Ahead of the herd
IDEA Competition winner MUSKOX has taken snow blower innovation by the horns in northwest Minnesota.
You could barely make out Ron Bergman’s face through the blast of snow in front of him.
On this frigid day in Mentor, Minn., he was in the cab of a machine powering his own snow removal invention, ripping though hard drifts packed two feet deep. With the flip of a switch, the blower flipped its pitch, now back dragging and expelling snow – with all the grit and growl of its beastly namesake.
Ron was demonstrating the power of the MUSKOX snow removal system he developed and now distributes with his sons, Adam and Noah. The company is still young, with the first MUSKOX units sold in October 2020. However, the business is exploding. Orders for the snow blower have come from 16 northern states and two Canadian provinces.
“It’s widespread. It’s not just local,” Ron said from the MUSKOX production shop on the edge of Mentor. “We knew this thing was going to take off like crazy.”
Ron developed the first crude prototype for the MUSKOX snow blower almost five years ago. The former Arctic Cat engineer was tired of switching out his blower and bucket attachments when he had to back drag snow in front of garage doors and tight spaces. So he combined a blower with a bucket.
“I knew that it could work, blowing snow in reverse. I knew it could work as a scraper, because you just reverse the bucket, by taking a snow bucket and putting it upside down, to pull some snow,” he said. Ron built his vision and tested it the next morning. “I back drug, and it blew to beat the band. I told Adam, ‘Holy. It works!’ So I worked with it for a day or two, and then headed off to the patent office.”
Stampede of successes
Ron and Adam introduced the MUSKOX as cofounders and partners at an industry expo in the spring of 2020. The two shared a booth space with the well-known Kubota machinery company, which invited the Bergmans to join them a week beforehand. The buzz was instant.
“We ended up being kind of the talk of the show for the next 2 ½ days. At that point, we weren’t really selling the product,” Adam recalled. “I said, let’s embrace this – let’s try to sell this on the internet. Let’s go direct-to-consumer, and let’s build out the model that way. I’m confident we can do that together.”
As a real estate investor, Adam used his knowledge of business and marketing to build out the branding of his father’s creation. He joined with his brother Noah to make a YouTube demonstration video that went viral almost immediately, scooping up nearly 200,000 views. It took one week as internet darlings for RDO Equipment to call the MUSKOX founders.
“They picked it up and started selling it in 36 of their locations, and we became a direct-to-consumer brand along with our partnership with RDO,” Adam said. “It gave us instant credibility, having a partner like RDO. It showed that they had faith in what we were doing, and gave us confidence in the direction we were going.”
Ron and Adam continued to work together rack up successes and improve their product. Ron won the 2020 IDEA Competition organized by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation and sponsored in part by Minnkota Power Cooperative. Minnkota has been a proud supporter of the competition for years, which gives budding entrepreneurs across the Minnesota territory a chance to turn great ideas into viable businesses. The process helped MUSKOX refine its business plan, and the honor equipped the Bergmans with valuable startup funding.
In the two years that followed, the MUSKOX evolved into an unstoppable machine – the current model 22-78 Dually. Ron and Adam chased snowfall around the country to assess and refine the product, adding an upper auger for better cleaning on the back drag, side fins to prevent snow from drifting out the ends, and a rubber bottom edge to glide over driveways without leaving damage.
“That was all through testing and realizing that if it doesn’t work for us, it’s not going to work for the customer,” Ron said. “We’re proactive. We do our own engineering and our own development, so we’re able to move pretty fast.”
Imagination and critical thinking are entwined in the Bergmans’ history. Adam’s youth was spent on the family dairy farm, and he believes that rural Minnesota experience had a little something to do with the situation they find themselves in now.
“Everybody was an engineer, and everybody was innovative, and everybody was a hard worker. That developed into the culture that’s still here,” Adam said. “If you ran a dairy farm, you needed to figure out how to fix problems on your own constantly, so that breeds that engineer ability.”
As Ron reflects on the business that he’s grown with his sons, with Adam leading marketing and business planning and Noah now managing purchasing and assembly, he can’t believe how well a tool made to blow things apart could bring them so close.
“It’s something you just dream of happening. I don’t know if that was the main driver, having a family business, or just that we knew this was a great opportunity,” Ron said. “It takes a lot of commitment and a lot of time. It takes a family.”
The trio is already planning for the future, with a philosophy of “digging deep before digging wide.” The third iteration of the MUSKOX blower will be released this spring with new models and sizes to follow, allowing the Bergmans to start digging wide.
“It’s super rewarding to see the successes that we achieve out of this shop, but it’s probably more rewarding when somebody calls and is using the machine and they’re more efficient in their business,” Adam said. “We’re helping them grow. If you make them more efficient with their time, they have a choice – do I take that time and spend more time at home, or do I take that time to grow my business even larger. We get to be a part of that for other people.”
Check out what MUSKOX has to offer at its website or follow the team on Facebook (@MuskoxSnowblowers) for live virtual demos every Wednesday.
MAIN IMAGE: The MUSKOX team shows off their recently developed 22-78 Dually snow removal system. From left to right: Noah Bergman, Ron Bergman and Adam Bergman. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)