Peter Nasvik and sons Ole and Kaarl, have built everything from artificial rock walls for the Minnesota Zoo and volcanoes for Rainforest Cafes to a pond for entertainer Wayne Newton's peacocks.
But in all the years of creating, building and delivering volcanoes and pirate ships and other unique structures for playgrounds, museums and resorts around the world, the Nasviks have had little to show in their own back yard.
That will change this spring, when the owners of Themed Concepts of Forest Lake unveil the "forest dragon," a massive play structure bound for Forest Lake's Cedar Park that city officials hope will become a popular draw for kids and families. The 16-foot-tall winged dragon, which children can climb, will feature a scaly body, treelike legs and red eyes. It will also include a slide.
"It's huge for us to have a local piece that's very art-forward," said Lisa-Marie Klooster, marketing director for Themed Concepts.
The idea of putting the structure in a city park got rolling last year after Klooster realized she had few local pieces to show visiting distributors. She also was looking to raise the profile of the company, which has 30 employees.
Klooster contacted Nicole Schossow, then the city's park's coordinator, and eventually struck a deal with the park board. The dragon, with a retail price tag of $150,000 that includes transport and a lifetime warranty, will cost the city $38,000, Klooster said.
"It's a long-term benefit for us to have one of our pieces in a park," where the company can show off its work to customers, Klooster said.
Peter Nasvik said the dragon is the latest of the imaginative pieces the company has produced under the supervision of his sons.
"Some of the stuff they're putting out here is just absolutely amazing," he said.
Peter Nasvik retired a year ago from the business he founded in 1971. "It's stuff I don't think I could have imagined."
Confident in product
Ole and Kaarl Nasvik, president and vice president of the company, respectively, rarely turn down a project.
"We truly think there's nothing we can't do with our product," Ole Nasvik said.
That confidence comes in part from decades of experience working with a mixture known as glass fiber reinforced concrete, which the company says makes for strong, durable and relatively lightweight structures.
Prepared according to a proprietary formula, the concrete mix goes onto steel frameworks or into molds. Workers use tools and processes the company has developed to add textures, colors and other details.
Themed Concepts moved from St. Paul — where Peter Nasvik launched the business — to Forest Lake eight years ago in part to take advantage of lower taxes, lower building costs and proximity to suppliers of materials. The move to a 53,000-square-foot building also coincided with a change in operations.
For years, the company built structures on site. Ole Nasvik, in fact, spent several years in Las Vegas, creating decorative rock and tree work for the Luxor, Caesars Palace and the MGM Grand hotels and casinos and the peacock pond at Vegas fixture Wayne Newton's ranch. Kaarl Nasvik, meanwhile, spent a year hanging from cliffs at Yosemite National Park building barrier walls.
Since the move, however, the company has built most structures locally and shipped them in pieces to their final destinations, where they are assembled and installed.
"Putting an art structure of concrete on a semi truck bouncing across the country is not an easy thing to figure out," Kaarl Nasvik said. "We've got a nice little niche right now and we're happy where we're at."
When the recession hit and demand for their work from entertainment venues and restaurants fell off, Themed Concepts shifted its focus to the playground and recreation markets, Klooster said.
The company now has 50 national sales agents selling to park and recreation product dealers, said Klooster, who joined the company in 2013.
Ernest Knight, vice president of sales and marketing at equipment distributor National Playground, said Themed Concepts' products have "awed" users.
"The artistic capabilities of the group and the materials that they use are unique in the play industry and the quality of workmanship they provide is truly amazing," Knight said.
Ole Nasvik said company sales last year topped $1 million. Kaarl Nasvik said the goal this year is to increase revenue 30 percent over 2014.
For now, however, the Nasviks are looking forward to moving the forest dragon to its home in Cedar Park. The Nasviks built a similar piece so well last year that it fooled a trade show attendee into thinking that it had been created from a real tree.
Ole Nasvik said the customer — a park and rec official who bought the piece — wanted to know what type of tree it was and how the Nasviks got it into the building.
"I said 'Why don't you touch it?' " Ole Nasvik said, recalling the astonished look on the man's face when he found out the tree wasn't real. "They were just in shock."
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.