In the seventies, as spas and hot tubs were growing from a California cottage industry, two brothers toiled away in their Escondido garage to create a whole new type of hot tub.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Jon Watkins started up a pool service business when he came home after a tour in Vietnam as an Army aviator. While servicing pools in the Escondido, Ca area, he noticed how much his customers loved the pool side spas that were all-the-rage in southern California at the time.
“I thought that I could build a better spa than what was available – a movable appliance that would be hot and ready to use all the time”. Said Jon in a 1987 interview in Flying magazine. In 1976, Jon formed a new company with his brother Jeff, and they rented an old metal building in Carlsbad, Ca to manufacture portable spas.
“The industry was already turning away from redwood and oak hot tubs into prefabricated fiberglass shells. But fiberglass had some problems in performance”. Blisters and cracking was causing a flurry of surface problems for customers.
“Secondly, fiberglass shell designs were easily reverse engineered and made by people who wanted to get into the spa business, crank out a few hundred spas, and disappear – bad for the industry”. On top of that, spa energy usage had begun to be discussed, with the 70’s energy shortage in full steam, and current spa designs were not very energy efficient.
Jon Watkins recognized that some of the new materials being used in the boating industry should be suitable for spas. The new material Rovel, was lighter, stronger and easier to work with than fiberglass. It also was more durable than the new acrylic spas, being manufactured by Baja.
1976 – Jon & Jeff Watkins form Watkins Manufacturing Corporation and begin to make Hot Spring Spas.
1977 – a new thermoplastic Rovel®, created by Dow, was being developed by Jon and Jeff Watkins, and molded into a one-piece spa shell and cabinet.
1986 – Watkins joins the MASCO family of home products, a Taylor, Michigan based company.
1999 – Watkins acquires Caldera, an El Cajon, California manufacturer of spas and hot tubs.
2011 – Watkins company made it’s 1 millionth spa among all brands.
2015 – Watkins acquires Endless Pools, manufacturer of Swim Spas.
Watkins has been a consistent philanthropist through the years, and not only the many Orange County, California charities that it supports such as the local Children’s Hospital and Boys and Girls Club, but national organizations such as the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation.
They employ over 1000 people, and sales estimates have them earning revenues in excess of 200 million for all current brands, including Hot Spring, Caldera and American Hydrotherapy, Freeflow and Fantasy spas.
That’s a long way to go, from making 3 spas per day, to now cranking out over 300 spas per day! Watkins currently operates through more than 700 retail locations in over 70 countries and all 50 states, with manufacturing facilities in California and Mexico, and distribution centers in Belgium, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
We salute the Watkins brothers, Jon and Jeff, as two Hot Tub Pioneers that hold dozens of patents and pushed the industry forward at every turn. The Watkins brothers were to hot tubs what the Wright brothers were to aviation!