Bob Hallam is in hot water, and he likes it that way. Hallam founded Dimension One Spas 32 years ago and has grown it into a $60 million business that designs and produces luxury hot tubs sold throughout the United States and in 35 countries worldwide. Over the years this forward-thinking company has continued to create innovative products that fuse savvy design and technological advancements with energy-efficiency. For D1 Spas and Hallam, having green products and great products increasingly mean the same thing.
While most people are not opposed to buying green products, environmental attributes are not the only thing they consider, and are not usually the first thing on their list. Most consumers are looking for products that are attractive, cool (or hot), fill a need, and make them feel good. In the case of hot tubs, I’m pretty sure people look for tubs that deliver a fun, relaxing experience that fits in their budget. “Hot tubs are a good product, great for relaxation,” says Hallam. “You can’t argue in a hot tub because you’re relaxed, and they’re also good for your health.” If a hot tub is also more eco-friendly than its competitors, all the better as long as it still delivers the tubbing experience they’re after.
Over the years, D1 Spas has worked to deliver not just state-of-the-art hot tubs with patented design and comfort technologies, but also products that are increasingly durable, efficient, and with less impact on the environment. In the 1980s D1 Spas began to enclose their hot tubs in foam to provide insulation and reduce energy losses. They also rethought the mahogany skirts they were using for tubs and realized this wood was expensive, prone to damage, and not generally sustainably grown. To change this they started making the skirts from recycled plastic made from milk bottles, which is cheaper, more durable, and with less of an eco-footprint. Any remaining wood components were mostly switched to FSC-certified wood, and most of the waste produced during manufacturing was recycled.
Sometimes going green is not enough though. Despite the improvements made in their products over the years, sales for D1 Spas plummeted in 2007 and 2008 along with others in the luxury market as the economy sank. Hot tubs are often considered a luxury item, with prices for some models ranging into tens of thousands of dollars. In the Great Recession of 2008-2009 many luxury items have been hard hit.
To get things back on a new and better track, Hallam created the “007” project in 2007, brainstorming with employees to find ways for D1 Spas to weather the storm by using their unique expertise in new ways. The results are taking the business in new directions.
One new initiative they have undertaken is a collaboration with VisionWerx of Canada to produce the SpaBerry, a bright, portable two-seater spa with lower price points than Dimension One’s signature hot tubs with all the bells and whistles. The SpaBerry comes in fun colors like cherry red and bright yellow and its small compact shape facilitates communication, always a good thing. In addition, its lower cost compared to most spas has helped it to do well even as other hot tubs have trouble in the down economy. They call it the “iMac of home spas”, a plug and play product that is powered by any standard 110V outlet and has possible broad consumer appeal. Even some people who might not have considered getting a hot tub may consider buying a product like this.
The brainstorming has also led D1 Spas to leverage their expertise to produce other types of products, expanding into new fields other than spas. “We are looking for things that are a good business to be in, making better products, often green, for a lower cost,” says Hallam.
One of the new fields D1 Spas is exploring is producing components for the wind energy industry. The materials they work with produce parts that are lightweight and yet strong, key attributes for materials like the lightweight, super-strong blades needed for wind turbines. Production of wind energy is expected to grow rapidly for years to come, but the field still faces many challenges and opportunities. Some wind turbine blades are so large that they are difficult to transport. If the blades could be produced in pieces and then assembled on site and bolted together, this would allow much greater flexibility in building wind farms. The processes D1 Spas uses in manufacturing may allow them to do just this.
Although news organizations have recently trumpeted the end of the Great Recession, there are still many businesses challenged by slow consumer spending and looking for strategies to reinvent themselves. Getting lean, innovative, and green like D1 Spas may be the key to surviving and thriving in the new economy, and opening the door to new opportunities in the future.
Glenn Croston is the founder of StartingUpGreen.com and the Green Biz Blast, helping green businesses to get started and grow. He is also the author of “75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference”, and “Starting Green“, a nuts and bolts guide to starting and growing a successful green business.