About three months ago, two freshly graduated St. Thomas alums were running a very small-scale decorative ice carving business. Then one of its founders sat in the right seat, on the right plane, next to the right person, and everything changed.
MN Ice Sculptures co-founder Robbie Harrell was flying from Minneapolis to Austin, Texas, when his neighbor prodded him for help with a crossword puzzle. “We talked for a while and I told him about the ice carving business, about our margins, our custom-built machine and our plans,” says Harrell. Then I ask, ‘What do you do?’ and he says, ‘Oh, I play for the Minnesota Vikings.’ ”
It turns out Harrell was seated next to 10-year Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who was headed home and was intrigued by Harrell’s 1-year-old business.
“So I mentioned that my business partner was interested in selling his half of the company,” Harrell recalls. “And Cullen said he had actually been on the lookout for niche businesses to invest in and asked whether he could buy my partner out—after he asked his wife, of course.” Loeffler soon signed a five-figure contract to buy 50 percent of MN Ice Sculptures.
According to Harrell, what sets MN Ice Sculptures apart from its competition—and a big factor in persuading Loeffler to join—is its custom-made computer-navigated carving machine. Harrell says the home-built machine allows incredibly precise designs based on computer-generated models, down to 1/100 of an inch.
Since bringing Loeffler on board, the company has doubled its headcount to eight and is trading on Loeffler’s connections. “Cullen knows the Bachman family really well and played a big role in setting up a deal with [the floral chain] that we’re in the process of closing now,” Harrell says. “We’re hoping to make ice sculptures a new holiday tradition—we’d like families to replace their wreaths with holiday ice figures.”
The company is also in talks with the NFL to be the official partner for ice sculptures created for the 2018 Super Bowl.
While the business is still very new, it expects to grow revenue from $150,000 to about $300,000 over the next five years and is in the process of moving from Shakopee into a larger warehouse space in downtown Minneapolis.
Ice carving used to be a craftsman’s art performed with hand tools. MN Ice Sculptures has turned it into a computer-navigated machining process.