An innovative leader for many years in basketball equipment, Lifetime Products is demonstrating this same prowess in the lawn and garden and office furniture industries. April Terreri reveals the company’s slam-dunk philosophy.
On weekends, you probably use your hoop strategies on its basketball systems in your backyard. You probably sat at one of its banquet tables at that wedding you attended last weekend. And at your office, you might just likely launch onto the Internet from one of its tables.
Lifetime Products began in 1986, with a spirit of innovation that still thrives in the company’s Clearfield, Utah, headquarters and manufacturing facilities. “We are the world’s leading manufacturer of home basketball equipment and blow-molded lawn, garden and office furniture,” says Darcie Liptrot, associate manager of communications.
From the year the company first started manufacturing basketball products, its success was clinched. Not too many companies can claim an overall sales growth of 993 percent. In fact, Inc. Magazine ranked Lifetime Products among its top 500 fastest-growing private companies for both 1991 and 1992.
During its first year of operation alone, Lifetime introduced to the industry a revolutionary concept: rapid-adjustment basketball poles. Sales of this new product soared, catapulting Lifetime to the summit of the residential basketball equipment industry. Quite an impressive start for owners Barry and Kathy Mower, who began their business right in the garage of their own home.
Today, the company that started with a good idea and lots of hard work employs well over 1,100 employees in more than 1 million square feet of facilities. Lifetime engineers and manufactures its own state-of-the-art blow-molded polyethylene portable bases and backboards. Liptrot says,“We were the first to introduce the use of blow-molded plastics into the home basketball equipment industry.”
The portable basketball bases are filled with sand or water to support the pole, backboard and rim. “When we first got into this business, the basketball poles were commonly cemented into the ground,” says Bob Adams, plastics division manager. “When the portables were introduced, they really took off.”
The blow-molded polyethylene plastic is virtually indestructible. “It can be left out in the weather without having to worry about it,” says Liptrot. The equipment is subjected to extensive and abusive testing. “We do everything from throwing bowling balls at it to shooting it with arrows. After all this, it still resists shattering, chipping and peeling.”
When the basketball division of its operation began to level off, Life-time decided it needed to find a new direction — furniture. “We started this new division about six years ago, and we are finding that it is showing even more potential than our basketball division,” says Dave Winter, basketball division manager.
Lifetime’s lawn and garden pre-assembled picnic tables are made from the company’s two core technologies: plastics and metals. “The tabletops and benches are made with polyethylene and the frames are constructed of metal,” says Liptrot. This furniture is completely pre-assembled, is built for durability and is engineered to be maintenance-free. The tables are available in a range of sizes capable of seating four to eight comfortably. “All you have to do is open the box, unfold the legs and pop the top up, and you have a totally assembled picnic table ready for instant use,” she says.
Lifetime’s office offerings include tables ranging from an all-purpose 4-by-2-foot table to an 8-foot folding table used in the office or even the home. All tables comply with Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) standards, and are strong enough for commercial use.
“We employ a high degree of vertical integration to control costs and quality,” says Adams. The company has its own in-house plastics and metals divisions. Since 1994, Lifetime has done its own plastic blow molding. It is now able to eliminate the extensive freight from shipping in plastic parts from its Midwest suppliers.
“We were paying upwards of $4 per piece just to get them here,” says Winter. “The payoff there was obvious: the idea of shipping plastic pellets here vs. shipping trailer after trailer of plastic parts. We also realized that we could improve our quality and cut costs by doing the work in house.”
Lifetime also carries its own sheet metal coils, turning it into tube as needed for the basketball poles, rims and bracing, and for the structure of the tables.
Lifetime operates on a just-in-time manufacturing philosophy. “Our divisions work within about a two-hour work-in-process window,” explains Winter. This means that from the time employees touch the raw materials to the time the final product is ready to be shipped, there is only a two-hour turnaround.
Lifetime achieved manufacturing’s highest honor: Class A Manufacturing Resource Planning status from Buker, Inc., underscoring the company’s commitment to quality and excellence. This status is granted to less than 1 percent of all U.S. manufacturing companies, and fewer than 1,000 companies worldwide.
Lifetime is currently developing a new competition line of basketball systems. “In the past, we have had systems ideally for recreational players. These upper-end systems are being created for the serious basketball enthusiast,” says Eric Szymanski, associate manager of market research. “The elite line will consist of backboards ranging from 54 inches to 72 inches. All will have the Power Lift® adjustment mechanism allowing players to adjust the goal from 7.5 to 10 feet instantly and effortlessly.”
“Now as we are heading into the table market, I don’t know whether this will end up as more of an office category or an outdoor equipment category,” says Winter, “Our lawn and garden line is still growing robustly for us. This line even has more potential and more opportunities to evolve than our basketball division has. We might venture into garden benches and perhaps more office furniture like desks and office chairs.”