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BrittC

New Fish House Manufacture

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I own a metal fabrication business and have a degree in Manufacturing Engineering. I was thinking about starting to build Aluminum fish houses as another business. After spending sometime looking at a few businesses that make them I wasn't overly impressed nor was I impressed with the delivery time. One mfg couldn't even give me a date....he said sometime next summer so hence the idea to start my own! 

 

I wanted to get some feedback from people to see if there is room in the market for another manufacture. I would be looking at selling shells and complete units and the houses could be designed to what the customer wants and some standard layouts. 

 

Any feedback/thoughts would be helpful! 

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i would have no clue on if theres room for another. the one thing i would like to see, all tho its slow and coming. i love my castle, but the one who made didnt, not alot of love went i to it. the interior is inferior for the price i paid. i should have left it on the lot, but was excited for my first and over looked alot in my excitement. i wont do that again. i dont mind pay any price for what i want in life as long as its of great quality. the people that build my next fish house need to build like it was their own, and not just hurry up, its good enough, get it out.

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My take on if there is room in the market for another manufacturer....

 

After reading some of the horror stories on HSO with people who went with lesser-known manufacturers, and seeing a number of the smaller operations be "here today/gone tomorrow" - I personally would only buy from one of the bigger names (Ice Castle, Yetti, etc.). I know there are complaints about some of them - ice castles in particular - but at least I would know they'll be around in the future if I had an issue or needed to make a warranty claim. The reputation and longevity of your metal fab shop might make skeptics like me a bit more comfortable buying from you, provided you can play off that.

 

With that said, I'm about as far from a qualified lead as you can get. New siding, a truck/suv, a boat and about another $20K in the kids' 529 funds are all higher on the priority list than a wheel house.

 

 

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I think there is still plenty of market share still available but you have to create your own niche.  Ice castle has their own share of the market with the starter shack, no way you are going to be able to beat/compete with their prices with real quality - specially with aluminum and without a factory line pumping out quantity vs quality.  I would say the rest of the market is split into basically 3 more categories - pre-manufactured, custom, and shells.  Most other manufactures are involved in the pre-manufactured category with their own layouts for either winter shacks or winter/summer combo's.  There are a few straight up custom manufactures (no aluminum manufacturers that I know of that are 100% custom).  Most aluminum manufactures as well do provide the option for shells - some even have the ability to customize the shell for door/window placement. 

 

That being said, I absolutely HATE every pre-manufactured layout on the market.  So much wasted space, inefficient seating arrangements, not enough holes, not enough places to sleep, no storage, bad planning for future upgrades, ect.  My biggest pet peeve being from SD and being able to use 4 lines per person during winter is the fact that the max amount of holes in any pre-manufactured shack is only 7-8 holes, that's only enough holes for 2 people.  For example, I finished off my 8x16' Yetti last year and have four 80" long beds that anyone can easily get into, 10 holes, 2 couches, 50" TV, closet, kitchen, 2x6' long hidden table, I can fish 6 people extremely comfortably, and sleep 5 comfortably.  You just can find any manufacture out there even close to that kind of design.  If you do pre-manufactured shacks make sure you do something different than what is already out on the market.  If you need help designing some new layouts there is plenty of advice here on DIY shacks and feel free to ask me (I'm an engineer too so puzzles like this make my brain tick).  Going with pre-manufactured you aren't going to beat anyone else on price - what you need to focus on is structural quality, workmanship, and layout designs/features. 

 

Those who cannot do, pay.  Those who don't like the pre-manufactured designs, cant built their own, and have the $$$ will look towards custom builders.  Beware though, quality and communication is key.  When spending that kind of coin on a custom shack and waiting a couple months, people are very picky on what they will accept.  Custom really isn't about building a lot of shacks for cheap, but building a few expensive shacks.  For example, Team Lodge built only about 50 shacks last year.  Ice castle could probably produce that many in a month. 

