Going head to head with conglomerates can be daunting. Luckily there’s help.


Aspen logoAspen Spas, which has built custom hot tubs and specialized spas for a quarter century, entered the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms (TAAF) program in late 2014. TAAF, administered by the Mid-America Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (TAAC), is a program of the University of Missouri Extension Business Development Program (BDP) which helps U.S. manufacturers in four Midwestern states proactively respond to import competition. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration.

Sam Bania, in charge of the firm’s finances — his brother Tom oversees manufacturing while their semi-retired father Lee helps us out as needed — says a customer told him about the program. The Banias looked into it. It seemed like a good way to fund some costly upcoming projects to help them grow the business, and they began working with Becky Nace, TAAC assistant director and an international trade specialist.

Woman in an Aspen spa

But let’s let Bania tell the story:

Being a smaller spa manufacturer, it can be a daunting task to go head to head with the huge conglomerates in the industry, especially on the international level. With the TAAF program’s help, Aspen was able to take on two major projects that enabled us to secure distributors in the European Union.

The first project was rebuilding and improving Aspen Spas’ presence online with a new website. The new website allows Aspen to better showcase how we build a spa and the quality of our hot tubs. In return, the new website built the brand and brought more legitimacy to Aspen Spas, which in the end allowed distributors and dealers in the EU and North America to sell with confidence.

The second project was getting our hot tubs UL 1563 and CE certified. Even though our hot tubs were always built to UL standards and utilized UL recognized and approved components, we felt it was necessary to get our hot tubs approved as an entire assembly. In addition, the CE testing and reporting enabled our distributors to promote Aspen Spas, knowing they are introducing a safe and reliable spa in the EU.

Aspen retail store

Aspen Spas store in St. Louis

The TAAF program was extremely beneficial to Aspen. It was also a pleasure knowing Becky was always there to help guide us through the process, from beginning to the end of projects. I appreciate all your help, now and in the future.

UL 1563 certification sets standards for spas, assemblies and associated equipment, and achieving UL certification helped Aspen further break into the European market. CE is the abbreviation of the French phrase Conformité Européene which literally means European conformity, a servicemark which shows a product complies with all applicable European regulations. It’s generally required for any item sold in the EU.

The new website, with the tagline “Every Aspen Spa is made in St. Louis, MO, with pride and precision" features scores of inviting pictures and descriptions.

Bania says the U.S. market appears to be saturated but the international market is not, which is where a deal with a firm in the United Kingdom to distribute Aspen products comes in. And he’s hopeful there are more such deals ahead.

“Becky has been a great resource, helping us get into the program, working with our vendors to streamline the process, helping us find potential trade shows and other funding out there,” he says. “She’s been great in helping us work through the issues.”