Hooked Magazine recently had a chance to be part of the grand opening of the new SnoBear production facility in Isanti, Minnesota. Publisher Kevin Stobbe and Editor Don Lamont had a chance to interview owner Ron Balzer about the history of this company.
HOOKED: Ron, when did you first become aware of SnoBear?
Ron Balzer: I first saw an ad in a magazine in the fall of 2005. I test drove a SnoFox and a SnoBear in late November, and went on to purchase a SnoBear in 2008. In 2009 I became a Saskatchewan dealer and the distributor for Western Canada. We realized the potential growth and demand for access to cold climate regions in off road conditions for both commercial and recreational applications, and this prompted me to acquire these unique and reliable products and bring them to a wider market.
When did you first become a partner in the company?
In May of 2010 I was asked to be a partner, and in the fall of 2010 I began negotiations for the purchase of SnoBear. These were finalized in February of 2011, though we kept one of the former owners, Tom, on because of his experience and knowledge of SnoBears to run the day to day operations. In December of 2011 we hired Mario Nozzarella. With over 30 years of experience in product development, engineering and business management, he was a perfect fit for SnoBear.
When did you decide to move production of SnoBear?
I could see short comings in the SnoBear facility in West Fargo, ND. After purchasing SnoBear I began a search for a new facility, better suited for the manufacturing of SnoBear. We moved in August 2011 to Fargo, ND (less than 20 miles) where we leased the facility for the next three years. In 2014 we extended our lease for one more year and began an extensive search in North Dakota and Minnesota. In February 2015 we found our current location, and made an offer which was accepted in April 2015, however, things did not happen quickly as the new location was tied up in a legal battled with the sellers. SnoBear was not able to take control of the building until August of 2016, which was approximately 70% of the floor space, as the previous owners equipment was not moved out. Total occupancy is expected by December 2016.
HISTORY OF THE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
• Headquartered in Isanti, MN, SnoBear USA develops, designs and produces purpose built snow track vehicles for the recreational and industrial markets. • SnoBear owns all of the proprietary patterns, molds and fixtures for the manufacturing process. • The initial product offering (SnoBear) that serves the recreational market has been very well received by hundreds of customers in the ice fishing market as well as personal transportation. • The second product offering (Grizz XL) is positioned to serve the growing transportation demand in cold climate regions for commercial purposes. Not only does the company expect a greater demand for its commercial product over its recreational predecessor, but the gross margins from sales to the commercial industry is more lucrative. • Although the company will continue to expand its reach into the recreational market, the growth potential lies with commercial users. • The company also holds patents on its Actuated Ski Suspension, AcraLift System, MaxTrack Technology as well as multiple patents pending in process. • The next generation of the SnoBear which is “The Grizz” was brought to market in 2009. • In 2013 the Grizz was expanded to hold up to 15 passengers and rebranded “Grizz XL”.
RON BALZER — Ron has worked, owned and managed numerous businesses in construction, fabrication and manufacturing, including the family construction business which will celebrate 80 years of continued success in 2017.
HOOKED: What is your favourite species to catch?
RON: Walleye and perch, in that order, would be my favourite species to catch.
What is your favourite place to fish?
Favourite place would be Lake Winnipeg and Last Mountain Lake.
What is your biggest fish?
The biggest walleye I ever caught was 33 ½ inches at Last Mountain Lake this summer – July 17, 2016.
What is your most memorable fishing moment?
The most memorable fishing moment I ever had would be this winter. On March 19, 2016 on Lake Winnipeg, when setting the hook my line broke at the reel, but I was able to grab the line in the ice fishing hole before the fish swam away with it. I managed to fight the fish by wrapping the fishing line around my bare hand, and pulled it back through the hole, landing it. It was 31 inches and weighed over ten pounds! I probably had 30 to 40 cuts on my hand from the fishing line, but definitely worth it.