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Newest manufacturer takes good with bad

Plans to hang on until business gets better

Managing editor

The spa business could be better, and Larry Cole believes it will be. He just has to be patient and prudent.

As salesman and manager of Southwest Spas of Hillsboro, he has learned how to ride out bad times.

“We need to take what we learned during the recession in the 1980s and practice that all of the time,” Cole said.

Among the lessons learned are the need to reduce waste and cut back on expenses.

Eight months ago, Cole and spa supplier Kent Thompson of Oceanside, Calif., decided to bring a spa manufacturing business to the Midwest — specifically to Hillsboro.

Shortly after that, the economy took a nosedive.

“I’m glad we moved it to Hillsboro when we did because we couldn’t have survived if it still was in California,” he said.

Production has slowed but is sufficient to keep four full-time and two part-time employees busy. Current customers include companies in Wichita and Sweden.

The former American Milk Producers Inc. warehouse which also is a warehouse for Cole’s spa business, now houses manufacturing equipment and tub parts.

The operation is able to make 17 models of hot tubs in 12 colors.

The process is intensive, striving for perfection.

A large, flat sheet of colored plastic, either a seven- or eight-foot square, is laid on a large frame.

The color of the tub’s interior is determined by the color of the plastic.

The plastic is melted in a process called “pulling” with a gas heater that produces one million BTUs.

“Luckily, it only takes 15 minutes to pull it,” Cole said.

As it softens, the plastic is sucked into the mold by a vacuum, forming the shape of the hot tub.

After it cools, it is removed from the mold and put upside down on a cart.

The cart and mold are wheeled to a booth where Fiberglas is sprayed on the tub and smoothed by hand. The process is repeated.

After drying, plumbing, resembling spaghetti, is installed and foam coating is applied to hold the plumbing tubes in place.

Plastic and Fiberglas pieces are trimmed, and a wood, panel skirt is attached. The tub then is tested.

After testing, the skirting is finished and filled with foam for insulation. The final step before wrapping and shipping is cleaning and polishing the new spa.

Cole, 67, knows this could be his last business venture before he retires. He wants it to be a success.

Satisfying customers is the most important service.

“We do custom orders and custom repairs,” Cole said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to make people happy.”

Last modified Aug. 5, 2009

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