FLOE International Celebrates 40 Years of Manufacturing

MCGREGOR, Minn.—FLOE International announced that they will be celebrating 40 years at Big Sandy Lodge on August 18. Wayne Floe, CEO, is excited to showcase the 2023 Varatti boats and host a ski show with over 40 skiers. The celebration will include food, drinks and three music acts day and night.

In the shop, the saying is “Varatti is Variety” and they mean it. Floe designed the boat to be much more than just an amazing surf boat. From tubing to slalom and barefoot speeds onto powerful wake board and surf wakes! Varatti delivers a great experience for the entire family, and the neighbors.
When looking back on 40 years, Wayne reflects on a journey that began on the shores of Lake Minnewawa. Even as a kid, Wayne Floe was thinking like an entrepreneur. When he was 6, Floe opened a store in a square wooden shack near his family home on Lake Minnewawa. He made money by selling Kool-Aid, Snickers bars and potato chips that his aunt and uncle had purchased wholesale.
Wayne cut wood for his father’s logging business by the time he was 9 and was a subcontractor for the business by the age of 14. By his late teens he earned money by topping trees over people’s homes.

It wasn’t until he was 19 years old, that Wayne found his true calling—inventing and manufacturing!

The First Ten Years

1983 — It all started, when Wayne Floe at the age of 19, designed his first boat lift. “I had a concept in my mind that was really cool,” recalls Wayne back in 1983. “That’s what really drove me to create the first prototype.”

That year, Wayne worked with a neighbor, Bob Hathaway, to create his first boat lift. “Bob would contract for anyone, so on weekends I would go over to his place and literally draw my idea out with chalk. We would grab tubes, cut them and weld them.”
This first lift was unlike any other on the market and had a roller bunk bed on a twin winch vertical lift. This lift allowed boaters to drive right up and out of the water. “Once out of the boat all you had to do was crank the rear winch up slightly until the boat sat close to level,” added Wayne. “I thought this was a really cool concept.”
The company’s original name was United States Boat Hoist and Dock Co. Wayne self funded the startup with money from other entrepreneurial ventures. Wayne earned money harvesting wild rice, running a dock/lift installation service and tree removal business. These businesses both lasted until the early 90s. Wayne was also a full time student and studied business at three different colleges. During that time he earned additional money by selling cable TV and cleaning supplies after school.
1984-86 — In 1984, Wayne set up several retail dealers while he continued working on more product innovations. Wayne, with the help of Steve Snider, designed and built a vertical hydraulic boat lift prototype and put his dock designs into production. The first docks were contract manufactured on the Fond Du Lac Indian reservation. They were carpeted roll-in models with a steel frame called the FLOE Luxury dock. In 1985, the production moved to the old family pole building near Lake Minnewawa and Wayne hired a welder. Wayne would later (1986) purchase and remodeled a 32’ by 64’ steel building for manufacturing. Steel pivot boat lifts with wheel kits that lower down automatically for removal were sold along with the dock systems. Additional welders and fabricators were hired on a seasonal basis. 
1987 — FLOE discovers aluminum! In 1987, aluminum docks as well as aluminum pivot and vertical lift systems hit the market. The vertical lifts, feature DC electric winches and extra deep canopies. Wayne’s father, Easton, came on board to help in manufacturing. That same year was the birth of the FLOE trailer line. The trailer line allowed employees to work year round. “That was big deal,” recalls Wayne. “Ray Schug was the first one to encourage me to build a snowmobile trailer.”
The first models were made of steel and were introduced to the market along with a few aluminum models. Trailers were advertised in Minneapolis Star Tribune and sold out of the back yard of the Schug residence in Hopkins, Minnesota.
1988-89 — In 1988, FLOE dock and lift systems were manufactured exclusively with aluminum and FLOE had custom aluminum dock and trailer extrusions made. Vertical lifts with a unique rotating drive shaft were introduced and FLOE aluminum trailers started to grow in popularity.
1990-92 — In 1990, the FLOE brand is now growing at a rapid rate. Personal Watercraft lifts (PWC’s) are introduced and ground is broken for the new McGregor manufacturing plant on Highway 65. Meanwhile, manufacturing is spread between three facilities from McGregor to Big Sandy Lake. FLOE breaks the 1 million dollar sales mark. The FLOE Trailer is becoming more dominant in the Midwest as FLOE’s reputation for quality and innovation spreads. This is also the year Wayne invents several new trailer technologies which eventually lead to dozens of patent claims and a greater edge on the competition. FLOE designed fiberglass salt shields and were introduced with immediate success. All manufacturing was done in the new facility and a new decking building was added on the McGregor site. Roll in docks now feature aluminum wheel kits and aluminum quick connects.

