A Mentor, Minnesota, manufacturer has a new way to clear snow, with a machine that could be a game-changer in the industry.
Muskox Snowblowers makes a front-end, hydraulic-driven tractor attachment that blows snow while driving forward, but can rotate to face down and be dropped on a snowbank and continue to blow in reverse. The design allows the operator to clear snow right up to a building or a garage door, without having to get out and shovel what a standard snowblower leaves behind.
Muskox owner Ron Bergman came up with the idea in a “there has to be a better way” moment, after removing snow at his home. The former Arctic Cat engineer would blow snow as far as he could up to the front of a building, but had to switch attachments to a front-end loader to back drag the remainder away. He decided to build a machine that can do both.
“I thought of it in my mind. I built the prototype the next day in my shop here, went out and tested it and it worked better than expected,” Bergman said. “I headed for the patent office right away.”
The snowblower comes in a 78-inch model, though the company is testing other sizes to meet market needs. It has four motor sizes that allow it to blow up to 45 gallons of snow per minute. Its chute is mounted close to the blower motor, which makes it less likely to get clogged with wet, heavy snow, according to Adam Bergman. Adam is Pat’s son and is also involved with the company.
Not having to unclog a chute saves time and makes snow removal safer. Adam Bergman said he has only heard of the machine clogging once from a Montana-based customer, after a late October snowstorm blanketed parts of the state.
“He plugged the Muskox once, and our competitive brand that's been around forever, he's got one of those, and that plugged 67 times,” Adam Bergman said.
The snowblower has a glide plate attached on the bottom that allows it to easily move over soft surfaces, including gravel or grass, but there is also a cutting edge. The operator can angle the snowblower forward in a way that brings that edge into contact with the ground, to break up ice and hard, compacted snow.
Ron Bergman came up with his design two and a half years ago. Now the company is manufacturing its product and has sold some units from Montana to Maine. Muskox operates on a direct-to-consumer model with sales happening through its website www.muskox.io, and, once they are sold, the units are brought to Grand Forks for shipping.
But a recent partnership with John Deere dealer RDO Equipment Co. will put the snowblower in retail locations in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Adam Bergman said that, starting next week, he and his father will travel to nine of the dealer’s locations for service, sales and warranty training. Successful sales there will mean ramping up production.
“We are really positioned to grow the right way, to have a solid foundation to support our operators to continue to produce more,” Adam Bergman said.
The partnership follows closely on another local success. Muskox Snowblowers won the Northwest Minnesota Foundation’s IDEA award. The company received $10,000 and another $5,000 in professional services. It’s the highest award the foundation has given. The award recognizes entrepreneurs with promising ideas, but is usually focused on high-tech ideas, such as medical devices.
Grant Oppegaard, a consultant at the Small Business Development Center’s northwest Minnesota branch in Bemidji, explained to foundation officials that the machine had merit and should be considered for the prize.
“It's like a better mousetrap; you very seldom see it come along,” said Oppegaard, adding that he was surprised to see the snowblower project in nearly finished form.
The company was formed, the machine was designed and built, and people were already showing interest in it. Usually, Oppegaard said, people approach the SBDC when they are at the idea stage.
Oppegaard advised Bergman’s team on how to market to the end-user, how to maximize profits and if he should take on a partner. When that happened with RDO Equipment Co., he said it was a vote of confidence in the snowblower.
“I told him ‘you're going to be a very wealthy man very shortly,'" said Oppegaard after seeing the machine and how it worked.