 

There are quite a few manufactures who already build aluminum shells, it would be hard to make a name for yourself with Yetti, firebrand, ridgeline, ect. already producing a lot of shells. 

 

 

My ultimate suggestion would be sort of a hybrid business plan. 

1.)  Pre-manufactured shacks with new functional layouts. 

2.)  A la carte custom shacks.  Put together a bunch of new cool features that you can easily replicate (put a bed here, window there, holes here, closet, dual TV's, surround sound.  It would give the consumer the option to create their own layout but wouldn't take you the same amount of time to build as a truly custom shack. 

3.)  Shells - you have to build shells to build shacks, it wouldn't hurt offer them as an option or have a few spare ones on hand.

4.)  Kits - Many people want quality but don't want to pay the price for it.  They also don't even know where to start with the whole building process.  I always though a manufacture should create a kit and sell them.  You would save on labor and your customer would save money by assembling it themselves - basically like a big model car.  You would build the shell and include all the individual components for the customer to assemble at home (wood, fasteners, tongue and groove, wire, power center, beds, hole covers, lights, switches, ect.).  You would need to create some instructions but I think this could be fairly popular in the market. 

 

Sorry for the long post but that's just my view. 

 

Edited by YettiStyle

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Competition is great and will drive new features and maybe competitive pricing.  I just dont know if you will make much money out of it right out of the gate until you make a name for yourself.  I think Ice Castle has a 80% market share or something like that so it would be a mountain to climb.  I would be careful on offering up to build to a customer's wants because that might slow things down.  Ice Castle does a good thing about having so many floor plans and then allowing minor changes to each of those.  That way they can keep a production line going and not have to do too much custom work. 

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I to think there is room in the market but you've got to be able to do a couple of things to have a chance.

 

1. Provide great value.  Providing great value is finding the right combination of price and quality. If you can build it cheap but poorly it offers the same value as building it extremely well but for WAY too much money.  Both the very high end and very low end will have a niche market although likely small.  Its important to find the sweet spot for your individual shop in terms of price and quality that will appeal to the largest market.  The overhead of your individual shop will dictate some of this.

 

2. Be able to communicate well with customers and deliver when you say you'll deliver.  In the fishing industry word travels fast in regards to both good and bad companies.  If you can't deliver word will travel and you'll be doomed.  If you can deliver good quality at a good price and do it on time the word will also travel and you can do very well.

 

3. Be able to provide well thought out designs that provide additional innovation in the industry.  Don't just try to copy whats already out there.  Find ways to set yourselves apart in terms of layout options and finish.  Some people will come to you knowing exactly what they want but others will come to you looking for your expert advice.  You may be able to fabricate but can you also help a customer plan and design their dream house that they'll love and not be frustrated with a year or 2 down the road?

 

4.  Sounds like you have the metal fabrication skills in place but do you have the interior carpentry and wiring skills needed to deck out a fish house to a customers specs?  Can you provide a high quality fit and finish in the interior?  Can you source high quality materials at a good price?   Do you know all of the latest gadgets that can go into a house and know how to integrate all of them seamlessly?

 

Obviously you don't need to be an expert at each thing instantly but you do need some general knowledge to get started or you need to bring someone on board who has the knowledge.  You'll likely have a learning curve at the start but the key will be to minimize it as much as possible.  If its too steep you may not get over the hump before you are forced to close up shop.

 

You can always start the business in stages.  If you have the metal fabrication ability in place then why not start with simply providing frames and shells?  Once you've got that up and running then start working toward providing full custom houses or some sort of pre-built line up?  Rome wasn't built in a day and your business doesn't have to be either.  Building it in stages minimizes risk and allows you to focus on one thing and a time and not moving on until you are an expert in that area and have a well developed plan for your growth.

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Someone once said the best was to make a small fortune doing that is to start with a really large fortune...

 

That being said, yes, there is a market for you if you have the right team to step into a crowded field and offer a better product at a fair price. You just need to be better than some, not all of your competitors and keep your customers happy. 