Decade #2
1993-94 — FLOE invents a new tri-fold ATV pickup ramp design that is an immediate success. It is awarded several patent claims and is eventually sold through mass merchants such a Northern Hydraulics, Sportsman’s Guide, Home Depot and dozens of retail dealers. FLOE adds many dock accessories including light kits. The Hoyt Lakes property was also acquired during this time period. In 1994, the U.S. government became a client, selecting Floe trailers for use in military combat. “The Floe trailer design included so many custom extrusions,” shared Wayne. “It made it easier to load and unload and they were heavy duty. They wanted a trailer out in the desert that would hold up.”
1995-99 — The FLOE trailer business was booming and thousands were being sold. FLOE introduced aluminum PWC trailers, 10’ and 12’ trailer enclosures and a line of utility trailer kits. FLOE expanded again by adding a 70’ by 100’ building to the McGregor building in 1997 and in 1998. Gull wing enclosures were introduced. In 1999, FLOE expands the main plant with a 80’ by 144’ addition complete with bridge crane. FLOE sells ATV ramp patent for 1.8 million to fund growth and expansion. “That was a big boost,” Wayne explained. “We were able to fund dock and lift research and purchase new equipment.”
2000 — FLOE sales surpassed the 10 million dollar mark and the company expanded its management team to handle its fast paced growth. In November of 2000, FLOE received some space-age advice. Fred Ogden, chief welding engineer for Lockheed Martin Corp., brought aluminum welding ideas used in construction of the space shuttle’s external tanks to Northeastern Minnesota. FLOE was one of them. “They were looking for ways to get space shuttle technology out into companies rather than just having it shelved. Companies everywhere need to be able to compete as efficiently as possible.”
2001-02 — Dock wheel kits were introduced w/Aluminum ACME thread, and enhanced telescopic adjustment ranges in 2001. Plastic dock tires are introduced and FLOE starts down the path of becoming a Lean enterprise. In 2002, modular style floating docks are introduced to the dealer network. FLOE invents and patents Easy-Level and ball screw boat lift technology which was a substantial leap forward in boat lift technology.

