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Getting ready for snow

Sept. 15, 2008

Sven Johansson of Cokato prepares for a large shipment of snowmobiles

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

On a small homestead just north of Cokato, Sven Johansson gave instructions in Swedish as to how to fill the freight container to its maximum capacity.

Out of his home, Johansson has made a business of purchasing and exporting goods such as cars, boats, jet skis, motorcycles, ATVs and – in this case – snowmobiles.

Johansson worked for RayDot, Inc. in Cokato for about a year in the early 80s before marrying his wife, Darlene, on the Iron Range in Virginia, Minn.

He originally started North American Sales with the idea of exporting American classic cars, which over the years, evolved into other products, Johansson explained.

“You have to be very flexible in this type of business since you have to the do the marketing, shipping, banking yourself,” Johansson said.

“It also helps to know foreign languages. I speak German fluently, besides English, and Swedish is my native language. I also converse with customers in Finnish although it is not as good as my English,” he added.

Johansson began finding customers by advertising in Swedish magazines.

Today, people from overseas buy goods on web sites like eBay and need someone to pay for the merchandise and ship it to them.

“This person has to be honest and trustworthy. I have gained many new customers from referrals from other customers I helped,” he said.

Not only does Johansson ship from Cokato, he has also built up a network so he can ship from ports in Florida, Texas, and California.

“This is to reduce inland freight cost,” he said.

“I try to find what people are looking for. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it can be shipped,” Johansson said.

“I guess you can describe me as a broker or jack-of-all-trades,” he added.

By purchasing products and shipping them directly, customers near and far, can eliminate some of the middlemen, Johansson explained, especially with a weakened American dollar.

With the market under stress from oil and housing, products can be purchased in America and shipped overseas at a more reasonable cost.

That is why five young men from Sweden got in touch with Johansson and while in Minnesota for the 42nd annual Hay Days Grass Drags (the largest snowmobile event in the world), they made a few purchases along the way including snowmobiles and ATVs.

Despite the shipping costs, Jonas Heikki, 28, of Luleå, Sweden, purchased a used 2008 Polaris RMK 600 for $5,000.

“They are cheaper after they’ve been raced,” he said.

In Sweden, Heikki would have spent $20,000 for a similar snowmobile brand new.

Either way, after taxes and shipping, Heikki figured he will save about 30 percent.

After the trailer is loaded, Johansson will call his freight-fowarder, make arrangements for pick-up, where it will then be brought to Minneapolis, and transported by rail to Port Elizabeth, N. J.

From New Jersey, the container will travel by ship to Stockholm, Sweden.

After its arrival, the men will then make arrangements for the container to be transported 600 miles north to their home in Luleå.

The cost of shipping the container will be approximately $6,500, and when full, is worth the while, Johansson said.

Though the majority of the sleds were formerly used for racing in Snocross, these snowmobiles will only be used for hobbies. The tracks’ thick treads will be perfect for the mountain climate in northern Sweden.

Though the climate in Sweden is much the same as Minnesota’s – with lows averaging at 30 below zero Fahrenheit – these young men are guaranteed to have snow this winter.

Johansson and his wife, Darlene, have six children, Dan, twins David and Linnea, Amy, Sven Erik, and Jennifer.

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