Success of d’Nort

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Success of d’Nort

Carl Surges has been an NASE member since 2007 and is president of Pier of d’Nort,
a company that sells lake piers that can be easily installed and removed.

Tell us about your business. When and why did you start your business?

In 2002 I decided I’d had my fill of back-wrenching pier installations, so I took a break from my sculpting career to make up a wish list for what I might like to see in a pier if I was able to manufacture such a thing. Allowing just one person to install the pier and not getting wet were the two top design priorities. How hard can that be?

You have a very interesting name for your company and you carry the theme of the name through your website. You also use humor very well. Tell us about that.

My friends and family loved my early miniatures so I knew we had a good design. I was a little intimidated by the competition, so I gave the company a dorky name so the big companies wouldn’t take us too seriously. You know. . .kinda sneak up on ‘em. I don’t know if we’re successful because of that, but that’s what I tell everyone. Regarding humor, looking online for a product can get pretty monotonous. Humor punctuates that monotony and allows one to become engaged/attentive. On the way to the next joke, people are learning things.

The video on your website works well to show how easy your product is to install and use. What would you say to other small business owners about the value of video?

Video is worth a thousand pictures, and those are worth a thousand words. So video packs information pretty tight. With a product whose value is in its method of operation, and with buyers whose time is increasingly valuable, no other medium is as concise.

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?

I’m not unhealthy, but a misdiagnosis a number of years ago was impossible to erase from my medical record. I don’t believe I would have been able to afford health insurance had it not been for NASE, which connected me with someone who helped me get a new policy.

How do you market your business?

Primarily through Google Adwords and the NASE Small Business Locator. We don’t sell through dealers at all, so our store is our website. We’ve made it as informative and friendly as possible and amazingly, it works. Referrals, trade shows, magazines, and radio also play a small role, especially for the local market. We ship and deliver as many as four or five piers a day to everywhere in North America.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?

In the early years, there was never enough money to do even the basic things: no economy of scale whatsoever, no stocking of inventory, and certainly no product development. Worse, our credit score was actually a negative number. Only grit and insane perseverance gets you out of that…and a lot of exercise to ward off the accompanying stress.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?

Not having someone to answer to is every bit as nice as one would think. Even though there are self-imposed responsibilities, no one yells at you when you make a mistake. They say stuff like, “Well, that’s Carl alright.” And they think, “Well that takes some of the pressure off me.” The reason I know this is because I’m inordinately mistake-prone. But I have good employees who make up for that.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?

Here’s a direct quote: “We have just completed installing our new pier and we are still amazed that two octogenarians could do this so easily! Would you like a picture of the two of us – both to be 81 next month – standing with our pier?
You would be free to use it for advertising. We are astonished at the excellence of the design.”

What do you do to relax and get away from work?

Relax? Hah! The nice thing about a business like this is that it’s seasonal. By winter, vacation away from the cold is my relaxer d’jour. I have a daughter in Australia and a lifelong friend in Hawaii. Can’t beat that.

Do you give back to your local community? If so, how?

We are only just now in a position to even think about that. We’ve supported some local sports teams and our local chamber of commerce. This area’s livelihood heavily depends on tourist dollars, so this summer we started supporting the efforts of our local water ski team.

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