Entrepreneur Spirit Lives Strong In Ron Heiman

Ron Heiman is an engineer, inventor and entrepreneur. He is president of Sioux Falls-based Heiman Fire Equipment, G3 Fire and distributor for Rosenbauer International. He makes things you can’t live without, whether you realize it or not! Heiman Inc. sells or manufactures everything you would see in a fire hall: from helmets and rubber boots to tanks and ladders, all the way up to entire firetrucks. In 2010, Ron built a 40,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and combined several of his business ventures in Sioux Falls. Heiman Fire Equipment’s sister company, G3 Fire, which fabricates copolymer polypropylene tanks and products, is now housed in his former truck plant. Rosenbauer firetruck sales division is currently managed in house as well. This allows for more efficient communication and workflow between all divisions of the company, while providing customers access to knowledgeable staff during every phase of the purchasing process.

“Every day, we sell a broad range of life-saving emergency equipment, sending out over 120,000 product catalogs yearly to all 50 states. We build fire trucks and tanks for use across the nation, and the Rosenbauer truck side delivers them around the world,” he said.

When away from the stress of running numerous businesses, Ron and his family spend their free time in the Iowa Great Lakes. Ron and his wife grew up in the area and their roots are solidly planted there. Ron’s wife, Ann Kelly, and her twin sister Amy grew up in Spencer and have spent their summers living, working, and playing in Okoboji both in and out of the water.

“Many people around here, fondly remember my wife Ann and her sister Amy as one of the identical Kelly twins.”

While growing up, their parents, Dr. Edward and Betty Kelly owned Hiawatha Resort, where their six kids learned about hard work and how much the Iowa Great Lakes means to so many. Young Ann and Amy worked at Maxwell’s for over a decade, and along with their siblings, they enjoyed sailing at the Okoboji Yacht Club.

Long ago, Ron built a tiny house on Big Spirit Lake. “When younger, it was absolutely the Okoboji night life that I enjoyed. The over-the-top action activities on East and West Lake. As I get older, I’ve changed,” he shared. “I really enjoy the peace and calm of Big Spirit without a second thought about boat traffic and overcrowded spaces. The lake is where we get away to relax.”

Ron has found new peace at the lakes and has brought it back to his business side as well. His new business endeavor, the Arctic Sombrero, reflects the lakes area spirit of fun, relaxation, and fellowship. It is a completely different venture from the high stress life-saving emergency equipment category.

The Arctic Sombrero project is about fun and family. Five years ago, the idea of Arctic Sombrero began on a family vacation with his brother and sister-in-law. “It is a replacement lid for a 30-ounce stainless steel tumbler that will connect to any 12-ounce can.”

Ron follows with instructions on his invention, “You fill the tumbler half-full of ice and water, open the can, snap on the lid and insert the whole can into the icy bath inside the tumbler. Our system protects your drink from radiant energy and uses the ice water bath to progressively chill your beer as you drink it.”

The lid/tumbler combination actively cools your beverage and keeps it cold as long as you wish, but never watered down by melting ice.

The entire concept came about when attempting to covertly drink a few beers after a ski trip five years ago. “We tried paper bags, drinking out of paper cups, Styrofoam cups and none of them worked right,” he added. “We decided there had to be a better way. So, we came home and started brainstorming ways to make the process better.” He and his brother-in-law, Kris Breien, drew up hundreds of designs. The first were on bar napkins, but the process evolved into computer CAD drawings and ultimately 3D printed prototypes. They eventually built several completely different workable prototypes, which they tested extensively.

The process then brought them to Ron’s patent attorney, who has helped Ron with numerous patents on emergency equipment. “We had the original research done and discovered there were no other products on the market even closely related to our design,” Ron explained.

The two families then applied for and received the first of two patents for the Arctic Sombrero. “During the five-year process, we built several hundred prototypes, designed, redesigned, found weaknesses and strengths, made very small changes and began working with a local mold builder and injection molder to get material selections completed,” Ron said. “From design idea to marketable patented product, we have invested about five years of our lives, on and off.”

Even though Kris and Ron were pressed to produce the Arctic Sombrero, off-shore they held to “made in America” values. All of Arctic Sombrero’s products are engineered, manufactured and packaged in America. Many of the products come directly from South Dakota. The lids are sold online but are also available locally at select Ace Hardware stores, Parks Marina, and occasionally at the Arnolds Parks Farmers Market.

The fun part about Arctic Sombrero for Ron is how the whole process has involved his kids, nieces and nephews. “I’ve ran a lot of businesses and been on the board or an advisor of others, but this one has allowed me to include my children in every step the process. It is really fun to teach the children about business and entrepreneur skills. From conception to reality, they’ve been a part of the process.”

The whole family helps with orders and shipping. The kids have learned about costs and how it translates into profitability. Ron will bring pallets of materials home from the warehouse, and many weekends, they will sit around as group assembling the Arctic Sombreros, adding O-rings and gaskets, folding flat boxes, and packing orders.

“I’m so excited the kids can learn about the business. They are often tracking interest on the website, interjecting on how to drive more business,” Ron continued. “We have great conversations about profitability, manufacturing efficiencies and customer acquisition, while assembling and packaging the Arctic Sombreros.”

In April, Arctic Sombrero tied for third and won $4,000 from the South Dakota Governor’s Giant Vision Business Competition. The family has dreams of taking the product to Shark Tank and has been getting pushed by others to try out.

“It would be fun to take Arctic Sombrero to that level, but the focus now is to have fun and teach the kids some valuable life lessons,” he added. “There has been Arctic Sombrero online sales in almost all 50 states. An impressive feat considering the company started just 90 days ago.”

They are looking to place product in several retail locations, across the country, but most likely you will find Ron and his family selling the lids at the Farmers Market at the Park randomly during July. “I want them to see how the process of creating, producing and selling works,” Ron shared, “So, they can learn and invest in the business process...and then we will go play on the Lake!”

Visit their website at Arcticsombrero.com and enjoy the world’s coolest product with your ridiculously cold drinks! While you are on the site, make sure you watch a few of the professor Sombrero FAQs to get a true feeling of the fun involved with the Arctic Sombrero.