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Northern Sales and Manufacturing continuing to grow

Todd Lundquist of Breezy Point is in charge of building cabinets for the various Ice Castle RV models that are produced in Pine River. Photo by Travis Grimler1 / 6
Jesse Drexler, shop manager and son of Ice Castle founder Jeff Drexler, is planning to move his family to Pine River soon. here he models a finished Ice Castle RV model complete with cook top, microwave, kitchen table and a bathroom behind him. Photo by Travis Grimler2 / 6
Gary Raph, recently returned to Pine River, is working on the plumbing in one Ice Castle model. Photo by Travis Grimler.3 / 6
Todd Lundquist of Breezy Point is in charge of building cabinets for the various Ice Castle RV models that are produced in Pine River. Photo by Travis Grimler4 / 6
Steve Oliver, Pine River, adds the finishing touches to a nearly finished Ice Castle RV model produced in Pine River. Photo by Travis Grimler5 / 6
Mark Harmon, head of sales at Northern Sales and Manufacturing, is no stranger to selling Ice Castle products. He has been selling Ice Castles in Park Rapids for years. Here he shows off his personal family Ice Castle. Photo by Travis Grimler6 / 6

Northern Sales and Manufacturing, an expansion of Montevideo's Ice Castle Fish Houses, has just rolled out its first made-to-order RV Model Ice Castle fish house.

Northern Sales and Manufacturing closed the purchase of their new property on Feb. 28 with help from Cass County Economic Development Corporation. In the time since then the company has been modifying the facility to better optimize it for production, and has been hiring new employees from the local area with knowledge in carpentry.

"Right now we're hiring people from the local area. They may not be exactly from Pine River, but right now we're up to six employees. Once we get up and running a little more, I would like to be up to 10-20 employees," said shop manager Jesse Drexler.

Drexler, who is the son of Ice Castle founder Jeff Drexler, said the company could have 15 employees by fall.

Drexler said his father and his father's business partner thought Pine River would be a good place to serve customers in the north.

"Just because it was more north centrally located and everybody flows to the north, everyone goes to Lake of the Woods or Red Lake," Drexler said.

"From a distribution standpoint, it's a game of corridors, what corridors lead here. Milaca is on 169, Park Rapids is on 71 and we've got Detroit Lakes, and of course that's a central place, but 371 is a major artery, especially for the sportsmen in Minnesota," said head of sales Mark Harmon, former Ice Castle dealer from Park Rapids.

In addition to attracting new customers, Drexler said current Ice Castle owners no longer need to travel to Montevideo for repairs and service. They can now travel to Pine River, which is far easier on those who live in the northern section of the state.

Northern Sales and Manufacturing is not just constructing and selling Ice Castle fish houses, but also in construction of sheds and dog kennels as well as accepting trade-ins of other fish houses and recreational vehicles.

Harmon said they would even consider trade-ins on well-built homemade ice shelters.

"It's supply and demand, and demand is extremely high in November, December and January for fish houses. If you can pad your inventory another 15-20 houses or so, then you have a little more survivability and credibility because you have houses, but your lot will still go empty," he said.

Drexler said they would also like to do service and maintenance on other RV brands in the future.

Since opening Northern Sales and Manufacturing, Drexler said he has been living in an RV in Pine River, and commuting back to Montevideo frequently where his family lives, but his wife and two children are looking to relocate to Pine River in the near future.

"Hopefully I'll be up here by August, because right now this commute from here and back to Montevideo, I've probably done it 20 times. It's starting to burn on me a little bit," he said.

To ensure a high quality product in Pine River, Harmon said Drexler took special interest in training.

"It's about training people right. I wouldn't say we rushed out the first house. The strategy Jesse (Drexler) had was get everyone around the first house and walk them through it so everybody has their ownership and pride in everything that is on those houses. That's really cool to see how that evolves," Harmon said.

Some Pine River employees have also been able to train in Montevideo.

Harmon said that Ice Castle shelters are customizable. For those who want a product that can be used year long, there are ample furniture options. For those who just want to fish, the company has sold some models with almost nothing but ice holes and stools.

"We'll take custom ideas from customers and sometimes they become a production model. This is a feedback-based business," Harmon said.

Drexler said the Ice Castle company began in 1997 when his father started the company. Their Montevideo plant now has nearly 100 employees and manufactures eight Ice Castle fish houses each day. Pine River's Northern Sales and Manufacturing will specialize in production of RV model Ice Castle shelters, but they will also deal in other models. By August, Drexler would like to be able to produce three to five shelters each week in Pine River, though Harmon said they will not sacrifice quality for quantity.

"The numbers will come if the product is solid. That's a testament to what Ice Castle is about," Harmon said.

Drexler and Harmon are working to increase awareness and community involvement. They were present with their product at Cornfest and encourage tours of their shelters and facilities. Drexler said the company will likely have a public open house in August. In the meantime, they invite people to like Northern Sales and Manufacturing on Facebook.