April 16, 2010
by Nordahl Flakstad
Rubbing in the finish on an Arctic Spa hot tub.
Photo: Nordahl Flakstad
What’s in a name? Quite a bit, if you’re referring to Blue Falls Manufacturing Ltd., the Alberta-based builder of the Arctic Spa line of hot tubs.
The brand name is an ongoing reminder of a rugged design and construction that allows Arctic Spas to be used year-round and to withstand the rigours of Canadian winters. The Alberta-built products have been warmly received in North America and Europe, mainly in Scandinavia and Russia, ranking Blue Falls among the world’s top six makers of home spas.
Traditionally, recreational spas were manufactured and designed in and for the sunbelt, notably California, where freezing concerns are confined to the ice cubes in spa users’ drinks.
If Arctic Spas’ product name seems a bit usual, so perhaps is Blue Falls’ base of operation 70 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, in the Village of Thorsby (population 1,000), where the 100,000-square-foot plant is located amid a bucolic setting on the southern edge of the village.
Choosing Thorsby was very deliberate. To understand the choice, it helps to rewind to 1997. That’s when Brent Macklin, vice-president of sales, along with Dennis Kellner, Darcy Amendt and James Keirstead, acquired Blue Falls, then a small Edmonton firm launched in the late 1980s as Koko Beach Hot Tub Manufacturing. Macklin, Kellner and (and Blue Falls president) Amendt grew up together near Grand Prairie in northwest Alberta. They remained close friends as students at the University of Alberta and while backpacking across Europe. Then, all four partners worked for Koko/Blue Falls or in outlets selling its products.
In 1997, the first year under the new ownership, Blue Falls turned out about 800 hot tubs that were sold mostly in Western Canada, generating some $5 million in revenues. The partners soon realized the home-spa market was overflowing with similar products. Most competing products were geared for warmer climates and mild winters, so the new owners set out to differentiate itself by designing and producing a “Mercedes” spa engineered for life in Canada. That formula of building a reliable, efficient, premium product proved successful.
Along with superior products and effective R&D, Macklin credits the success of the high-end Arctic Spas and more-modestly priced Coyote Spas, introduced five years ago, to the partners’ sound grounding in marketing and a strong distribution network.
Building in Thorsby
By 2005, sales had bubbled up to 10,000 units, worth more than $65 million. That kind of growth landed the privately held Blue Falls on Canadian fastest growing companies lists several years in a row.