Editor's note: This article first appeared on DrydenWire.com on April 14, 2021.
SHELL LAKE, WI -- Shell Lake Marine first opened their doors in Shell Lake seventeen years ago. The location was perfect, right on Hwy. 63 just north of the city of Shell Lake. A building that initially housed the ICO gas station but had been empty for several years.
Tom Klassa and his brother Tony were the ones who brought a totally new concept to town, dock, and lift installations. Then adding boat sales and service, and even something unheard of until then, wrapping personal boats and providing storage for the winter. They also carried various varieties of merchandise to equip the experienced or novice fisherman from rods to bait.
Business in Shell Lake was a boon right from the get-go.
But then, the boys knew that it would be.
Tom and his brother were raised on a dairy farm in Prairie Farm and knew it wasn't the life they wanted forever. Tom's goal was to join the Marines, but because he was too young, even though his formal high-school years were finished, he took advantage of classes through WITC. After graduation and the Marines were over, it was time to move into marriage, fatherhood, and business.
In 1995, the Klasses moved to Spooner, where Tom built a house. Within two years, he sold it and built another one. He also sold the second one and went on to build and sell a total of seven houses.
Answering an ad for a dock and lift installer helper introduced Tom to the boating industry. He asked the Web Lake Marine if they had anyone looking for someone to do the dock and lift installation in the area and came away with sixty names of possible clients.
The original idea was to do the boat work during the summer and continue to build houses the rest of the year. They hadn't planned on the outcome of their original phone call. By the time the summer ended, they had serviced two hundred and fifty people.
The Lakeside Services business was born. Between 1994 and 2003, it was run out of Tom's home. Then, in 1995 the business moved to Shell Lake.
Now that they had a building, they included bait and tackle and assorted water-sport toys inside. Their Shoremaster Docks and Lift business outside in their lot size grew.
Business was good, but Tom recognized a need before anyone else did. Shell Lake had always been a beautiful lake. Still, since the famous Shell Lake Boat Factory closed after producing hundreds and hundreds of wooden and fiberglass boats, no one sold boats anymore. There is a display area set up in the showroom honoring two of the beautiful vintage boats from the fifties and replicas of the boat factory signs. The one on the left is Tom's personal 1957 model, and the other is a 1969 model on loan from a customer.
The advantage of coming into the dock, lift and boat business "fresh" was they had no preconceived ideas about running their new enterprise. What went a long way to create their own recipe for success was simply, "Do what you say you're going to do." Tom emphasizes that "Communication with the customer is the most import part of doing business. If you say you're going to show up, show up, or communicate with the customer why you're going to be late and when you'll be there."
Shell Lake Marine quickly started to outgrow their space both inside and out. Boat repairs were difficult and limited in the room they had, and with the addition of pontoon sales, space was tight.
Last year, Tom attained three large connected buildings right on the lake at 800 N. Lake Road, with a combined space of fifty thousand square feet that was formally owned by Doboy Packaging Machinery.
With all this extra space, everything got bigger. The indoor showroom is full of beautiful new pontoons, most priced from $25-$30K, but some are costing up to $150K.
The retail part of the shop still offers everything a fisherman could need, but there's a great new line of clothing for sale as well as a large selection of snacks.
Shell Lake Marine employees twelve full-time, year-round employees and four part-time.
Zig-zagging from left to right, Kyle, Wendy, Charlie, Travis, Kelly, Jimmie, John "Shorty," Kortney, Pete, Tom.
It takes all these employees to give the excellent service Shell Lake Marine is becoming known for. Some work in the warehouse, the service department, the retail store, or constantly transporting watercraft and installing docks.
Sadly Tom's brother Tony died in December of 2019 and never got to see the completion of what they started.
Shell Lake Marine specializes in the most reliable brands: Shoremaster docks and lifts, Mercury outboards and Manitou pontoons, and Polarkraft fishing boats. It's even the place you can visit if you're looking for something used, either in a pontoon or fishing boat. They even have boats on consignment and competitive pricing.
Shell Lake Marine service extends to hundreds of lakes in the area. There are already plans in the making for their new lakeside shoreline to expand their business.
Hours open are Monday through Friday from 8a to 5p. Saturday 8a until 2p. 715-468-7662 or just Google Shell Lake Marine for more information.