HARRISON, IdahoHarrison Dock Builders business is spreading like the waves from a passing boats wake.
True, about 60 percent of the 17-year-old companys revenue still comes from building custom docks for waterfront residences on Lake Coeur dAlene, says Keith Shannon, president of Harrison Dock Builders.
In recent years, however, the company also has opened an office in Florence, Ore.; has introduced new modular docks, dock hardware, and accessories that it hopes to sell nationwide; has started representing several lines of other waterfront equipment, such as boat hoists and trams; and aggressively is pursuing local, state, and federal government contracts.
We cant keep up (with demand) now, Shannon says. Once Harrison Dock Builders launches planned nationwide marketing efforts, this facility wont be big enough, he says of the companys 10-acre construction yard and manufacturing plant here on the Coeur dAlene River, near Harrison. The company employs 22 people here in the summer, its busiest season, and a dozen people in the winter, he says.
The sea change in Harrison Dock Builders business came about, says Shannon, from his desire for the company to grow, coupled with suggestions made by a consultant he hired last year.
(The consultant) said, Keith, you dont need to be managing anymore. We need a presidential figure, Shannon says. We got rid of one bottleneck, because everything doesnt have to come through me anymore.
The consultant also urged Shannon to put in place standardized business systems, such as a obtaining three bids for every purchase costing more than $1,000, and establishing a company-wide profit-sharing plan, he says.
The strategy apparently has worked. Harrison Dock Builders expects revenues to hit $2 million this year, up about $500,000 from last year, he says. Just five years ago, sales had hovered in the $800,000 to $900,000 range, he says.
I attribute the jump to the way we look at the business, Shannon says.
Besides the changes recommended by the consultant, for example, this past spring, the company became a certified HubZone contractor through the U.S. Small Business Administration, he says. The HubZone program sets aside a portion of federal government contracts for small-business employers in distressed areas. Such work most likely would take the company well outside of its normal role as a dock builder, into other forms of construction work.
Mark Wagner, general manager of Harrison Dock Builders, says the company hasnt yet performed any work under a HubZone contract, but has considered several projects, such as demolishing a building at Fairchild Air Force Base, west of Spokane.
Through HubZone, Harrison Dock Builders hopes to tap some non-marine construction work to help even out its summer-dependent business cycle, but thatll be about the only time we get off the water, Shannon says. Were a marine construction company.
Cedar docks popular locally
Shannon opened the companys office in the seaside community of Florence, Ore., three years ago to gain experience in a saltwater environment, he says. The office operates under the name Florence Marine Construction.
In the marine business, theres a lot more saltwater than there is freshwater, he says. Florence Marine now employs five people.
Several years before opening the Oregon office, Shannon established a company called Marine Co. Inc.; both Harrison Dock Builders and Florence Marine Construction are divisions of that company, he explains.
We intend to manufacture and market nationally under the Marine Co. name, whereas the others are construction companies, he says. Shannon plans to build modular dock systems and to manufacture dock accessories and equipmentsuch as a swim ladder the company designedto sell across the country.
The docks Harrison Dock Builders is known for locally, which float on giant cedar logs and cost an average of about $12,000 each, arent suitable for shipping long distances, and are pretty much a regional specialty, he says.
Most people dont know about cedar float log docks outside this area, because the materials are just not available, Shannon says. On Lake Coeur dAlene, however, Its very hard to sell another style of dock, he says.
The company will build any dock a customer wants, Shannon says. For example, it created a special dock that cost more than $50,000 for one Coeur dAlene homeowner. The dock featured underwater lights, underwater wave breaks, and a boat hoist, he says. Everything was powder-coated, including the boat lift, Wagner says.
Harrison Dock Builders modular docks, the model it plans to sell nationwide, are made from galvanized steel frames, to which black plastic floatation drums are attached, he says. The deck of the dock can be made of either wood or fabricated decking material, he says. In addition, the company manufactures gangways for commercial and residential uses.
In recent years, Harrison also has become the Northwest dealer for several lines of marine-related equipment, such as boat hoists and shore-side trams, which are used to ferry people back and forth from their homes to the shore, especially where terrain is steep.
While Harrison Dock Builders has supplied docks and other structures to state and county parks for years, in the last few years it also has been actively bidding on federal marine-related contracts issued by the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Shannon says. The company hopes to land even more of that type of work now through its HubZone status, Wagner says.
Weve done bids all over the countryback East and in Hawaii, Shannon says. The company recently landed a contract to provide a mobile dock that will be used by the Department of the Interiors Bureau of Reclamation on Lake Mead, in Nevada, he says.
Adds Shannon, Weve just started to open the door and see how competitive we can be.
There are some aspects of the companys future that it cant control, Shannon and Wagner say.
The continued availability of logs for its popular cedar docks is one example. Another is the continued health of the U.S. economy.
Says Shannon, When the economy is bad, people arent buying docks.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE