The 40 Year History of Hewitt Machine and Manufacturing, Inc.
Hewitt Machine & Mfg. Inc. is known to marine dealers as a leading producer of boat lifts and docks. The manufacturing plant is located along Highway 14 in Nicollet, Minnesota. The company annually employs 85 full time and seasonal workers. The docks and lifts are shipped to Hewitt dealers across the U.S., up into Canada and even to Belgium and Holland. The business started in 1971 when Larry purchased Bauer Welding Shop. Larry did mostly welding, machining, automotive repair and fixed and sold lawn mowers at first. Their fortune turned in 1972 when Hewitt agreed to build a dock for a friend. He had a bad back and wanted an easier way to put in his dock. They did a little brainstorming with the idea of putting wheels on a dock. They found a do-it-yourself book and went and looked at some rafters Larry’s Uncle used in his metal business. Instead of using wood for the sides, they used light duty steel rafters. The 64 foot long dock had two sets of car tires and wheels for moving it in and out.
Hewitt and his friend worked a lot of nights and weekends on it. Before it was done, he decided he wanted a boat lift, so they went and looked at some other homemade lifts and built one from scratch. They rolled the dock into the lake, installed the lift and “surprise” it worked. It’s still there. Linda (Larry’s wife) coined “Roll-A-Dock” to give the dock a descriptive trade name. She has named everything including the “Hefty Arm” for a patented heavy-duty lift that raises a boat straight up.
The first summer the Hewitt’s built 12 docks and 13 lifts. They had no idea they had stumbled onto something. They thought it would just be a nice sideline, an addition to the business. Larry figured if they could sell a few here and there, it would supplement their income. At the time, the late Bob Selby was building Palm Beach Pontoon boats in Nicollet. He had a son, Gene, on the road as a salesman. He suggested that Gene “rep” for them, so in the winter of 1973, orders began trickling in from Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas and Wisconsin.
When the docks started selling they had to buy an old punch press. They couldn’t drill holes by hand anymore. It was too slow and not accurate enough. Along with adding many more punch presses, they rented a farm building where they built a tank to dip their docks in paint, giving up the laborious hand brushing. They hired a couple of high school kids to work after school painting or doing whatever Larry needed done at the shop. More employees were needed. One of the first, is now their shop foreman. It was really erratic those first years. They had to wait and sell the products before they could pay their employees. By 1974, production grew to 100 lifts and 100 docks, far beyond the capacity of the old welding shop, so that year the Hewitt’s built a 6,000 sq.ft. manufacturing plant along Highway 14, plus a paint department of 1,400 sq.ft. Today they are over 22 acres, 320,000 sq.ft. There is even an indoor showroom where the Hewitt’s show their lines to potential dealers and customers in comfort.
Dealers and eventual users can choose from lifts handling from 700 pounds (for personal watercraft and small fishing boats) up to 12,000 pounds (for twin engine boats up to 32 feet long). The Roll-A-Docks start at 24’ with one set of wheels to a maximum of 196 feet with four sets of wheels. They use cedar, aluminum, and vinyl for planking. Although they still make steel frames for docks, 85% of frames being used now are aluminum. Steel docks are cheaper, but with aluminum, there’s no maintenance, no painting and it’s light weight.
Hewitt lifts can be shipped for use all over the U.S. but the docks are used mostly in areas where people have to take them out because of ice. Hewitt lifts are in Cancun, Mexico, Sea World in Orlando, Florida, Texas, California.
The bookkeeping office was in the Hewitt home until 1991 when an office complex was added. In 1999 the office area was doubled. The entire family is part of the business. Sons Dan and Troy, as well as daughter Sara. The Hewitt’s will be the first to tell you, they couldn’t have done it without their employees. It’s not unusual for some of them to work 10 hour days during their peak season. 80% of the employees have been there 8 or more years.