No place like Raymond: Gateway to the waters of Kandiyohi County is home for Tensen Marine
RAYMOND — There were lots of people kind enough to point out to Arie Tensen the blunder he was making.
Tensen Marine is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Plaques on the walls inside tell the story. They come from Sylvan boats and Evinrude outboard motors and recognize the Raymond business during multiple years — 2013 included — as being among the best of their dealerships in all of North America.
The success and continued growth of the business has a lot to do with it being in Raymond, according to Wayne Tensen. Many of its customers are the hard-working rural residents who raise the crops or are part of the region’s agricultural economy. For many, State Highway 23 is their route to the lakes of Kandiyohi County, where they like to go when they have some time for recreation.
“It’s on the way for them to the lake and we’re just right here,” said Wayne Tensen.
He and his brother Ardell purchased the business from their parents in 2004. Arie and Kathy Tensen remain regular helpers at the family business. A brother, Gene, also helps out, as do a number of nephews.
The family is firmly rooted in Raymond. Ardell serves as mayor, and the two brothers, their father and a nephew have, combined, more than 94 years of experience on the Raymond Volunteer Fire Department.
An unfortunate turn of events had a lot to do with launching this business.
Arie Tensen was selling Scorpion snowmobiles in downtown Raymond when a June, 1974 fire ignited by youths siphoning gas from busses destroyed five businesses, his shop among them.
When he cleaned up the mess, Arie Tensen looked around and realized: “I have no place to go.”
He walked over to the house of the woman who owned the property along Highway 23 where the business is now located. He and others had approached her before in hopes of buying land along the highway without success. This time she said yes.
By October of 1974 he had a building up and Scorpion Snowmobiles arrived with three semi-trucks loaded with sleds and five salesmen to boot.
Tensen added boats, campers, and pickup truck toppers and accessories to his business. As time progressed, he focused increasingly on the marine side of the business. By the early 1980s he was out of the snowmobile business.
Fishing boats were the mainstay of the business at first, but a sea change was coming. Water sports were growing in popularity, and sales of fiberglass speed boats and deck boats for cruising and skiing grew steadily.
Today, fishing boats and deck boats are still good sellers, but nothing matches pontoon boats. They represent around 75 percent of sales, said Wayne.
The business has also seen steady growth in the sales of accessories, such as electronics for boats. And boat docks and lifts and their installation is an important and steadily growing part of the business.
Much like Apol’s of Raymond and its affiliation with Harley Davidson motorcycles, Tensen Marine has benefited by its relationship with Sylvan and Evinrude. Although Tensen Marine is located in a relatively small market area — as compared to metropolitan marine dealers — it remains important to the two big manufacturers, said Wayne. If Tensen Marine were to carry a number of different lines, its sales with each would be much smaller.
Providing good service is as important as good products in the marine industry, according to Tensen. Boat owners usually hold on to their craft for an average of 20 years. They depend on their local dealerships for the service to keep them running.
Many customers are repeat customers, said Tensen.
Customers come from all ages. While many first-time boat owners are in their 20’s, there are also plenty of folks who arrive in their retirement years looking to spend time on the water.
Not too long ago, Tensen sold a boat to a 95-year-old man. “He said he wanted to buy a boat because the kids don’t have one. When they don’t have one, they don’t take me fishing. If I buy one I can say they can use it if they take me fishing.”
Being surrounded by all of the farm fields of west central Minnesota remains important to the business. The boat industry has seen its ups and downs, especially during the recession. A strong farm economy has helped this business stay on an even keel. And when sales of new boats go down, service work increases as people keep their older boats seaworthy.
Tensen said the area is served by a number of marine businesses, but he doesn’t look at the other dealers as the only competition, by no means. The bigger competition is really the ever growing competition for our recreational time and money by other industries, such as golfing, all-terrain vehicles or motorcycles, he said.
He remains optimistic looking ahead. This is a region that has always enjoyed water sports, and Kandiyohi County offers great waters — and the access needed — to enjoy them.
All of which helps explain how the one-building operation that Arlie Tensen started amidst corn fields in 1974 now consists of seven buildings and a full-time work force of nine, not counting seasonal workers.