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Thanks for all the feedback guys! I know I can't compete againist Ice Castle and I have no interest in the production type and poor quality market. I am interested in putting out a product that is high in standard but reasonably priced with great customer service. Not looking to get rich! More interested in putting out a product that people are proud to show off. That is how I currently run my business and it does great. Keeps me busy and can make a living. I am a huge ice fisherman and would love to get into that market. I have several great ideas for building the houses (inside and out) and a few more products in mind. 

 

I have finished the inside of (4) houses in the past (all Yetti) for myself and friends so I am confident I can do a great job on the inside. In my current business I have wood products that I sell with the metal products and I build all those in house. 

 

I was thinking a few shells to begin with but open to finishing the insides. I would like to work more with the customer and how they want the house setup. My current business is all custom work for the customer so I was thinking doing that with houses also. 

 

I have the skills and software to do 3-D layouts so my thought was to work with customer on layout and they can see it in a 3-D world to hopefully have the customer enjoy the house with no regrets.  

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I am interested in putting out a product that is high in standard but reasonably priced - High standards cost time and money and reasonably priced might be tough to do and make any money. Ive looked at a lot of wheel houses and I don't think I have ever walked away and said that was reasonably priced. lol

 

You already have a business that must make you a living. Might want to stick with what already works or improve on that.

 

I am a huge ice fisherman and would love to get into that market. If you enjoy fishing you may not want to turn your hobbie into a job.

 

Just my opinion but you could always start out building one and try to sell it and see what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, BrittC said:

 

I have the skills and software to do 3-D layouts so my thought was to work with customer on layout and they can see it in a 3-D world to hopefully have the customer enjoy the house with no regrets.  

This can be a 2 edged sword. 

I am a cabinetmaker and introduced 3d design to my area on a laptop back in the late 90's. It was perfect for a long time but now customers look around at other sites and if they are not given limits the design process can sometimes eat up as much labor as the production process. My experience has led me to tell my clients that I offer as much design expertise as they are willing to pay for. I will do an initial design and then allow them to review it. They only get a 3d with no dimensions and any more they need to agree to pay for the design time that I provide and when they sign off, that ends up being part of the total contract.

 

If you start to offer free design you will run into people who either chew up all your time and then take your design to the guy who will do it for cheaper because he doesn't have the investment into the cad part and doesn't put the time into the design or you will get the DIY crowd who uses you to design their house for free and then they will build off your plans. That's just life and you probably see it already in your regular business. 

 

Good luck if you decide to proceed. The industry needs good businesses in it.

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15 hours ago, nofishfisherman said:

I to think there is room in the market but you've got to be able to do a couple of things to have a chance.

 

1. Provide great value.  Providing great value is finding the right combination of price and quality. If you can build it cheap but poorly it offers the same value as building it extremely well but for WAY too much money.  Both the very high end and very low end will have a niche market although likely small.  Its important to find the sweet spot for your individual shop in terms of price and quality that will appeal to the largest market.  The overhead of your individual shop will dictate some of this.

 

2. Be able to communicate well with customers and deliver when you say you'll deliver.  In the fishing industry word travels fast in regards to both good and bad companies.  If you can't deliver word will travel and you'll be doomed.  If you can deliver good quality at a good price and do it on time the word will also travel and you can do very well.

 

3. Be able to provide well thought out designs that provide additional innovation in the industry.  Don't just try to copy whats already out there.  Find ways to set yourselves apart in terms of layout options and finish.  Some people will come to you knowing exactly what they want but others will come to you looking for your expert advice.  You may be able to fabricate but can you also help a customer plan and design their dream house that they'll love and not be frustrated with a year or 2 down the road?

 

4.  Sounds like you have the metal fabrication skills in place but do you have the interior carpentry and wiring skills needed to deck out a fish house to a customers specs?  Can you provide a high quality fit and finish in the interior?  Can you source high quality materials at a good price?   Do you know all of the latest gadgets that can go into a house and know how to integrate all of them seamlessly?

