational and utility trailers.

The firm was founded by now CEO Wayne Floe, who, as a teenager, started his own dock and boat lift installation and removal service. Using the knowledge he accumulated about how shorefront equipment should work, he began developing and manufacturing products and founded Floe International in 1983, He extended his passion for developing top-quality dock and boat life systems to the design and manufacture of aluminum snowmobile and recreational trailers, creating Floe’s second anchor product line.

FLOE products, renowned for their unique features and top quality, are promoted via trade shows, the company’s comprehensive website and DVDs.

The FLOE sales staff sells to dealers. While most dealers are located in the mid-west, the dealer network extends throughout the United States and Canada. (Floe has 165 active dealers; 56 carry just the marine products; 73 carry just the trailer products; and 36 carry both marine & trailer products.)

FLOE produces product to “supermarket” stock in its two manufacturing locations based upon past sales histories and dealer projections. In fact, FLOE urges its dealers to place orders prior to each major production season – Marine Season and Trailer Season. This enables FLOE to promise specific delivery dates, providing better controls over production and shipping. “We eliminate a glut of orders from our dealers who want everything all at once,” says FLOE Database Manager, Laurel Buchanan, noting that FLOE averages approximately 500 invoices per month, with a high at around 1000 and a low around 250.

Recently, FLOE experienced a surge in efficiency and productivity by switching to a Lean manufacturing environment. FLOE utilizes Kanban, a JIT system which covers a cycle of replenishment for production and materials. FLOE accomplishes this by producing to its “supermarkets,” maintaining set quantities in each. Explains Buchanan, “Basically, our production schedules are set depending on the season, what our forecasts indicate we need to have on hand and what sales orders are in house.”

The company’s implementation of SYSPRO ERP software, purchased from RT Enterprises, is instrumental in facilitating FLOE’s Lean environment. A SYSPRO feature allows FLOE to “backflush” a job to reduce paperwork and data entry, thereby speeding production. By issuing materials to the job as the job is being received into inventory, quantities being issued can be adjusted, and there is a point of traceability. “We only do ‘backflushing,’ says Buchanan.

“It lets us relieve the component inventory (and labor) automatically when the finished item is received into inventory. By eliminating Work in Process jobs, we reduce paperwork and data entry and enhance the production flow.”

SYSPRO custom reporting is also fundamental to FLOE’s Lean environment. “Our supermarkets are set up in SYSPRO using custom fields. Linked programs pull all the information required to execute Lean. We can basically run one report, and it triggers others so that we can see what we have on hand and what we’re going to be shipping in the coming week or two for each stock code in each supermarket. We can also see supermarket stock totals, basically, providing a view of where we are at anytime.” The reports are based on live data, so reports differ each run time. “As we invoice items, the numbers are continually updated, so our production and shipping requirements always remain current,” she says.

To further Lean practices, FLOE employed the SYSPRO Learning Channel (SLC) to train employees. Subsequently thirty-two Floe employees were trained through the SLC’s live broadcasts and archival library, leading FLOE HR Manager Bret Bussman to estimate a savings of S50,800 in training costs.”

FLOE International names new president
Don VanderMey was named president of Floe International, taking over day-to-day management of the company and replacing Bob Jordan…

Floe International names new president

Powersports Business
By Ebert, Guido
Monday, June 5 2006

Subject: Transportation equipment industry (Officials and employees)
Location: United States

Don VanderMey was named president of FLOE International, taking over day-to-day management of the company and replacing Bob Jordan.

VanderMey has spent the past 10 years at FLOE serving as manager, territory sales consultant and director of sales and marketing, responsible for all advertising, customer service, sales and shipping personnel.

Wayne Floe, CEO and founder of FLOE International, said Jordan was originally brought in because of his manufacturing background. “When I hired Jordan I was looking for someone that had a strong lean enterprise background and he presented me with a very good resume,” Floe said. “I’ve since taken other steps to accomplish the lean goals of the company and felt a change in leadership was necessary.

“The FLOE mission statement basically says that, in order to be healthy, FLOE International has to keep three things in balance: 1) We have to satisfy our market; 2) we have to satisfy our employees; and 3) make a profit now and into the future. If you violate anyone of these three the other two will also struggle.”

“Don is a very bright person who can see the big picture and fulfill FLOE International’s mission statement,” Floe said.

Where are they now?
Company: Floe International

Where are they now?

