Republished from The Aitkin Age Friday March 29, 2019
Progress. A company doesn’t thrive for 36 years without it. FLOE International, based out of McGregor, is a prime example. The company was literally built from the ground up by founder and CEO Wayne Floe. He continues to drive the company forward as a visionary entrepreneur who focuses on progress, innovation and operating with efficiency.
FLOE International was conceived in 1983 when the 19-year-old Floe envisioned a better way to make boat lifts. Floe designed and marketed his first boat lift, unique in the fact that it allowed a boat to be driven up and out of the water. From there, earning start-up funds from early entrepreneurial ventures such as climbing trees to remove them from around people’s homes while studying at three different colleges, he contracted out for the manufacture of his FLOE Luxury Docks while personally setting up a dealer network. He also built his first hydraulic boat lift. In 1985, he purchased a 32ʼ by 64ʼ steel building, replacing the rented family pole building that had served as his first manufacturing site. A mobile home located on that property doubled as his home and office.
From those modest beginnings to the expansive current site, which houses four production buildings on Hwy. 65 in McGregor along with another facility in Hoyt Lakes, Floe has built a successful business. He recently further expanded the McGregor site by purchasing an additional 14 acres of land. Products include CargoMax Trailers, VersaMax open bed trailers, Pro-Tektor enclosed trailers, boat lifts, aluminum docks, canopies, thermoforming plastics, and the Afina yacht.
FLOE International has gathered even more momentum in several areas during the past year with the launch of the Varatti water sports boat, increased integration of robotic technology in their production lines and the implementation of a new Entrepreneurial Operating System. This new system has helped the entire team to move forward together at an unprecedented pace, according to Floe.
“Having no restrictions” are words used to describe the new, most “unique multi-sport boat in the industry. The Varatti Z22 corners, accelerates and handles like a finely tuned sports car in the water,” according to FLOE’s website. The concept of the Varatti came to Floe, an avid water sportsman, when he observed people needing multiple boats for different water sports, including water surfing, skiing and wakeboarding. The name emanated from Floe’s vision of a craft designed not only to provide for a “variety” of water sports but to encompass the performance of a European sports car like the Maserati.
“The hull is unique in that it cuts through the waves well, creating the desired flat ski wake or a massive surf wake,” said FLOE’s Chief Marketing Officer Cindy Gray. The vessel features an intuitive control center with a 12-inch touch screen and rearview camera. Users can easily select their desired water sport and skill level — beginner, intermediate or advanced. Personal profiles and presets can also be saved and the ballasts and speed adjust accordingly.
The boat features sleek lines; an easy-to-use joystick piloting system; an “intelligent” steering wheel; a state-of-the-art Rockford Fosgate sound system, which provides crisp, clean sound along with Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary inputs and multiple speakers. The Bimini cover provides shade for all passengers when desired. A MerCruiser engine delivers plenty of torque at the desired speed needed. “It’s about shifting the paradigm, and that’s what we do,” FLOE states on its website, when describing the production of the Varatti.
A network of dealers for Varatti is being established, and the FLOE team has attended several boat shows already this year. People have been highly impressed with the Varatti at the shows, which attract both dealers and consumers, according to Gray. The first Varatti boats shipped this past fall.
PRODUCTIVITY AND PRECISION
At FLOE’s production sites, days begin with a morning meeting. A daily work board depicts specific goals and outcomes for the workday. Various cells, or specific production areas, are bustling with activity and designed for peak efficiency and maximum productivity. Workers often specialize in more than one cell, making their jobs less repetitive and more challenging, according to Gray.
All presses and punches for production are made on site, a practice unique in the industry. Production hardware and parts are uniquely packed, labeled and numbered to facilitate streamlined assembly. This process is accomplished through a partnership with the McGregor Developmental Achievement Center (DAC). Thermoforming production has also expanded to manufacture products sold to other companies.
Robotic technology is another strategy to further FLOE’s goal of peak operational efficiency. “We purchased our first five robots in 2014,” explained Tom Anderson, chief operating officer. “The first robots were used to trim CargoMax beds with the intent to incorporate them into different aspects of the company, and currently, they are being equipped to weld.” Since buying the first five, FLOE has now purchased another 14. The goal is to have 10 or more robots in service by the end of the year. “We are currently developing the skill set to program the robots internally,” said Anderson. “Utilizing more automation will continue to help us be more competitive in the market.”
“Minnesota is projecting a labor shortage in the next five years,” noted Anderson. He explained this shortage is expected to increase exponentially for jobs in construction and manufacturing further into the future. With this in mind, FLOE offers the Easton Floe Memorial Scholarship through the McGregor High School for students going into trade fields. “There will be phenomenal job opportunities in the trade fields in the next 10 years,” predicted Anderson.
FLOE currently maintains a staff of over 150, and with all of the new product development activities, it reached a peak of over 200 employees last year.
“Lean efficiency” is another one of FLOE’s philosophies. The concept was implemented last spring to streamline production and design and to improve communication. Based on the business strategy book “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wikman, the premise is to gain control of a business through the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). The EOS process and tools are designed to help leaders run better businesses and gain more traction with the entire organization advancing together as a healthy, functional and cohesive team.
Trainers helped implement the system and software, and the result was weekly departmental and leadership meetings to identify goals, to-do lists, pinpoint and resolve issues, and also to plan for longer-term quarterly goals. “It’s amazing to see what it has done for the company overall,” said Gray. “It’s a great way to run your business, and we’ve definitely seen improved communication and a sense of ownership throughout the company.”
With a productive year behind them, FLOE is not “idling” but moving full speed ahead.