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Revved up for growth

John Wooden stands outside the new home of River Valley Power & Sport at 3859 Highway 61 N. The facility offers triple the showroom space of the old location. A grand reopening celebration runs through today. (Republican Eagle photos by Anne Jacobson)1 / 2
River Valley Lawnscape at 3399 South Service Drive has room to grow now that John Wooden has moved the sport component of his operation down the highway.2 / 2

River Valley Power & Sport embraced e-commerce early. That decision some 10 years ago led to it becoming Yamaha’s largest marine dealer in the nation today.

Now that Internet-driven growth has brought owner John Wooden and wife Carrie full circle. They recently invested in bricks and mortar in a big way, purchasing the former Riverfront Ford to house River Valley Power & Sport and thereby creating space to expand River Valley Lawnscape.

“We could have made this investment in Rochester or the Twin Cities some other place,” Wooden acknowledged. “But Red Wing has been good to us. This is where we live, where we raise our boys.”

Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce President Patty Brown said the community is fortunate.

“That’s always a worry when someone is looking at expansion; it’s an easy time to leave,” she said.

Red Wing Port Authority Executive Director Randy Olson agrees.

“John Wooden is a local entrepreneur who continues to expand his business operations in Red Wing,” Olson said. “This is great for our community from so many perspectives as John is retaining jobs and also adding jobs to our economy. His expansion also fills a visible vacancy and contributes to the vitality of Red Wing’s business sector.”

The chamber held a ribbon-cutting Thursday at the new River Valley Power & Sport, 3859 Highway 61 N. Later this spring, chamber ambassadors will hold a ribbon-cutting at the landscape site, 3399 S. Service Drive. Plus, Wooden’s staff will conduct boat demonstrations May 22-24 at Red Wing Marina.

In the midst of the move, Wooden suddenly had another opportunity — to acquire Frontenac Honda from longtime owners Greg and Helen Coffman of Wabasha — and signed papers April 18. All the motorcycles, parts and accessories came to Red Wing last week.

“They got to retirement age,” Wooden said of the Coffmans. “It was one of those deals I couldn’t pass up.”

River Valley Power & Sport now displays Yamaha, Suzuki, Can-am, Ski-Doo, Sea-Doo, Honda, Bennington, South Bay Yamaha boat and Monterey boat lines in a 15,000-foot showroom with plenty of space for the runabout boats, pontoons, jet boats, cycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, accessories, clothing and more.

“It’s like being able to have a power show every day,” he said.

The former Riverfront Ford building first came on the market in 2008. Acquisition wasn’t more than a fleeting thought then, Wooden said. The recession had hit hard and the landscape operation’s loss of the John Deere new sales franchise — 40 percent of the business — proved a double hit.

“We were also in absolute survival mode. The timing was wrong,” he recalled. “We decided to concentrate on the marine business.”

Little did he know, he added, that the marine industry would experience 20 percent annual growth. And, since River Valley was taking orders online and since people will drive farther to get marine equipment than other motor sports, Wooden said, River Valley was in a good position.

“It used to be that 80 percent of our business was local. Now it’s 80 percent from outside Red Wing and 20 percent local,” he said.

Contributing factors: Minnesota is in the top three states for boat registrations and Yamaha marine has only one Minnesota franchise.

“We’re exclusive. It’s a big deal,” he said.

In the meantime, A-1 Commercial Cleaning purchased and cleaned up the site before opening and eventually closing the Auto Connection. Fast-forward to late 2013 and the timing was right to buy and expand.

“Carrie had been home raising our boys. She came back into the business with the intention of ensuring top customer service,” Wooden said.

Her primary office is at River Valley Power & Sport; his is at River Valley Lawnscape — the company he created from a high school mowing business — that now has room to grow again.

“We’re re-establishing it as Red Wing’s lawn and landscape center,” he said.

That means new signage, better display for the Toro, Xmark and Stihl outdoor power equipment, and better visibility for the black dirt and decorative rock bins that attract do-it-yourself customers.

“In the end, the whole thing will add 10 new employees for Red Wing,” Wooden said. Three of those joined the River Valley Power & Sport staff.

The company’s payroll is now 66. Family remains key. Brother Mike runs the Rochester location, Wooden said, and their dad still works part time.

“I want the people of Red Wing to know this is home,” Wooden said.

River Valley timeline

1991: Red Wing High School senior John Wooden converts his mowing jobs into a full-scale business. He has two full-time employees.

1996: Having graduated from college, Wooden purchases the local John Deere franchise from the Tesdall family.

1997: Wooden’s River Valley Landscape moves from a Clay City rental building to the former Big Ben restaurant site along Highway 61. Red Wing Port Authority helps put together the financing package.

2007: River Valley self-storage opens behind the landscape office.

2010: John Deere and River Valley agree to terminate business after 15 years. River Valley opens the door to expansion into marine, pontoon and boat sales.

2012: Wooden purchases Hansen Mower, primarily a repair business.

2013: That January River Valley opens a third marine sales-only location — on Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata in the former Marine Max location. This gave River Valley a Minneapolis ZIP code.

2013: In September, Wooden and brother Mike and a partner, Luke Kujawa, acquire the 98-slip Browns Bay Marina on Lake Minnetonka to provide long-term viability for River Valley’s marine sales store at the site.

2013: Wooden signs a purchase agreement to buy the former Riverfront Ford/Auto Connection building.

2014: He closes on the property in February. Wooden purchases Frontenac Honda in April and moves all inventory to the new River Valley Power & Sport.

2014: River Valley transforms its South Service Drive location into a lawn and landscape center, expanding Toro and Stihl outdoor power equipment parts, sales and service. The site houses River Valley Lawnscape offices and landscape supplies, the 88-unit self-storage, corporate centralized accounting and is the receiving center for River Valley Power & Sport.

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 

(651) 301-7870