Alongside the Cokato, Minn., corporate offices of Saunatec Inc., exists the 50,000 square foot sauna room manufacturing facility with a production area, warehouse and showroom.
Western Red Cedar Among Species Contributing To SAUNATEC’s Growth
By Clare Adrian
Cokato, Minn.–Saunatec Inc., based here, has been producing saunas since 1984, at a 10 percent annual growth rate. Following a cooling off period that began at the peak of the recession in late 2008, production is again gathering steam.
Keith Raisanen, Saunatec Inc. president, recalled, “We had steady growth (since 1984) so the recent drop in business (due to industry challenges) was unusual for us. We expect to return to double digit growth through 2014.”
The company carries an average inventory of 300,000 to 500,000 board feet of the mainly specialty woods it takes to build the saunas.
The choice of wood to use is customer driven and Western Red Cedar is most popular, purchased along with Hemlock. Aspen, Alder and Nordic White Spruce from Finland are also used. For sauna construction, it’s required to be 80 percent vertical grain, clear of knots or blemishes for aesthetic reasons as well as performance, and kiln-dried to less than 10 percent.
That the company is top of line in saunas is enough of a reason for Raisanen’s confidence. Saunatec claims to handle more than 50 percent of the North American marketshare, and is known for high quality products, innovative design, and superb customer service.
Keith Raisanen, Saunatec president, commented, “We had steady growth (since 1984) so the recent drop in business (due to industry challenges) was unusual for us. We expect to return to double digit growth through 2014.
What’s more is that the popularity of the product grows as the benefits of its use gathers support in a nation increasingly interested in healthy lifestyles. In Saunatec-conducted polls, customers most commonly responded that they use the sauna for relaxation and stress reduction.
The oldest known tradition in Finland, dating back at least 2000 years, was to rely on sauna use for everything from bathing to birthing,aswellasdetoxification,relaxation,familybonding,socializingand stressreduction–basicallygeneralall around well-being, at least once a week. “Today it’s a lifestyle product and fits in with wellness programs rather than cultural practices and many friends and relatives in Finland use saunas more frequently than old days when heat was provided only with a wood-burning stove. In the last several decades electric saunas have become the norm, programmable with digital controls to come on at a regular time, so it’s more common now several times a week. We also have a line of infrared saunas that have become very popular for residential use.”
As a wave of Scandinavian immigrants crossed the ocean to America in the late 1800s, a large influx of Finns that settled in Minnesota has established the State as the most sauna aware area this side of the Atlantic. Centrally located, it’s an ideal launching point for Saunatec, nationally and internationally.
Raisanen grew up on a farm in Minnesota with his family where the sauna retained its esteemed position and to this day Raisanen relaxes in the home-based sauna on a daily basis.
Though he’s been ensconced in the sauna experiencesinceinfancy,Raisanenhad neverdreamedoftransformingitintoa business.Ithappened as a fluke.He returned to MinnesotafromMichigan where he’d been living, to join his father in a ventilation and heat exchange business. AFinnishcompanyhadcalledafriend lookingforsomeonetoimportsauna heaters. After a good laugh regarding the ideaofsellingthem,furtherencouragement and checking the company out to discover its top quality persuaded Raisanen, his father, Niilo, and brother David to start the business as a hobby in 1984. A few years later, the family endeavor turned into a full-time business for Keith only. Since then, Saunatec has become a subsidiary of that Finnish company, Helo Ltd. Saunatec producesanumberofsauna and steam bath systems under the brand namesFinnleoSauna,HeloSauna, McCoySauna,PolarSauna,Amerec Steam, as well as products for OEM customers. Each Saunatec brand encompasses a complete line of saunas that differ in design and somewhat in wood species. Abachi, a wood species sourced in the Ivory Coast, Africa, is used only for benches because it stays cool under high heat. Bench materials require 100% VG lumber. “When we get our wood with zero defects, no knots, mostly vertical grain, the wood performs well in the extreme heat of a sauna and tolerates the wide range of humidity—from less than 10% to well over 50%,” explained Raisanen.
Saunatec inventories 300,000 to 500,000 board feet of Western Red Cedar, Hemlock, Aspen, Alder and Nordic White Spruce for use in its Saunas.
Hemlock and Aspen are occasionally used for benches though White Spruce is never used because of its density and knots which tend to become heated.
The lumber arrives at Saunatec’s Minnesota facility, one of three of the company’s North American properties devoted to the manufacture and sale of Saunatec products. Steam bath generators are manufactured in a 20,000 square foot facility in Woodinville, Wash. Sales offices are located in Wixom, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. And alongside the corporate offices in Cokato, Minn., the 50,000 square foot sauna room manufacturing facility consists of production area, warehouse, and show- room. Its purchase in 1991 replaced the original facility which was located a mile north, on the west shore of Cokato Lake, in a building previously used as a chicken barn and later, a roller skating rink. The current facility has seen major additions in 1993, 1996, 1998, and 2000.
All wood is cut at one end of the factory, and rolls along to the panel area where framing of previously cut tongue and groovedinternalpanelsareassembled and insulation as well as foil vapor barrier are attached. Benches built and assembled on specific fixtures are assembled with stainless steelscrewsfromthebottom side, hidden to prevent the screw head from contact with sauna bathers. Prehung doors are built and assembled into door panels, and finally, all pieces meet up at the end of the production line, some partially assembled, are boxed and shipped common carrier to specialty dealer locations, predominantly in the U.S. and Canada, and some worldwide.
The dealer network includes swimming pool/hot-tub dealers, fitness equipment dealers, bath showrooms, lumber retailers, home centers, and some internet-based retailers. From design to installation, Saunatec provides technical assistance. Inside sales support teams/call-centers in Minnesota, Washington, and Michigan pro- vide consultation on everything from design to quoting and technical support/call-centers in Minnesota and Washington are available to electricians, dealers, and end-use customers, many who are well-known entertainers, sports figures, and politicians, as well as fitness club chains.
The intention is to expand as needed, and to continue to introduce new sauna room product annually, at the beginning of the sauna season in October/November and steam products in April. Both are exhibited at the International Pool and Spa Expo, International Kitchen & Bath Show, International Builders Show.
The lumber arrives at Saunatec’s Minnesota facility, one of three of the company’s North American properties devoted to the manufacture and sale of its products.
The wide array of Saunatec job positions provides the small town community where four generations of Raisanens have resided, with a large slice of the area’s employment opportunities. The company is viewed as a good place to work by, as Raisanen mentioned, people with a like- wise, good work ethic. Many of the current
70 Saunatec workers have been with the company from 10 to upwards of 20 years, including Keith’s brother, Mark Raisanen, the company’s national sales manager for sauna products.
As the economy recovers, and as more and more people become health conscious, Saunatec intends to continue developing new product to heat up a worldwide market. Contact information for Saunatec Inc. is 1-888-780-4427 and at www.saunatec.com.