The new kid in town: Skid house manufacturer joins growing Pine River industry
New manufacturer's special panels reduce weight without compromising structure
PINE RIVER — Pine River is virtually the fish house capital of the state. If having two manufacturers wasn't enough, a new company is catching attention with a product that's slightly different.
Motorists on County Road 1 almost certainly have noticed the appearance over the summer of brand new, shiny skid fish houses east of Pine River.
This newcomer, tentatively called Polar Fox Outdoors, is the combination of two businesses that have been operating in Pine River for the past three years with the arrival of North 40 Fabrication, owned by Gary Hible.
He moved into the property formerly occupied by Nagel Built Cabinets and began with fabrication.
"North 40 started with a lot of metal fabrication at first, making a lot of accessories for off-road equipment," Hible said. "Then we dabbled in skid houses and came up with a design for that and just took off from there."
Engineering and fabrication are Hible's bread and butter. He has years of experience in the field as well as a degree in engineering. Fabrication consisted largely of racks and toppers for all-terrain and utility-terrain vehicles, but over time, Hible steered back toward fish houses.
"I had another business in Brainerd called Legend Outdoors," Hible said. "We owned that about three years building larger wheel houses."
Hible didn't want to get right into wheel houses, however, as in his time with Legend Outdoors he didn't see his product sticking out in a market sometimes dominated by other manufacturers.
"Legend Outdoors was the same as what everybody else built with wood interiors, wood walls," Hible said. "They just looked like every other fish house, so competition was extremely tough. I wanted to do something different."
While there are two other companies making wheel houses and yet another in one town over making travel trailers, Hible started with skid houses, sometimes an underrepresented part of the fish house market.
That's not all that makes their product different. Their shelters are constructed in a way that cuts out weight by limiting wooden support structure and making a more airtight, insulative seal.
"Gary manufactures a panel with a fiberglass skin on the outside bonded onto high density foam," said business partner Chris Beberg. "It's an insulated panel that's extremely durable, extremely lightweight and has nothing organic. It doesn't rot, doesn't go bad and lasts a long time. That's our main product that we will take to outdoor venues. We were talking earlier about types of fishing products or toppers for side-by-sides. Things are really revolving around our unique ability to produce that panel here."
Though the company has been making these skid houses for years now, it's only recently that the houses have started lining up on the edge of the property where passing motorists can ogle them. That's because of Hible's business relationship with Beberg, owner of Beberg Outdoors.
For some time now, North 40has been manufacturing the houses and Beberg has been selling them, but mostly out of his office in Andover. He's been in the same industry for many years, selling such items as Ridgeline skid houses from Pillager and Alumalite skid houses.
"I've been doing fish house sales for about 13 years prior to coming up here," Beberg said. "Most of it's been in Andover, north of the suburbs of the Twin Cities. Over the last two years we've been sort of renting space up here and doing sales from up here."
Recently, the pair decided to merge their two businesses to create Polar Fox Outdoors, a company that both manufactures and sells the skid houses that are made in Pine River.
"The new company is about two months from launching," Beberg said. "We're in the process of pulling everything together. That's probably going to be called Polar Fox Outdoors or might remain North 40 Fab."
The company has four employees, though they are looking to expand somewhat with another employee after Christmas. In addition to adding staff, land has been cleared and plans are started for construction of a second shop, because though they don't currently make wheel houses, they plan to eventually add them to their product line.
"We will be launching fish houses with wheels this spring," Hible said. "Then we will probably get into the RV market with campers and those types of things using the same types of technologies we use now."
When that does happen, they will employ some of their custom techniques to make a product that they hope will continue to stick out.
"We don't have a stud frame in our products," Beberg said. "It's a tip together, tack together panel system. It gives us a stronger build, but it also keeps it from having any sort of heat transfers. We really keep that heat loss low."
Beberg anticipates their wheel houses will weigh much less than most of the wood-framed houses available, making them towable by small trucks, ATVs and side-by-sides.
The company manufactures 130-150 houses in a year and offers shelters in 12 different sizes and 30 different models. The skid houses bear a somewhat more economical price compared to many wheel houses with a range of $9,000-$30,000.
Used wheel houses from area competitors can often cost as much or more than their base model. When wheel houses are in production, they anticipate pricing within a similar range as other models.
Though they are opening in a small town already rife with competition, Beberg and Hible hope their product will contribute and compete in that market thanks to their quality.
"Gary had a vision to be a smaller business and make some really cool stuff," Beberg said. "When I saw what he could do it took me about three minutes and I said, 'This is the most awesome skid house product I've seen in my life.'"
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.