Company: Floe International
Type of business: Manufactures docks, boatlifts and snowmobile trailers. Primary sales market is the Upper Midwest; other markets in New England, Alaska and Canada
Location: McGregor, Minn.
Web site: www.floeintl.com
Owner: Wayne Floe
Founded: 1983
Employees: 110
Profiled: Jan. 16, 2000

Challenges then: Building a dealer network, securing a labor supply and continuing revenue growth.

Today: The company has grown its revenue 80 percent in the last five years, which is something considering that the lack of snowfall pushed the business in a different direction.

Snowmobile trailers used to account for 60 percent of sales, founder Wayne Floe said. Now, they’re about 40 percent. “Once we saw what’s happening with with snow, you know you can’t count on it. So we made the big switch to focus on our marine products, he said.

While a lot of new homes are going up on lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the company is seeing a lot of sales of FLOE aluminum models as replacements for old boat docks, he said.

FLOE boatlifts are designed to allow users to level them using a cordless drill to adjust the pads that sit in the water. “The last couple of years, it’s really taken off,” he said.

The company did $16 million in sales last year and expects to reach the $20 million mark in 2006, Floe said. Finding workers for positions such as marketing can still be a challenge because “they’re not likely to be sitting in McGregor, Minn., waiting for a job opportunity,” he said. But for those who like a North Woods lifestyle, the job comes with its own appeal.

FLOE International; Inside one of MN’s best kept secrets
When he was in high school, Wayne Floe installed and removed docks and boat lifts near his hometown of McGregor, Minnesota. Flash forward to today and, based on those early experiences, you’ll find the blonde-haired entrepreneur has invented the “better” boatlift…

Floe International; Inside one of MN’s best kept secrets

American Snowmobiler
By: Lou Dzierzak, Contributing Editor
November, 2002

When he was in high school, Wayne Floe installed and removed docks and boat lifts near his hometown of McGregor, Minnesota. Flash forward to today and, based on those early experiences, you’ll find the blonde-haired entrepreneur has invented the “better” boatlift and made a major contribution to snowmobilers across the Snow Belt.

The successful business owner and founder of FLOE International, manufacturer of lifts, docks and trailers, has a passion for boating and snowmobiling that led his fertile and inventive mind into dreaming up better ways to do things that haven’t seen a great deal of innovation in the past.

To many of us, a trailer is a trailer. And a snowmobile trailer is just a trailer that carries snowmobiles. To Wayne Floe and his staff, a snowmobile trailer is something that can be refined and improved. Look at a FLOE snowmobile trailer and you’ll be able to tell that the designers are dedicated snowmobilers.

The basics of lightweight aluminum construction with treated wooden decking seem similar to many other brands. Torsion flex axles are used. You get a choice of a tilt bed or drive-on ramp style. That’s all similar to competitive brands as well. But, look closely. What you may well miss are the subtleties and refinements that have the competition copying FLOE’s designs. But, they can’t copy too closely as FLOE holds more than 70 patent claims on it’s designs. When you do a trailer-to-trailer comparison of specific models, Floe has details that are missing fronr the competition. These details ensure value for the dollar.

“Our snowmobile trailers are not the least expensive,” notes Floe, “but we feel that a FLOE trailer offers the most value for the dollar”

Added Value
What is that added value? For one thing, check out the versatile track design used in FLOE snowmobile trailers. This allows the sled tie down to be moved fore and aft so that you can better balance the trailer’s load and maintain proper tongue weight. Of course, by now others have imitated the Versa-Track, but you’ll find that the FLOE Versa-Track is integrated into the decking. Each panel of treated 19/32-inch plywood is routed and slid into FLOE’s unique channel system. This gives the trailer and deck better fit, eliminates the buckling frequently seen on screwed-in decks, and provides longer deck life.

When you place your license plate on FLOE’s bracket, you’ll note another refinement. “The bracket is welded aluminum, not plastic which can easily break and become lost,” Floe notes. “We mount our license plate light in the trailer’s frame ahead of the bracket so it shines back at the plate. This allows us to use a protected light that is incorporated into the entire lighting package.”

As anyone knows who has been towing sleds for more than a season, trailer lighting is one of the first things to go bad. It is an incredible headache to fix late at night on your way home from a great weekend of sledding. FLOE’s designers understand the hassle and specified the same commercial grade lighting as professional truckers use on their semi-trailers. The lighting grounds directly through the molded wiring harness to your tow vehicle. Lights are tucked neatly into rubber isolators to help protect them and their wiring from slush and road salt. In fact, the wiring is run through the aluminum frame to protect it from road hazards.

