Volume 15 | Issue 1 | Year 2012

It may sound crazy to sit in an outdoor tub in subfreezing temperatures, but Blue Falls Manufacturing Limited (BFM) makes it a sane proposition, thanks to its technology and product innovations.
With its hot tubs, BFM keeps consumers warm in the world’s chilliest spots. The company is headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, so it understands cold. It operates in a region where temperatures dip to brutal levels. But BFM offers an innovative line of hot tubs designed to operate efficiently in the harshest outdoor environments.

“That’s one of our main competitive advantages,” says Jody Gamracy, BFM’s marketing manager. “We’ve designed hot tubs for the coldest places, and that’s a considerable challenge that we’ve faced, and one that few in our industry want to tackle. Our recent and rapid growth is directly attributable to the innovation and technology that made this possible.”

For one thing, he’s talking about BFM’s Arctic Spas brand, which boasts numerous features that make the product line suitable for the coldest outdoor environments. But it’s not just about heat; it’s also about product efficiency. “The insulation and materials we use translate into the highest efficiency, which is important when you’re looking at temperatures that can fall as low as minus-30 degrees,” he says.

Further, it’s about durability. “We require materials that must last long, as do our customers,” says Gamracy.

Obviously, this enterprise needs to provide the most reliable products. After all, BFM is located in the “Great White North,” where a significant drop in temperature is a common occurrence. For instance, Alberta regularly experiences wide – and wild – temperature fluctuations, ranging from minus-30 degrees to plus-30 degrees, as Gamracy reports.

Forget about global warming fears for a moment – it’s still frigid in Canada. And that’s why consumers in these cold spots have latched onto the BFM, Gamracy adds – pointing out that, traditionally, many hot tubs come from companies located in places such as California. “So, you’re talking about companies that manufacture product based on an environment in a specific geographic area that doesn’t face wild extremes of temperature and that haven’t too much considered weather in the coldest places.”

But BFM has, and that focus gained it a foothold in the coldest markets – not just in Canada but in places such as Scandinavia and Russia. “In such places, we dominate the market,” reveals Gamracy.

As Gamracy’s comment indicates, BFM is an international organization. It may be headquartered in the small, rural town of Thorsby near Edmonton, Alberta – where it houses its headquarters and main production facility – but its influence is global. Established in the late 1990s, the company now has production facilities in Breton, which is not far from Thorsby, and in Spokane, Wash. – and the company is one of the world’s top 10 hot tub manufacturers.

The company was founded by six business partners: Darcy Amendt (current president and chief executive officer), Jordan Beasley, Dennis Kellner, Brent Macklin, and the Keirstead brothers (James and John). These partners—all who had strong previous experience in the market— purchased Blue Falls Manufacturing in 1997, and they transformed it from a regional operation into a $65 million company that has established a presence in 26 countries. They achieved success through strong market perception combined with research and development and the establishment of a strong distribution network.

To make a long and complex story short, the partners were the largest customers of BFM. When BFM went into receivership, they seized the opportunity. “The partners bought Blue Falls from the receiver, and then changed the design and the brand to Arctic Spas, which subsequently helped them grow the business,” relates Gamracy.

Specifically, the partners’ experience as retailers provided them all they needed to know about how to best address the consumer market. That’s where the Arctic Spas brand name came from. The partners determined that it would communicate how Blue Fall’s hot tubs could stand up to extremely cold temperatures. This capability was further symbolized in the company logo, which depicts a polar bear and includes the tag line “Engineered for the World’s Harshest Climates.” Most importantly, the partners had clear ideas about how to make a better hot tub, and they chomped at the bit to bring these ideas to the marketplace.

Company development proved to be a collaboration of experience, talent and perception. One important element involved Amendt’s ambition to produce a better end product, and he knew that success would only come through customer acceptance – as well as through a strong team that would transform a fledgling company into a high-flying enterprise.

Today, it’s easy to interchange the brand name for the company name – but it is BFM that produces the Arctic Spas brand. And the current company is owned by four of the original owners: including Amendt, Kellner, James Keirstead and Macklin.

“Arctic Spas is our main product line, and its hot tubs represent the majority of our sales,” says Gamracy. “But we also manufacture the Coyote Spas brand of hot tubs, which is a less expensive and less feature-rich product line. In addition, we offer the Apollo brand of hot tubs, which was introduced into the company by acquisition. It is a Washington state-based operation.”

Along with hot tubs, the company produces and sells swim spas, hot tub gazebos and cedar accessories – including plant holders, bar stools, storage and corner bars, solo and side bars, steps and spa doors. That’s quite an assortment, and it doesn’t end there. BFM also offers saunas (infrared and traditional). “We produce those at our Breton facility, and it is a rapidly growing area for us,” says Gamracy.

Further, BFM provides spa accessories, pool tables, massage chairs, jetted bath tubs, walk-in baths, and game room furniture, as well as hot tub parts and supplies.

One of the most innovative products is its luxury shower stalls, branded as Theramist. These steam showers are built to a high standard and feature fiberglass-reinforced panels, tinted tempered glass, sliding doors and removable gaskets. Essentially, Theramist provides steam therapy. The idea is not new. As the company indicates, steam immersion has been used in many cultures for centuries. But BFM has made an old idea new. Theramist represents the modern version. As the product name suggests, it was designed to improve overall health by promoting relaxation, restful sleep, improved circulation, stress relief, enhanced cognitive function, and skin health.

The Theramist line includes 14 steam shower units, ranging from compact corner units to large shower/bath combination units. All are designed for residential use, which makes the units easy to install. Typically, installation only entails minor electrical and plumbing preparations. Further, as most models are sized to fit existing bath or shower spaces, no major renovations are required.

The energy efficiency of BFM’s products has garnered the company accolades. For instance, it received a Canadian Industry Program for Energy Conservation Leadership Award, which honors Canadian companies who demonstrate that energy efficiency can be both good for business and good for the environment. BFM has proven that these don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Other honors include the Autodesk International Design Award-Manufacturing Category (in 2003, for a spa designed entirely by computer), and the 2005 Convergence Award of Excellence, given to companies that best apply IT solutions to business challenges to generate sustained value and consistent performance. The latter award underscores BFM’s efforts in this direction.

“This year, we released a new feature – an industry first – that enables customers to control and monitor their hot tubs by using a smart phone,” reports Gamracy. “Some might think it’s gimmicky, but it opens up a lot of options that people might not immediately perceive. For instance, from inside your house – or from anywhere, for that matter – you are connected to your hot tub. This helps users closely monitor electrical consumption or alter the operating times of the hot tub. This is readily accomplished with an easy phone interface. It places the hot tub on line. It’s one more feature that we’re excited about.”

Meanwhile, as the company looks to the future, it will continue diversifying its product range with even more innovations, and it looks to continue increasing its international sales. “That includes exports to the United States, Europe and throughout other parts of the world,” says Gamracy.


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