Aquatics and Commercial

SR Smith acquires Sunbather

November 14, 2019

Pioneering Australian solar pool heating manufacturer Sunbather Pty Ltd has been bought by US-based pool deck equipment manufacturer SR Smith.

Tom Boadle will remain general manager and COO of Sunbather and all staff members are expected to remain with the company. Sunbather’s manufacturing and offices will remain in Hastings, Victoria and Sunbather will operate independently from Brisbane-based SRS Australia Pty Ltd led by Keith Hall.

Along with the purchase of Sunbather, SR Smith also acquired a 50 per cent stake in Aspire Polymers Australia, a manufacturer of innovative rigid solar panels that had been working with Sunbather.

Tom Boadle says the entire Sunbather team is excited to become part of the global SR Smith organisation and they look forward to continuing to grow both the Australian and international business.

“The timing of this acquisition is strongly aligned with Australian and global demand for more energy efficient pool solutions,” he says.

The transaction aligns with founder Simon Boadle’s desire to retire from the industry after 45 years of contribution, innovation and support.

SR Smith, LLC, is a leading manufacturer of swimming pool deck equipment, lighting and access products, headquartered in Canby, Oregon, USA. They have an office in Brisbane and acquired Australian company Anti Wave in 2013 and certain assets from AFP in 2015.

Sunbather is a leading manufacturer and supplier of pool energy saving solutions both in the domestic and commercial sectors. The company’s portfolio includes solar pool heating and accessories, thermal pool covers and rollers, automatic security covers, hidden pool covers, heat pumps and gas heaters.

The acquisition was finalised on October 31, 2019 and Sunbather has been contacting clients and suppliers prior to announcing the sale.

Many synergies between the companies

Rich Laitta, president and CEO of SR Smith says they are thrilled to be working with Tom and his team.

“There’s a lot of energy there and the acquisition will be a great addition to our business,” he says.

“We were impressed with the whole business at Sunbather. We had a look at it and we didn’t see a weakness, and the way they leverage technology will add real value.”

Both SR Smith and Sunbather are involved in the commercial market and Laitta says while they didn’t see a lot of overlaps, they did see a lot of synergies and a chance to complement what they were doing in the US.

“One of our goals is to be diversified in both commercial and residential – we’re striven to have a balance and that diversification has been working well so far in the US, and Sunbather will bring additional diversification in Australia.

“We also liked their manufacturing and thought that may provide opportunities for future expansion.”

He says Australia adds a sizeable increase to their existing market.

“The Australian market has about one million pools, and the US market has about five million. Neither are growing at a remarkable rate at the moment, but by adding Australia to the mix we have increased our available market by 20 per cent.”

Regarding further acquisitions, he says their eyes are always open.

“We’re always looking for things that will add value to the whole business, and in time we may look at something else globally.”

Next step for Australian brand

Sunbather, founded in 1974 by Simon Boadle, pioneered the solar pool heating industry in Australia before expanding into thermal covers and security covers to become one of the largest suppliers of commercial pool covers in Australia.

Simon Boadle says the company has been undergoing tremendous growth over the past five years but needs a ready market and capital expenditure to realise its potential.

“A union with SR Smith can actually provide both of those things,” he says. “They have a very well respected footprint in pretty much every country where you find swimming pools – especially in the commercial sector – and we’ll have access to the capital to meet that market very rapidly.”

Tom Boadle says that after 45 years of investing in the development of their products they have built a foundation for expansion.

“Up to now we’ve had to resource Sunbather ourselves which has naturally had its limitations. What we have built is a foundation of a strong brand, products and opportunities that will be better off in the hands of SR Smith with greater resources and better international connectivity. For us, we considered that we weren’t necessarily the ‘natural owners’ to take Sunbather to the next level,” he says.

Export, commercial and growth

Simon Boadle says SR Smith was very excited about the Aspire products and that the Downunder launch has been very successful – Sunbather recently sold the Downunder into a number of export markets including the US.

“We’ve pretty much sent them to every continent,” he says. “Just recently in North America we’ve had sales of our products in Wyoming, Canada, Alabama and California amongst others.

“It became obvious that if we had a relationship with someone who already had distribution facilities in America, they could fill them with our products and have a ready market.”

Tom Boadle says it’s no secret that both parties see an enormous future in the commercial space.

“The combined synergies make a lot of sense. There is no area where our two companies had been competing directly on products, but we regularly meet on site selling our individual products to aquatic centres. In terms of export, I feel in time there’ll be significant export from Hastings to the US.”

All Sunbather staff will be retained and minority shareholders John Dixon and Merv Smith will continue to drive growth under the new ownership in Queensland and New South Wales respectively.

“There is very little duplication with this acquisition,” says Tom Boadle. “Everything is forward-focussed with a view to grow significantly, people included. This is a real opportunity for our team to gain greater career opportunities than we could provide.

“Our team are all so excited about the acquisition and what it means for them, and I’m overwhelmed by the upbeat response from our people, customers and suppliers. Those who know SR Smith and know our business see this is an incredibly positive development for everybody involved.”

He says there is really not much of a transition to go through because so little changes.

“We are going to be running two very separate businesses.”

Founder’s pending retirement

Simon Boadle, 71, hopes to retire at the end of the year, but says there is no hard and fast plan.

“I’ll finish up back on the farm where it all began,” he says. “I’ve certainly got some plans to keep myself busy on the acreage down there. It’s something that’s dear to me, because in another few years’ time our family will have been there for 100 years.”

SR Smith has been in business since 1932 when Samuel Robert Smith originally made diving boards out of Oregon’s Douglas fir timber. The company has continued to grow through product innovation, geographic expansion and acquisitions and is now a leading manufacturer of residential and commercial pool deck equipment with facilities in Canby, Oregon; Portland, Tennessee; Memphis, Tennessee; Tucson, Arizona; and Brisbane, Australia, employing several hundred staff. SR Smith is owned by a private equity group with a number of co-equity investors.

Caption: (L-R) Paul Carrol (Aspire), Bill Svendson & Mike DeDona (SRS), Simon Boadle & Anthony Lestani (Sunbather), Danielle Quintana & Richard Bacon (SRS), Mick Carrol (Aspire) and Tom Boadle (Sunbather)



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