By Margaret Jackson | Mar 22, 2015
Sports and leisure products
A Utah manufacturing innovator, Lifetime Products has expanded from blow-molded basketball hoops into folding furniture, sheds, playground equipment, and kayaks.
What started out as a frustrating experience buying a basketball hoop has turned into Lifetime Products, a company that manufacturers everything from polyethylene folding tables and chairs to kayaks.
Founder Barry Mower couldn't find a hoop system suitable for his driveway so he made one himself. Soon, his neighbors wanted hoops of their own, and Mower was in business.
"When I started working for him, there was a little store, and they had a small manufacturing operation that made swing sets and trampoline frames and sewed tramp mats," says Vince Rhoton, Lifetime's executive vice president of sales and marketing. "Trampolines was one of the bigger parts of the business."
In the mid-1980s, Mower acquired the patent rights to an all-in-one, adjustable basketball system that made it easier for people to buy a basketball pole for their driveways. The problem for the consumer, however, was cementing the pole into the ground. That's when Lifetime developed a portable base that used 40 gallons of water as the ballast.
The product was a hit, but created challenges for the Lifetime because it was made using rotational molding, which is time-consuming, so the company wasn't able to keep up with demand. It discovered it could make the bases faster by using blow molding, shaving hours off the process.
In 1995, one of Lifetime's engineers saw the potential to use blow molding to manufacture panels that could be made into picnic tables. Today, about half of its volume is the folding tables and chairs.
"That was phenomenal," Rhoton says. "Within about 18 months, all particle board tables were obsolete. We went from being a basketball company that made a few picnic tables to a folding table company that made some basketball hoops."
In addition to the basketball systems and folding tables and chairs, Lifetime manufactures sheds, lawn and garden equipment, playground equipment, and kayaks. The company now distributes its products to more than 80 countries, as well as large national retailers such as Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, Lowe's Home Improvement and Home Depot.
Challenges: The company's Utah location is the biggest challenge. "Utah is not a manufacturing hub," Rhoton said. "One of the challenges we've faced throughout our history is that it's relatively inefficient to buy steel tubing. We used to buy it from a company in Denver and ship it to Utah. We were paying a lot of freight to bring components and raw materials here. It's forced us to make our own metal tubing."
Opportunities: Lifetime's big opportunity is in the kayaks it recently introduced. "We have a real technology advantage in plastic blow molding," Rhoton said. "We're one of the few companies in the world that and blow mold large parts. In a matter of a few seconds you can make a full canoe-sized boat. That's a real opportunity for us because it's a market disruption. We've been able to lower the price so that people who didn't even know they wanted one can buy a bunch of kayaks for the family. It puts people in the market for boats that wouldn't even think about it 10 years ago."
Needs: As the company grows, it continues to invest in equipment and software, so it's biggest need is funding. "We make the factory machinery that makes our products," Rhoton said. "We've outgrown what we can buy. The machines we need now are so specialized and so big that nobody makes them. It's very capital-intensive."
With the growth, Lifetime also had to invest more in its logistics and software systems to be able to meet the requirements of selling to large-format retailers. "Being able to introduce new products to them and get them approved on schedule and in the stores is a major effort," Rhoton said.