Holly Beech of the Idaho Press Tribune wrote a fantastic profile on us this week titled Bestbath Systems Thrives in Caldwell.
Here is the story as it appeared in the newspaper, which covers how we have stayed the course in these tough economic times, and goes into the background and business philosophy of owner and founder Gary Multanen.
Bestbath Systems, a Treasure Valley staple now located in Caldwell, is known for building easily accessible showers and tubs by hand.
Like it or not, they also specialize in deftly weathering tumultuous economic trends.
Co-owner Gary Multanen has been with the company since 1972. He’s seen sales grow from about $180,000 during his first year; to $1 million four years later; to a high of $23 million in 2008, because of architectural projects that were already arranged and funded.
But in 2009, they dropped below $16 million. “This is the fourth recession I’ve lived through in business,” Multanen said. “But this one, frankly, has been the easiest on the corporation.”
But it hasn’t been easy on the employees, he said. “In 2008, we had 147 employees, and we have 92 today. So Bestbath, like a lot of companies, has learned in this recession how to be more efficient. We literally produce more product per employee than we ever have.”
Multanen bought the company with two investors in 1981. He now shares ownership with his wife, Susan. In 2005, he changed the company’s name from Component Structures, Inc.
BBS sells to 220 dealers across Canada and the U.S. Most of the products go to hospitals, university housing, assisted living facilities and public housing.
“Our product stands out because it’s very attractive,” said Multanen. Design options include accenting, simulated granite and ceramic tile – and everything is available in a wide range of colors.
BBS eliminates the largest problem with ceramics: maintaining the grout. “With our product, there is no grout to be concerned about,” he said.
The most important goals during a recession are cutting costs and keeping customers happy, Multanen said. “You have to make sure your customers have no reason to go elsewhere.” BBS has adopted a “lean philosophy” to eliminate wasted motion. One facet involved rearranging the factory to reduce the distance each employee must walk to complete a job.
One customer-friendly practice at BBS is its affordable 30-year warranty, which costs less than 1 percent of the sale price.
Demand has been growing, helping spur Bestbath’s move from Boise to a more spacious factory in Caldwell last year. Sales increased by 10 percent in 2010 and by 16 percent so far this year. “We’re very pleased with the growth that’s taking place in 2011,” Multanen said. “We’re anticipating continued sales growth in 2012.”
The company strives to reach $30 million in sales by 2015.
BBS adds new dealers every month, including 29 already in 2011. Three times a year, the factory hosts Dealer Days to train dealers from all over the country.
New opportunities arise “as we explore different markets and look at different ideas to help people, which is really what we do,” said Michael Hensel, chief financial officer.
Filling their niche
Because accessibility guidelines for bath systems have become stricter, companies such as Housing Authorities of Billings in Montana use BBS products to update their housing units. “Each project that we’ve done (with BBS) has turned out excellent, and we’re very happy,” said Gib Glasson, director of facilities management. “When we have issues, they send someone out to Montana.”
For instance, when a contractor put shower rods too high, BBS fixed the problem and split the cost with the contractor, Glasson said. In another instance, BBS custom built a shower facility for an oddly shaped space.
“It’s expensive, but well worth the money,” Glasson said.
Gary Multanen co-owns Bestbath Systems with his wife, Susan, and has been with the company for 39 years. He was a journalist in the military for three years in the late ’60s, stationed in Italy. Susan taught for 35 years. Now she facilitates educational training for the company and sits on the advisory board.
Michael Hensel is the chief financial officer and has been with the company for five years. He graduated from Montana State University in business with an accounting emphasis and is a certified public accountant.
Jeff Mooney, President, joined Bestbath in 1992. He grew up in Boise and attended the University of Idaho. He has been in sales his entire career.