MAAX Spas Industries Corp.
Soothing waters in troubling times
Business View Magazine interviews John Johnson, President of MAAX Spas, for our focus on best practices in the pool and spa manufacturing sector
Steve O’Shea, VP of Sales and Marketing for MAAX Spas Industries Corp., gives an incredulous chuckle as he recounts how the company has fared over the past year. “We started out the year going gangbusters in January and February before there was really much talk about the pandemic. Then come about the middle of March, when the pandemic started to be more worldwide, we got to a point where sales basically dropped right off.”
While that in itself isn’t news in the world of commerce since COVID-19 reared its head, the fact that MAAX Spas’ downturn only lasted about 45 days is. So is the fact that the company is projecting its biggest year ever in terms of sales come 2021, thanks to a huge uptick in consumer demand this year. In fact, MAAX Spas currently has about 150 per cent of a normal year’s production on backorder. “I promise you that in 2021 we will build more hot tubs than this company has ever built before and we will meet our capacity,” O’Shea stresses. “There’s not a spa that we will build next year that won’t be delivered to a consumer’s backyard.”
Many factors have contributed to the increased demand. People are congregating more at home and looking for more reasons to keep their family home; more reasons to have family visit them. Backyard spas fulfil many wants for families and, depending the product they choose, provide a communal gathering place where they can splash and play or simply relax and soak up the warmth of the soothing, circulating water. According to O’Shea, “One of the things our product offered a lot of consumers during this time was some anxiety relief, an opportunity to just relax and destress and be able to sleep at night. People didn’t want to be sitting on the couch all day long just watching TV, because they weren’t filming new TV shows. No movies were coming out, so they were looking at exercise equipment, hot tubs, swim spas.”
MAAX Spas Industries Corp. is a leading designer and manufacturer of “Luxury Hot Water Products.” The Chandler, Arizona-based company offers 41 different spa models and 16 swim spa models through a worldwide network of over 350 dealers. American Whirlpool and Vita Spa are its two main brands. The company traces its roots back to 1969, with the founding of Modern Fiberglass and Metal, which produced snowmobile shrouds and swimming pools. For the next several decades, the company grew and expanded both its product line and its geographic footprint under the aegis of several different owners, eventually becoming a manufacturer of swim spas and hot tubs.
Company President John Johnson relates some of the company’s history, “At the corporate level, MAAX was sold to a group of equity investors in 2003-04, and went from being a publicly-traded company to a privately-held company. We ran with them until 2008, when all of MAAX was purchased by a company called Brookfield, another private equity group based out of Canada. Brookfield separated the spa division from the bath division and created two separate companies. As a stand-alone company under Brookfield, we acquired Vita Spa out of Florida in 2009, and moved their manufacturing from Florida to here in Arizona. In December 2014, we acquired a company called L.A. Spas and we moved the manufacturing from that facility in Anaheim into the facility in Chandler. We continued to be under Brookfield until January 2017, when both MAAX Spas and MAAX Bath were acquired by the American Bath Group, who owns us today. We’re still known as MAAX Spas, but we are now a division of American Bath Group.”
Being part of ABG helped MAAX Spas retain its foothold and continue production in the wake of the pandemic. O’Shea notes, “American Bath Group has done a fantastic job over the past couple of years with helping us cost our product properly and with our supplier negotiations. During this difficult time there was a lot of security in being part of American Bath Group – how they deal with employees, how they deal with vendors and how they deal as a conglomerate. It was very helpful to be part of ABG always, and particularly during 2020.”
Company suppliers are also credited with keeping MAAX Spas positive and focused as others in the industry struggled to survive COVID-19. “We’ve always relied on our suppliers, our vendors, for a number of categories in product development, quality of product, and so on, and during this recent pandemic we had to rely on our vendors on a different level, in a different way,” relates O’Shea. “Our relationships with our suppliers, our vendors and our dealers and customers have strengthened during this time. It’s been very difficult for everybody and we would not have been able to survive this situation without all of them.” MAAX Spas’ own company “family” went over and above to lend a hand whenever they could. “Where a lot of people were afraid to leave the house, our employees were in the factory and they worked hard; they helped us get through this to a point where they were working hours upon hours and doing a fantastic job,” O’Shea enthuses. “Our work family is very important to us.”
MAAX Spas employs about 220 people, with 202 in Chandler. It has sales reps throughout North America, and a satellite customer service center in Florida. The company’s main markets are the U.S., Canada, and Europe. “We hit 22 countries around the world on five continents,” Johnson reports. “We cover 47 states, including Alaska and Hawaii; we have representation across Canada, all the way from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island; and we cover Europe.”
“One of the key things that we’re proud about is the way we build our products,” Johnson continues. “It’s what we call Appliance Grade. That’s our main differentiation that we feature in our marketing. It’s appliance-grade construction, which means it’s got a molded pan on the bottom, steel frames on the side, ‘green’ insulation around it, a reflective barrier, as well as a convection barrier on it. It’s the only patented insulation system that I’m aware of in terms of energy efficiencies and energy consumption. But most importantly, if anything does go wrong with the product, we’re able to complete any necessary repairs to bring it back to factory specs, in the field. We don’t have to bring it back to the factory; we don’t have to tear it apart or disrupt the product in any way. We are unique in the marketplace in terms of being able to do that.”
MAAX Spas prides itself on always maintaining a forward momentum and the past year is indicative of that. “When it comes to the innovative process we have for product development, one thing we’ve done which very few companies do within any industry, particularly ours, is we have in some way touched on every single model in both major brands,” says O’Shea. “Over the last year, we’ve improved, changed, modified. We’ve taken two models out and we’ve built two brand new, high-end, 700 series hot tub models within the Vita line. It’s increased our sales in our most fully featured series within Vita and more than doubled our business in that category in less than a year.” The 12-ft swim spa models are among the company’s “value targeted family exercise” swim spas. MAAX has also redesigned its hot tub covers, redesigned or updated the electronic controls, and updated the jetting positions and design accents throughout the Vita line.
Regarding its marketing direction, MAAX Spas is moving more into the digital age – getting away from a lot of the printed literature and moving into web-based, interactive information. As well as incorporating 3D, virtual-reality type modeling, so potential consumers can come in and see what their spa will look like in the backyard. The company is also looking towards efficiency with a more consistent, but faster-paced, product development schedule. “The underlying strategy we’ve coined as ‘accelerated innovation,’” says Johnson. “Instead of waiting for the next development cycle before launching an improvement to the product, we’re able to improve it immediately and drive that higher level of value to the end consumers on a more consistent basis than what we have done in the past.”
Close working relationships with its suppliers is one reason why MAAX Spas’ two main brands, American Whirlpool and Vita Spa, are known as innovative industry leaders. According to Johnson, “The product is unique in terms of the insulation system, the look, and the styling. We have a whole series of innovative and value-added features, and we have a long history of being extremely innovative within our industry. We were one of the first to do reverse molding on the acrylic; the first to do physician-designed jetting arrays; the first company to introduce steel frames; the first company to introduce thermal-lock insulation. And our product holds its resale value.”
In addition to having a superior product and a long-tenured staff of “incredible” people, being customer-minded is always a necessary ingredient for the company’s continuing success. “We put the customers’ needs first and foremost in our actions and thought processes,” Johnson exclaims. “Our policies are geared towards the experience that a customer has with our company. We’re here for the long run; we’ve been in business for a long time, and we’re going to stand behind our products and our customers for a long time to come.”
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AT A GLANCE
MAAX Spas Industries Corp.
What: Designer and manufacturer of “Luxury Hot Water Products”
Where: Chandler, Arizona