Drive On
If you drive on to a FLOE tilt bed trailer, you probably will miss the fact that the patented rear bumper protects the plywood edge. When you drive off or pull your sled off a FLOEe tilt trailer, note that your carbides don’t catch. Seemingly a little thing, it helps make a snowmobiler’s trailering life easier. And it’s something you can appreciate over time.

Check out the one-piece tongue receiver. It was specially designed to work with the unique-to-Floe’s patented fast action tilt clamp which eliminates a hitch pin and holds the tongue tighter for better tow ability and load security.

The Perfect Job
Wayne admits that he has created the perfect job for himself. “I love boating in the summer and am a passionate snowmobiler in the winter.” His passion also creates employment for more than 100 FLOE employees at peak season.

“Our five-acre McGregor facility encompasses 52,000 square feet offactory plus three warehouses.” notes Don VanderMey, FLOE’s Director of Marketing and Distribution. “The Hoyt Lakes main factory adds another 20,000 square feet of production capability with additional room for growth.”

A Polaris Connection
The success of the McGregor, Minnesota manufacturer has been recognized by another – and bigger – Minnesota business: Polaris Industries. Three years ago, the snowmobile, ATV and PWC manufacturer arranged for FLOE International to supply a Polaris specification line of snowmobile trailers, utility trailers, and personal watercraft lifts for its North American dealers. The Polaris-spec snowmobile units specify triple Versa-Tracks, which adds greater versatility to the units. Heck, by adding optional FLOE designed accessories that mate with the Versa-Tracks, virtually any FLOE or Polaris/FLOE trailer can be outfitted to transport motorcycles, ATVs or even watercraft.

To protect your sleds (or ATVs and PWC) you may opt for a salt shield that can be quickly fitted or taken off by one person. Then there is a chpice of aluminum or fiberglass pop-up enclosures specifically fitted to the Floe line-up.

For less than the price of a conventional enclosed trailer, you can add a gull wing enclosure for a 12-foot trailer or up to a 20-footer. The larger aluminum enclosures feature a passenger side access door as standard fare.

With The Floe
Wayne Floe started simply enough in 1983 as US Boat & Lift. In 1986 the company added trailers to its portfolio of products. As a manufacturer of boat lifts, lakeside docks and aluminum trailers, US Boat & Lift & Trailers just seemed too unwieldy a name. So, in the late 1980s the name was changed to Floe International.

Since then, you can find Floe engineered products across the snow belt and working their .way into the non-snow areas of the L’S as well.

What Wayne Floe started as a teenager in his hometown has truly flowed into the international marketplace.

FLOE International expands product offering
I like to invent things,” says Wayne Floe, describing why he started his boat dock and trailer business. As a 19-year-old boat dock installer, Floe found himself analyzing what was working and what wasn’t. “I started inventing, building, and improving thing…

Floe International expands product offering

Powersports Business
March 5, 2001
By: Lou Dzierzak, Contributing Editor

I like to invent things,” says Wayne Floe, describing why he started his boat dock and trailer business. As a 19-year-old boat dock installer, Floe found himself analyzing what was working and what wasn’t. “I started inventing, building, and improving things after people asked me for my ideas,” he said. Headquartered in McGregor, Minn., FLOE International surpassed $10 million in sales last year.

Today, the company builds products for all types of powersports equipment, including ATVs.

SLOW BEGINNING
In 1983, Floe’s biggest challenge was earning enough money to build prototypes of his designs. “There was no source of big money other than me going out and earning it. Once a prototype was built I had to sell it to get the money back out of it,” recalls Floe.

Growth was slow at first, building consistently as the company expanded its dealer base geographically and added products. Adding a sales representative in the New England and New York areas led to substantial increase in sales.

In 1996, with sales just under $5 million, the company shifted from manufacturing based on dealer orders to using a commercial bank’s line of credit and forecasting sales. “When we built to orders, dealers were frustrated with delivery timing. The credit line allowed us to streamline purchasing, manage cash flow, and provide dealers with products when they wanted it,” said Don VanderMey, director of marketing and distribution.

In 1989, after building a few hundred steel trailers, Floe began to experiment with extruded aluminum. Until Floe began working with aluminum, trailers were manufactured with steel parts. Triton Trailer in Wisconsin was also experimenting with aluminum at the same time.

