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British transplants build Toledo manufacturing business catering to pool, spa industry

Posted By: Toledo Blade on March 5, 2024.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

Paul Hackett has been on a hot streak really since a day in 1982 off the Falkland Islands near Argentina when two aerial bombs flew into the side of a British Royal Navy frigate upon which he served.

The bombs fired by Argentinian planes during the short but bloody Falklands War pierced the hull and killed two shipmates.

But the bombs did not detonate because they had been fired too close to the ship to complete their firing cycle, Mr. Hackett, 69, said. And it gave the British time to evacuate Mr. Hackett and his crewmates before the British later sank the disabled ship.

The memory of surviving that direct hit in the most fortuitous way is never too far from Mr. Hackett’s consciousness, so much so that he told the story on the eve of a grand opening being held Monday to celebrate the construction in Sylvania Township of a manufacturing plant for his company H2flow Controls. Township officials have been invited to the afternoon festivities.

H2flow makes equipment to control and monitor water flow, especially for the pool and spa industry.

It was established by Mr. Hackett in 2009, growing out of a distribution business that he had owned for 10 years set up to sell a Swedish manufacturer’s equipment.

H2flow is growing leaps and bounds today as pool owners and builders try to reduce their energy costs and regulators prompt them to do so, said son Gavin Hackett, 42, who is now in charge of the company and been running day-to-day operations for about five years.

H2flow posted sales in 2023 of about $5.2 million, up 33 percent from the $3.9 million achieved in 2022, he said.

In three to five years, the company expects sales to be in the $15 million range and require a second plant to be built behind the 15,000-square-foot building that just opened last month. The Hacketts made sure to have land to accommodate growth when they bought two acres at their new address at 7629 New West Road in Sylvania Township.

“For a number of years in the company’s existence, we were a distributor for a Swedish company,” the elder Mr. Hackett said. “There’s an element of risk involved in being a distributor because they may find a bigger, better distributor and all of a sudden your business ceases to exist.”

“As a manufacturer, I wanted us to be more in control of where we were going with a more secure future. Plus, we wanted to do more for the community by employing local people in manufacturing.”

Mr. Hackett said the new building equipped cost about $1.8 million funded in part by a loan from Signature Bank. The company also received a 10-year, 50 percent tax abatement.

H2flow makes numerous products but two that are driving sales are its variable frequency drives and a flow meter called FlowVis. The FlowVis, which is built into pipes, allows pool and pump operators to accurately monitor water flow to adjust pump motor speeds to optimize electricity use. It accounted for about $2.5 million in sales last year.

Rob Morgan, president of Sunbelt Pools in Dallas, Texas, buys H2flows variable frequency drives. Sunbelt is a major builder of commercial pools for cities and institutions such as Texas universities, he said.

Mr. Morgan said the drives are critical to saving energy. He said there are numerous competitors to H2flow, but he has been a customer for more than 12 years because of the support that he receives on an excellent product.

“They are very responsive,” he said.

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said small companies like H2flow add manufacturing diversity to an economy more associated with big manufacturers.

They create jobs, pay taxes, and use a skilled workforce that is the hallmark of the community, he said.

He said it is easy to overlook them as they sometimes operate in the shadow of the better-publicized glassmakers and auto companies.

“We need to quit looking just at the tall grass and appreciate the beautiful little plants below,” he said.

After a 12-year stint in the British Royal Navy, the elder Mr. Hackett yielded to entrepreneurial aspirations. He became part-owner of a company outside Birmingham, England, that designed and built electronic monitors used to see how fast drill bits and other perishable tools were wearing out on manufacturing machines.

Efforts to expand the company’s footprint to the United States prompted Mr. Hackett in 1992 to relocate his family, including then 11-year-old Gavin, from England to Toledo. The company called Deemstop Inc. grew until Mr. Hackett and his partners sold it to an Ann Arbor competitor in 1997.

Shortly thereafter, he worked with a Swedish maker of variable frequency devices and other electronics to become the company’s U.S. sales arm.

A tragedy pushed Mr. Hackett to establish H2flow in 2009, he said.

In late 2007, Congress passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, requiring safety improvements at public pools and spas to prevent suction entrapment in drains.

It is named after Virginia Graeme Baker, a seven-year-old who drowned when she was trapped underwater by a powerful spa drain. She was the granddaughter of James Baker III, who served in cabinet positions in both the Reagan Administration and that of George H.W. Bush.

H2flow developed a shutoff device for pool motors that put the company on the map as public pools across the country were retrofitted with those types of devices, the younger Mr. Hackett said.

That product gave H2flow entrée to pool operators and builders nationally, leading to sales and the development of other water flow controls and monitoring devices, he said.

The company assisted in the development of the FlowVis flow meter in 2012.

“Government regulations have actually been a good thing for us in the sense that we got into the pool industry with our product called the PSP 20, which is an anti-entrapment device to stop children from getting sucked onto the main drain and not being able to release themselves,” the elder Mr. Hackett said.

Two years ago, more regulations helped the company. The U.S. Department of Energy, in an energy-saving move, mandated that all new residential pools with a motor exceeding one horsepower be variable speed, the younger Mr. Hackett said.

That has spurred sales of its FlowVis monitor as customers use it to vary pool pump speeds to optimize energy use, he said.


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