2015 Trip Five, Voyageurs National Park and NW MN, August 20

Roseau MN August 20

The skies have brightened, the temperatures improved and we spent most of the day indoors with few pictures to show for it. Our primary stop today was the Marvin Window factory visitor center in Warroad, MN (population 1800). Warroad is just down the street from Roseau, a short 25 minute drive. It is located right on Lake of the Woods, which is the 100th largest lake in the world in size and has over 14,000 islands in the lake.

Warroad’s official nickname, it owns the name legally, is “Hockeytown USA”. It is home to nine US hockey Olympians. This is a big deal here, in a state where the state hockey tournament (according to Wikipedia) is the largest state sport tournament in terms of attendance and viewing in the US, exceeding Texas and Florida football tournaments and Indiana’s basketball tournament.

But we came to see Marvin Windows, an inspiring story in many ways. The founder came here in 1904, began a lumber and pulpwood business and which had only 8 employees by 1939. Through expansion with WWII, innovation, listening to employees, the company moved into making windows and doors. Now the company employes over 2,000 people in a facility that spans 45 acres and 2 million square feet of production space here. (There are also facilities in ND, OR, TN, and VA).

A selection  of products from Marvin Windows and Doors

A selection of products from Marvin Windows and Doors

The #1 feel good story relates to a fire in 1961 that destroyed the plant completely. By that time, the company had grown and had a substantial market. Offers came in from numerous other communities to provide the company with incentives to relocate from this small town in the middle of nowhere. The owners, still the Marvin family, pledged to remain in their town where they grew up and where the workforce was dependent on them. The contractor rebuilding the plant was made to hire many of the Marvin employees who did not have jobs. The plant re-opened in a year and has continued to expand dramatically since then.

The #2 feel good story relates to a production problem in the 1980s that caused many of the products to fail after installation. Before knowing the cause, the company made good on the repairs. The cause turned out to be a defective preservative supplied by a third-party. It took 20 years before litigation paid back the Marvin Window and Door Company for all of the costs to fix the damage caused by the faulty preservative. The company almost went bankrupt until the settlement came through.

The #3 feel good story relates to the 2008 recession when the housing market crashed. All Marvin employees were kept on the payroll at 32 hours per week with benefits.

The owners have shown remarkable dedication, entrepreneurship, and community loyalty over decades and through several generations of family ownership. The employees have voted down unionization efforts three times (and I generally like unions). The Marvin family efforts have led to jobs for thousands of workers across northern Minnesota. Kudos!

We spent time at the Marvin Visitor Center which has an excellent display of the company history. It seems to talk candidly of its success and failures; including some pollution fines in previous times. We had expected to return to Roseau for a Polaris factory tour but learned that we could make an 11:30 plant tour (which is not advertised) of the Marvin Windows and Doors facility. We jumped at the chance. Okay, I jumped at the chance and Chris agreed.

The 90 minute tour took us through much of the plant. Here, though, you got headsets and the guide talked through a microphone connected to your headset. Much better for hearing what she had to say. Marvin custom makes your order, so the plant is not laid out in a production assembly line order. Different sections work on various types of product; there is much hand assembly.

We were able to watch as incoming wood planks are computer evaluated for quality and laser lines individually drawn for cutting the wood to minimize waste and faults (i.e., knots in the wood). We watched wood being bent to meet specific curvature needs. We watched cladding being applied to outside finishes. All in all, I found it rewarding and entertaining.

Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods

We had a late lunch at the Seven Clans Casino in Warroad and headed back to Roseau to check out some shopping destinations. Well, the shopping left a lot to be desired so we finished up the day at Polaris. This was their off-plant store and museum.

Polaris product

Polaris product

Polaris was the leader and originator of the snowmobile business in the US in the mid-1950s. Arctic Cat, which we toured previously, was started later by one of the three Polaris founders. In the 1970s and 80s, when all snowmobile companies had tremendous problems, Polaris never went bankrupt as Arctic Cat did. Polaris did go down to 30 employees at one point. It has recovered, now making snowmobiles, ATVs, boats, motorcycles, etc. We probably know enough to skip the factory tour tomorrow and start heading over to International Falls.

Kari and Billy --free concert in Roseau

Kari and Billy –free concert in Roseau

Our evening entertainment was Kari and Billy,a Nashville duo. Kari is from Roseau and the couple were in town visiting family. They gave a free concert at the local park.

Ed and Chris

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