“Neither one of us knew the other was out there. Eventually, the dealers were starting to hear the same story about aluminum from more than one source,” Floe said. At first, dealers were skeptical about aluminum’s strength and durability. Floe overcame their reluctance by offering a guaranteed buyback plan.

“They took me up on the offer and I never had to buy one back,” he said, adding, “I was an absolute no-name in the industry with a new product twist going from steel to aluminum. The buyback got me past their reluctance.

Adding trailers to his product line rounded out the manufacturing cycle. “We built docks and lifts in one part of the year and trailers in another. It allowed me to keep good employees,” Floe said.

NEW PRODUCTS
Listening to what consumers and dealers are saying has always been part of FLOE International’s approach to business. VanderMey said the results of a market research project conducted last year found “it was absolutely apparent that we needed to provide a trailer that will accommodate as many possible uses as you can think of.”

In response, Floe International will introduce a new multipurpose trailer called the Versa-Tility PRO. “Our main goal was to build a trailer offering as much utility as possible,” said VanderMey.

Creating a utility-oriented design required making some compromises over specific use trailers. “We had to carefully study the issue of folding side ramps vs. rear loading ramps,” VanderMey said. After evaluating all the options, Floe continued with the rear loading design.

“There’s no way to make the trailer look good with a low deck and fender design using folding side ramps,” VanderMey said.

COMPETITIVE MARKETPLACE
“Understanding what people are looking for has separated us from the competition,” Floe said. “We are enthusiasts as well as inventors, so we understand what features people are looking for.”

Fueled by his interest in solving problems, and inventing solutions, Floe introduced many innovations to trailer design and manufacturing. “There were so many features that people wanted that the existing products never put any thought into,” he said. “With aluminum extruded designs it’s easy to add the features in. The best part is that you could cut your production costs and build in features consumers want at the same time,” Floe said.

Floe invented and patented a Versa-Track system to load and secure snowmobiles. Patent-pending design features such as a rear bumper system to protect the snowmobile carbide wear rods and the plywood trailer decking are examples of how Wayne Floe separates his products from the competition. “These innovations have really kept us in the business,” he said.

PRODUCTION FACILITIES
Floe International operates two production facilities; one in Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota, and the other in Floe’s hometown of McGregor. “I grew up in McGregor. Always wanted to stay here. Period,” Floe said when Ehlerts Powersports Business asked if he had considered moving his operations to a different city. The McGregor facility has been expanded 12 times, adding square footage, offices, and buildings.

The company employs 100 people year-round. “We’re busiest in the fall when we are building trailers and enclosures at the same time,” Floe said.

In addition to docks and snowmobiles and utility trailers, Floe International considered marketing trailers for personal watercraft, but dropped the idea because of the slow market.

NASA engineers visit FLOE International to develop welding refinements
Floe International, a leading manufacturer of aluminum trailers, boat lifts, and dock systems, was visited by NASA engineers from Lockheed Martin Space Systems in November to…

NASA Engineers Visit FLOE International To Develop Welding Refinements

AmSnow
Jan. 25, 2001

Floe International, a leading manufacturer of aluminum trailers, boat lifts, and dock systems, was visited by NASA engineers from Lockheed Martin Space Systems in November to further refine the company’s welding processes. Already known for aluminum construction, Floe engineers consulted with the NASA team to explore ways to enhance their welding procedures to maximize weld integrity and cosmetic appearance of the welds on their products.

Lockheed Martin is recognized as the national leader in aluminum welding and fabrication. The company constructs the nearly 100-foot long external fuel tank for the space shuttle, which is filled with oxygen and hydrogen fuel to propel the space shuttle during lift off.

According to Bill Fournier, Floe International chief operating officer, the meeting with the NASA team was a great opportunity. “We are excited to learn from these experts how we can refine and optimize our welding procedures and make them even better,” he said.

The NASA team was comprised of Fred Ogden, staff engineer who specializes in welding procedures, and Gordon Dyer, technology transfer officer. The visit was part of a technology transfer program arranged by NASA and Minnesota Technology, in which federal agencies and educational institutions provide expertise and advisement to growing companies.

“We’re already known for the integrity of our products,” said Fournier, “and they complimented us on our workmanship. For example, we weld our components together on all four sides, rather than just two. But the input from the Lockheed Martin group will help us optimize our welding process. Plus it’s interesting to know our recreational aluminum products are constructed with similar welding procedures used on the space shuttle. Not many companies can say that.”

What’s a FLOE?
Floe made docks in his garage for a while. Then around 1986, he bought a beat-up, repossessed commercial building near McGregor to serve as production plant. He fixed up a nearby abandoned mobile home for an office. By then, his designs had won the confidence of..

What’s a Floe?

The Pioneer Press
Jan.16, 2000

Wayne Floe grew up on a northern Minnesota lake, a dock in his back yard. As a teen-ager, he ran his own business installing and removing docks for nearby cabin owners. By the time he was in college, he was designing docks of his own.

Now, Floe, 36, leads a company that makes aluminum docks, boat lifts and snowmobile trailers. The operation generates around $10 million in annual sales and employs about 100 people, primarily at its main plant in McGregor and a smaller facility in Hoyt Lakes.

The company has become a force in Minnesota’s busy dock building and recreational trailer industries, and a bright spot in the economy of once-depressed Aitkin County.

It all started with Floe, a jack-of-all trades and McGregor native who fashioned himself as an entrepreneur even in his pre-teen years. “I’ve always been in business of some sort,” he said.

Floe began working at age 11, running loading equipment for his dad’s logging business. He started a dock installation service a few years later — seasonal work linked to the coming and going of winter’s icepack.

Business drove his education. He took marketing, commercial law, accounting and other core business classes at St. Cloud State University and two community colleges. He never picked up a degree, but he never intended to. “That wasn’t the goal,” he said.

The goal was to get practical knowledge while he accumulated capital from a variety of jobs, particularly tree trimming. Floe plowed his earnings into prototypes of docks, and in 1983 — at age 19 — he started Floe International. It was a seasonal business until he added snowmobile trailer production in 1986. Now, trailers make up about 60 percent of the company’s sales; marine products make up the rest.

The company’s rise is a classic small-business story.

Floe made docks in his garage for a while. Then around 1986, he bought a beat-up, repossessed commercial building near McGregor to serve as production plant. He fixed up a nearby abandoned mobile home for an office. By then, his designs had won the confidence of State Bank of McGregor, which loaned Floe $30,000 for working capital (half of which was guaranteed by Aitkin County Growth). Security State Bank of Aitkin provided a second round of financing.

Bankers were impressed by Floe’s ambition and his products, said Loren Miller, president of State Bank of McGregor.

“He never leaves something the way it is,” he said. “He’s constantly improving it.”

Floe said his company’s docks and trailers are particularly innovative, and Floe retail dealers agree. Not surprisingly, retailers for other dock and trailer manufacturers don’t necessarily agree.

The dock and trailer businesses are highly competitive in outdoors-smitten Minnesota and Wisconsin. Floe said that when he started, there were about five companies in the McGregor area alone making docks. Most dock makers are small and serve local markets. But some make and sell docks, lifts and trailers throughout Minnesota and other states through a network of dealers.

Floe said one of his biggest challenges was establishing a reputation for his up-and-coming business — answering skeptical questions from retailers and distributors, such as, “What’s a Floe?”

After all, big-league dock and lift makers such as Dassel-based Porta-Dock and Fergus Falls based Shoremaster have been around since the 1960s or early 1970s, as has Hartford, Wis.-based trailer heavyweight Triton. And Royalton-based Newmans’ Manufacturing began building a substantial trailer and dock business in the 1980s.

“Building a dealer network is a big challenge,” Floe said. “Building a quality dealer network is an even bigger challenge.” Floe products are now sold through about 300 independent dealers. In the St. Paul area, Forest Lake Motor Sports is the biggest.

Floe International has steadily expanded and outgrown its original manufacturing site.’ In 1991, the company built a plant, which has been expanded five times since. The company is also outgrowing the labor force in McGregor (population 400) and the surrounding area, Floe said.

“The only way we can keep growing is through automation,” he said. “We could have done more business this year if we had the labor force.”

That’s testimony to the thoroughness of Minnesota’s economic boom over the past couple of years. Aitkin County had been one of the more economically stagnant parts of northeastern Minnesota over the past decade. But with the growth of Floe and several other local companies, the county has rebounded, it’s unemployment rate falling to around 5 percent last year from about 10 percent in 1997.

The company’s growth has been good for Floe, too. He designed and built a house of more than 7,000 square feet on an island in Big Sandy Lake, just up the highway from the Floe factory. He works partly out of his home, partly out of the plant office.

As the company has grown, Floe appears to have avoided the entrepreneur’s trap of refusing to delegate authority to key sales and operations managers. “He’s hired a lot of good people who are experts in what they do,” Miller said.