 

Obviously you don't need to be an expert at each thing instantly but you do need some general knowledge to get started or you need to bring someone on board who has the knowledge.  You'll likely have a learning curve at the start but the key will be to minimize it as much as possible.  If its too steep you may not get over the hump before you are forced to close up shop.

 

You can always start the business in stages.  If you have the metal fabrication ability in place then why not start with simply providing frames and shells?  Once you've got that up and running then start working toward providing full custom houses or some sort of pre-built line up?  Rome wasn't built in a day and your business doesn't have to be either.  Building it in stages minimizes risk and allows you to focus on one thing and a time and not moving on until you are an expert in that area and have a well developed plan for your growth.

 

Excellent advice...  Well done.

 

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13 hours ago, BrittC said:

Thanks for all the feedback guys! I know I can't compete againist Ice Castle and I have no interest in the production type and poor quality market. I am interested in putting out a product that is high in standard but reasonably priced with great customer service. Not looking to get rich! More interested in putting out a product that people are proud to show off. That is how I currently run my business and it does great. Keeps me busy and can make a living. I am a huge ice fisherman and would love to get into that market. I have several great ideas for building the houses (inside and out) and a few more products in mind. 

 

I have finished the inside of (4) houses in the past (all Yetti) for myself and friends so I am confident I can do a great job on the inside. In my current business I have wood products that I sell with the metal products and I build all those in house. 

 

I was thinking a few shells to begin with but open to finishing the insides. I would like to work more with the customer and how they want the house setup. My current business is all custom work for the customer so I was thinking doing that with houses also. 

 

I have the skills and software to do 3-D layouts so my thought was to work with customer on layout and they can see it in a 3-D world to hopefully have the customer enjoy the house with no regrets.  

 

It sounds like you've got a lot of things in place to possibly make this work.  In the end you won't know until you try.  However, I'd still suggest you start small and just see how things go.  Your biggest asset is that you don't NEED this business.  You've already got a successful business and can afford to take it slow with this.  Start with selling a couple frames then maybe a shell or 10.  If  you find the right customer who is willing to be a guinea pig for a full build down the road then give it a shot when you feel ready.  See how things go with that and see where improvements need to be made in design/process and go from there.  You may find out that its a viable business that you want to invest more time and money into or you may find that you prefer to keep it small and only do a few quality houses a year.  After all you do have your main business still to run so you don't want this side business to take away time and resources from that.  On a related note if you do start the fish house business keep things separate financially so that if it doesn't work you aren't hurting your primary business at the same time.

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Without putting out a massive volume which it hard to fund, if I was going to look at a new manufacturer it would have to be for something so fully customized and cutting edge that it was something nobody else could provide.

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There's at least 10 manufacturers who preach "quality" but can't get the "quantity" to keep going.  10-15 houses per year, with the amount of man hours needed, won't work financially.    

 

I really think the key to succeeding in fish house building is about a $2 to 5mil line of credit (cash would be better), at least 10  employees, and a marketing plan to target Ice Castle buyers from last year whose brand new houses have fallen apart and are now looking for mediocre or better quality.  If you can get 50-100 houses out in your first year with very few problems, you'll have hundreds of Ice Castle (would be and former) buyers flocking to your door.  Once they experience the disappointment of doors and windows that won't open because of frame flex, beds falling off walls, plumbing pumping turds on their floor....20% extra cost will seem like a worthy investment.  Especially since 90% of them are financed and it's only a few extra $ per month.  But that's just my $.02.    

 

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I have been looking at houses for the last five years.  Only thing close to what I want is a Yetti and still not totally sold on them.  Two reasons why i have not bought one,  quality and price.  I cannot justify $20k for one especially if its built with poor craftsmanship.  I will buy someday but I can still catch fish out of my portable.

 

I think you could get into the market if you can produce a quality product at a fair price.  A lot of good business advice here also.   Unless you have a pile of cash you can afford to lose,  start small and grow as business dictates.