Decade #3
2003 — In 2003, FLOE strikes a deal with Polaris to produce their private label trailers and they are introduced to the market. FLOE supplied Polaris snowmobile dealers with both open bed and enclosed aluminum trailers. Turbo Lube oil bath hubs were introduced. These eliminated the need for greasing the axle bearing.
2004-07 — In 2004, Wayne found himself in a couple of patent disputes with copycat companies.  The first company, Sled Bed ended up losing in a 7-day federal jury trial and filed bankruptcy shortly thereafter. Then “Triton copied my Versa track system that allowed you to put snowmobiles anywhere you wanted to achieve perfect tongue weight.” The parties mutually agreed to settle that action. Wayne redesigns the McGregor plant, so that all products can be built year-round using Lean principles and one-piece workflow. In 2007, Aluma-Grain decking is introduced as an option on all dock systems and ATV Pro trailers and fold-down ramps are introduced. Cargo Max is developed and displayed at the Polaris convention.
2008 — Wayne invested his time in developing the FLOECRAFT concept — an innovative boat designed to meet six key elements: climate control, easy operation/maneuverability, expanded livable comfort, a hull with exceptional performance, easy boarding, and an over-all design that has everyone wanting to spend their time onboard. The recession kicked in and company responded quickly with plans to weather the storm.
2009-11 — In 2009 FLOE’s Cargo MAX TRAILER won the ATV Innovation Award and in 2010, the first FLOECRAFT Prototype hits the water at Pier 65. Articles are written as far away as Sweden about this new category of boat. In 2011, FLOECRAFT market input leads to design improvement and a size increased to 36’ in length. Two FLOECRAFT models are built and used for demonstrations and shown throughout North America. Also in 2011, FLOE introduced an extremely popular 3-piece dock furniture set.
2012-13 — FLOE fights back from recession with best year in company history in 2012. FLOE also acquires the world’s largest rotary thermoforming machine to expand product reach and capabilities. FLOE completed a new 40,000 square foot facility in McGregor for thermoforming and other production expansion. In 2013, the new Cargo Max model is designed and readied for market launch. With three distinct loading/unloading modes and nearly indestructible UltraBody™ the product began redefining the trailer industry. Cargo Max found its way into 22 Home Depot stores in the upper Midwest and added several more retailers including L&M Fleet Supply and power sports dealers. That same year, the first twin engine saltwater ready FLOECRAFT ACE 36 is sold for use in Florida.

Decade #4
2014-16 — With a focus on automation, several robots were purchased and added to production operations. FLOE introduced Afina Sport Yacht, a 39.5’ luxury boat that is made to accommodate all climates by opening and closing the cabin at the push of a button. In 2016, FLOE invented and introduced Quick Attach Sectional Docks to simplify connecting sections together as well as easy accessory attachment.
2017-20 — FLOE introduced the Maxis Canopy to watersports boats with towers and pontoons with Bimini tops. They also introduced three new models of the 73 series CargoMax trailer. In 2018, FLOE started a companywide profit sharing program. They also introduced the Varatti Z22 — a watersports boat designed for the widest range of watersports activities from wake surfing to tubing. Surf, ski, wakeboard? It all starts with the Varatti’s Control Center. The 12-inch touchscreen and Intelligent Steering Wheel is designed to set the boat for sporting preferences. Also in 2018, the FLOE “Splash” logo was replaced with divisional branding logos for the different FLOE divisions. In 2019, FLOE introduced three models of the aluminum frame/aluminum deck Versa Max UT trailer.
2021-23 — In 2021, FLOE acquired the new FLOECRAFT facility in Cambridge, Minnesota and later purchased a newer facility in Hoyt Lakes. FLOE also introduced the new Quick Attach Roll-in Dock. Three new Varatti boats will be introduced at the August 18 celebration at Big Sandy Lodge & Resort. Come on out to witness the “Varatti is Variety” concept.
Wayne also noted that his son, Easton, has joined the team at FLOE. “Easton has been working at the company for four years,” added Wayne. “He started out in production, learned several types of welding, ran robots and is now helping with new product development.”
Wayne appreciates everyone who has come alongside to make FLOE the brand that it is today. There are a few individuals who have served the company for more than 20 years. Gary Sylvester (32 years); Joanne Anderson (32 years); John Beauchem Sr. (31 years); Mark Moe (30 years); Scott Weimer (29 years); Rodney Knoblauch (28 years); Donald VanderMey (27 years); Carla Gilbert (25 years); Jean Rian (22 years) and Duke Buranen (22 Years). “I’m extremely proud to have had these exception individuals who have been so loyal to the company for all these years!
Looking back at 40 years, Wayne expressed how important it has been to keep moving forward by reinvesting in new and better products. “The constant inventing and reinvesting along with building a great team is what made the company grow the way it did,” he concluded.

Seasonally Installed Systems

Permanently Installed Systems

Seasonally Installed Systems

Permanently Installed Systems