GRAND FORKS – Paul Carlson said he always wanted to develop, manufacture and sell a product.
He can check that off the list. Twice.
The Grand Forks man is off to a strong start with ASR Outdoors, a business he launched to make aftermarket roofs for Polaris Ranger utility vehicles, and two sizes of “Elite Series Performance” wooden dog kennels, built to keep those canine hunting companions warm and dry.
ASR stands for Albin, Swede and Ronald, three men Carlson cites as major influences growing up in Hallock, Minn.
“Albin was a grandfather, and he was an older guy with gray hair and always wore bib overalls and walked with a limp,” Carlson said. “A very capable guy, and he could weld and fix anything and farmed. He was just a wise old man, and I always really looked up to him. And Swede was my uncle. Swede was creative and handy and did lots of things, got me into hunting and fishing and doing all that stuff. And then Ronald was a guy I worked for when I was a kid, and he was a farmer and had cattle, and I worked for him for about six years from the age of 10 to 16 or 17.
“I didn’t want to call it Paul Incorporated or anything like, that so I just thought, ‘I’ll call it ASR.’”
A shift supervisor at American Crystal Sugar Co. in East Grand Forks, Minn., Carlson made the first prototype roof for his Polaris Ranger out of wood in his garage. He incorporated a built-in exterior lightbar that doesn’t get hung up on branches or enclosed trailers and an interior center console with control switches and a dome light on the ceiling of the cab.
Pleased with the result, Carlson contracted with Black Diamond Extreme, a company in Cannon Falls, Minn., to fine-tune the prototype using SolidWorks, a computer-assisted design and engineering program.
The roofs are made in the Twin Cities from an injection-molded plastic. Carlson got the first shipment of 200 roofs in July and began assembling them in early August in a shop he rents near his Grand Forks home.
“I didn't really want to start off with that many, but with manufacturing, that's the smallest quantity I could get,” Carlson said.
The roofs are designed to fit 2015 through 2021 model year Polaris Rangers. The assembly process takes Carlson three to four hours in the shop, he said, and the final product is a complete kit that attaches with a few bolts and a wiring harness that plugs into the Ranger’s power strip.
Besides front and rear light bars, the roofs have an interior console with a dome light, two USB charging ports and extra storage space.
Carlson came up with his Elite Series Performance kennels after seeing a homemade wooden kennel a friend had built. The kennels are designed to fit in the back of an OHV or pickup and include screens, vents and removable polycarbonate window inserts.
The kennels also have rollers and are made with cam locks for easy disassembly.
“You can take it apart and put it away if you’re done with hunting season,” Carlson said. “Kennels take up a lot of room, so it’s easily packed away. There’s just a lot of thought that went into it.”
Launching a new business during a pandemic has been scary, Carlson admits, but he’s encouraged by the response. To date, Carlson has shipped the aftermarket roofs everywhere from the northeastern U.S. to Texas and customer feedback has been “100% positive.”
“Everybody's been enthusiastic about it so it’s been good, but it’s just hard starting out from zero to get them moving,” he said.
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The University of North Dakota Center for Innovation, a business and development service in Grand Forks, has helped him get started, Carlson said. He also got some small business grants to launch the venture.
“That really helped out because without somebody else being around as a sounding board to make sure you're heading in the right direction, it’s difficult to spend that amount of money, to invest in that and and get it going and get it started and to actually do something,” Carlson said.
Social media, a website, word of mouth and reaching out to prospective dealers have been his primary marketing tools, Carlson said.
“A lot of people don't even know that a roof like this is available because there's not another one like it on the market,” he said. “There are some metal ones that you can buy, but they’re really expensive. You can stand on top of them and you can haul stuff up there but I just never really intended on standing on top of my roof or hauling things up there.
“Everybody's got their niche.”
For more information and pricing, check out the ASR Outdoors website at asroutdoors.net.