Nisswa Dock Co.’s 68-year history has encompassed three generations of Zimmerman family workers.
“I actually started working when I was 5, painting bases and castings,” said Dennis Zimmerman, vice president of the company that his parents, Marv and Irma, bought in 1964.
Dan Zimmerman, Dennis’ brother, and Shannon, Dennis’ wife, also work at Nisswa Dock Co. And Dennis’ and Shannon’s son worked at the family business for a summer. Dennis’ and Dan’s two sisters also pitched in at the family business at one time.
Marv, the driving force behind buying the business all those years ago, died last July. Irma is still an owner.
Larry and Marie Bond were the founders of Nisswa Dock.
“Larry was a plumbing and heating guy. Marie wanted an income source so she could send her son off to law school. So Marie was probably more the instigator to getting Nisswa Dock going,” said Dennis, noting the Bonds ran the business from a garage on East Cullen Lake Road.
Their righthand man was Al Luffy, whom Marv and Irma Zimmerman befriended when they bought a house next door to Luffy. The Zimmermans moved to Nisswa in 1958, and Marv was a printer at Lakeland Color Press in Brainerd, working the 2-10 p.m. shift. That left time on his hands, so in 1964 Marv and Irma bought Nisswa Dock Co.
“He had more ambition than 2-10 so he dabbled in the dock business,” Dennis said, “and that just started to grow so he decided to focus just on docks.”
The Zimmermans built docks in their garage, and in 1971 they bought the former Pickle Factory building. Marv was a Nisswa City Council member, and he bought the building for $1 and moved it across Highway 371 to house his business on Hazelwood Drive. They also had a production facility where K&M Auto Repair is now located, by the stoplight.
That same year, the company became a John Deere dealer. In the late 1970s, the business took on boats, motors and trailers. The company continued to grow, Dennis said, offering dock service, building and selling docks, selling ShoreStation boat lifts, as well as running the John Deere dealership. The company sold John Deere snowmobiles, and then Polaris sleds. They even sold fireplace equipment at one time.
In 2003, Nisswa Dock bought the former Koep’s Pro Shop on Highway 371 in Nisswa and operated from that location until 2007, when the company sold the property to Dondelinger’s auto dealership. After operating out of a house for two years, Nisswa Dock moved to a vacant building off Smiley Road.
In November 2012, the Zimmermans bought the former Sculpture Gardens building next to the Northland Center and Subway. The company has gone full circle and is actually located on Nisswa property that Marv and Irma Zimmerman once owned.
The company returned its focus to docks and lifts, providing annual service of putting docks in and taking them out of the water, as well as installing new docks.
“We went back to our roots,” Dennis said, noting they changed up the dock design a bit as well. “It’s been more of a cosmetic change.”
Irma said the family didn’t know the dock business would be so long-lasting.
“I had no idea it was going to develop into what it did,” she said. “It’s been a very interesting and rewarding endeavor.”
Dennis said family is why he’s remained with the business.
“I enjoyed working with my dad. I guess it was just keeping the family legacy going,” he said.
As for the company’s success, Dennis said, “Our attention to customer service and building a quality product for as many years as we have.”
He admitted there wasn’t as much competition in the early years, and there was a whole lot of customer loyalty.
Nisswa Dock has seen a change in its products, especially from the early days when they’d treat the pine wood in dip tanks. When the chemical used to treat the wood was outlawed, the company turned to cedar. Around 1990, they started building docks out of aluminum with vinyl or cedar decking.
While there are still a lot of wood docks in this area known for its up north character, Dennis said the number of wood docks has declined in the past five to six years.
When Marv first began installing docks, all were 3 feet wide, and there were very few 4-foot wide docks, Dennis said.
“Marie and Larry though it was crazy to build a 4-foot side dock,” he said of the original owners.
Dennis remembers his father saying an average dock job was four sections. Now an average job is 14 sections and two lifts.
While it’s mainly Dennis and Shannon working during the winter, Nisswa Dock employs 12 during the busy summer season.