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11 hours ago, slammer said:

I have been looking at houses for the last five years.  Only thing close to what I want is a Yetti and still not totally sold on them.  Two reasons why i have not bought one,  quality and price.  I cannot justify $20k for one especially if its built with poor craftsmanship.  I will buy someday but I can still catch fish out of my portable.

 

I think you could get into the market if you can produce a quality product at a fair price.  A lot of good business advice here also.   Unless you have a pile of cash you can afford to lose,  start small and grow as business dictates.

 

Not picking on you, slammer, but I've seen price point mentioned in a few of the posts.  Having done the math, the average person would not be able to replicate an Ice Castle (same materials, no value on time) for what Ice Castle is selling them for.  Most people don't have the capability of building their own, but those who do are going to spend 400-600 hours of their time building it.  Knowing that you can get one built with a warranty for less money and no time...I would argue they are a fair value.  

 

Building 3,000 houses per year, they get huge material discounts from their suppliers.  This is what the other manufacturers are up against, and why I say you would need to build at least 50-100 your first year to have any chance of competing.

 

For about 30% more you have the Yetti, Firebrand, Big Bear, Elite, Custom Cottage, etc.  I know Yetti and Firebrand build a lot of houses, but it isn't anywhere near Ice Castle.  You pay more, but the materials and craftsmanship are of much higher quality.

 

A lot of people don't believe me when I say that there is no money to be made in competing with Ice Castle on price, but it's true.  If there's a corner to be cut in the manufacturing process or materials, they've already cut it.  So your only option is to build higher quality, at a higher price point, and hope buyers see the value.  Take a look at the ICOG Facebook page....there's plenty of people who would be happy to pay 20-30% more for quality.         

 

 

 

  

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To echo Lip Ripper, I'd find it pretty difficult to compete anywhere in the fish house market regardless of what your end product goals are. Even though it may seem like it, I doubt there's much room for more competition. We're a pretty small number of outdoorsman that are looking for a fish house as even the southern end of MN has winters where it's barely enough to be out on any bodies of water. That basically leaves about the northern 2/3rds of MN and a small portion of WI for any amount of population to take advantage of your product. The number of "camper" style houses coming out kind of baffles me. There's rarely ever a product that does multiple things well, it just does them good enough. I'd almost bet that you could survey everyone you seen with an AC unit on the top of their house and ask them if they would rather have a real camper, they'd probably give up the fish house. I just don't think there would be enough money in the vertical of building fish houses to invest much into it. The only possible way would be to do very one off custom setups. And if you're going to go that route, they better tow perfectly and you better be able to jack up one corner of the house and all the doors and windows should operate. Clientele and margins just aren't there otherwise.

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Chaws really hit it on the head, we are a very small market industry in regards to ice fishing. Even the walleye industry is small potatoes to advertisers compared to bass. In many cases if you're not 1 or 2 in your product line you're either a garage/hobby company or going broke. I get a kick looking at the intricate paint jobs on some of the tiny ice jigs that get sold for a couple dollars, no way can they justify the time. 

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6 hours ago, BartmanMN said:

Maybe your niche could be building a good hydraulic aluminum frame and supplying them to Yetti, Firebrand, etc.

Now your defeating the reason for aluminum , the reason is to have a lighter fish house. It puzzles me to see how heavy Minnesotans make their fish houses.

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Thanks for the additional feedback guys. I'm up in the air if I could make this a go. I would want to do aluminum houses and by looking at what was out there I was thinking there is room for another manufacture. I currently have a Yetti and while it is a nice house it has very few options for customizing. Only tandem axle they had was a 21' and there are things I would want done but is not available through Yetti. I wasn't impressed with Firebrand when I looked at them. The one house I looked at I couldn't get a window shut as the window was not installed correctly. Custom cottage I would need to take a 2nd mortgage out. 

 

So have to do a little more brainstorming on this!

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