Considering there is little to no snow on the ground in Minnesota a year after the Polar Vortex achieved a standing 8-count against even the heartiest of the natives, perhaps frustrated snowmobile enthusiasts will be drawn to it as a natural distraction.
However, this year’s Boat Show will have an unspoken Vikings tie to it. As visitors head into the Convention Center, there will be an ice sculpture replica of a Malibu boat that was created by Minnesota Ice Sculptures. One of the co-owners of the fledgling company is Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler.
On a plane fight home to Texas last spring following an offseason workout on May 2, Loeffler was intrigued by the work the passenger next to him was doing on his laptop. That man was Robbie Harrell, a recent University of St. Thomas graduate with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. The two struck up a conversation and Harrell explained that he was partnered in the ice sculpture company with a college friend who was planning to spend a year in Europe and was looking to sell his half of the business.
By the time the plane landed, Loeffler was considering buying into the company. While to some it may have seemed like a convenient scam, Loeffler said Harrell appeared sincere and he was intrigued with the possibilities of the ice sculpture business.
“There are times when you have to take a leap of faith,” Loeffler said. “When I found out later about the connection that we had, it was like a sign that this was something I couldn’t ignore. I just thought, ‘This is crazy.’ It’s a small world. It just seemed like the stars were aligning on this deal and I figured it was meant to be.”
As fate would have it, Harrell’s grandmother was born Adrian Loeffler from Junction, Texas – 30 minutes from where Loeffler’s father grew up. Harrell’s grandmother and Loeffler’s father are cousins. If there was any trepidation about investing in the company, that went out the window and Loeffler signed on, even though he knew very little about the technical end of the ice sculpting business.
“I had never done any investing in a start-up,” Loeffler said. “I’ve run into a lot of those types, but they’re not organized. They don’t have a business plan. These guys were doing it the right way. They were realistic about their costs and the potential for growth and the projections they were making. The difference between what they have and nobody else here has is a CNC machine that can do crazy things.”
The “CNC machine” of which he speaks is a Computer Numerically Controlled ice carving machine. Coordinates are given to the machine to drill the ice to extraordinarily precise standards, essentially being able to replicate any two-dimensional image into an ice block. They still have hand-carvers, but the bread and butter of Minnesota Ice Sculptures is the CNC design approach. It’s creates the equivalent to an ice sign.
“It really is an amazing process once you see it done,” Loeffler said. “The CNC machine can replicate anything. We have the full-scale model of the Malibu boat at the Boat Show this weekend. We created some sculptures that were outside (TCF Bank) stadium for the final game of the year against Chicago. We’re just in the process of getting our name out there, but those are the kind of things that get you noticed.”
While the big projects tend to get more notice, Loeffler said most of the work Minnesota Ice Sculptures do is centered on individuals and small businesses. From sculptures that bear a company logo to birthday, anniversary or holiday wishes, the ice sculptures come to life through LED lights that can be set up inside the sculptures.
“It really looks awesome,” Loeffler said. “The things that they can do with technology is just amazing – from the sculpting of the ice itself to the lighting that you can put in there. I knew nothing about the technical end of things, but it really is crazy what they’re capable of making and how incredible it looks when you add lighting to it.”
Loeffler said the company hopes to expand in the future as they carve their way into an underutilized market – there are only two other major ice sculpture companies in Minnesota – and he hopes to keep Minnesota Ice Sculptures on the cutting edge of the technological advancements that have been made in the field.
For those who will be attending the Minneapolis Boat Show, they will be greeted outside by the Malibu ice sculpture. Loeffler’s only concern is one that he couldn’t have imagined himself talking about a year ago as he and his family endured the first blasts of last year’s brutal Minnesota winter.
“The only real concern we have with sculpture is that is doesn’t get too warm over the weekend and it melts a little bit,” Loeffler said. “That’s part of the occupational hazards. Who would have thought I would ever say we don’t want it to be too warm in Minnesota in January? I know I wouldn’t have, but, considering all that’s happened over the last nine months with this business, there are a lot of things I wouldn’t have thought I’d be saying a year ago that I’m saying now.”
The Boat Show runs through Sunday and more information on the different types of sculptures the company has done can be found at their website