Diversification, training keep pool maker afloat

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Diversification, training keep pool maker afloat

By Brian Pedersen

When the recession slammed the housing industry several years ago, homeowners weren’t putting many pools in the ground.  Cardinal Systems

But one pool manufacturing company managed to stay afloat through those lean years by making a strategic acquisition that allowed the company to resume its steady growth.

“Fortunately, we did not miss a beat when it came to that acquisition,” said Tim Hawkins, president of Cardinal Systems Inc. of Schuylkill Haven.

His company bought Quaker Plastics in 2009, which opened new industries to Cardinal Systems.

“When we bought the company, [its] equipment was in need of some updating; we’ve now added some new equipment that allows us to make new products in plastics,” Hawkins said.

In addition to in-ground pools, benches, steps and walls, the company also makes plastic drains that lie in the ground.

“Now we have several different divisions and product lines,” Hawkins said. “We strive for smart growth; we’re interested in growing over time.”

The acquisition of Quaker increased Cardinal Systems’ workforce by 33 percent, Hawkins said, but its success is a result of much more than buying other companies. Cardinal Systems’ growth also has been significantly helped by Manufacturers Resource Center, which for 25 years has helped manufacturers in Eastern Pennsylvania with training, securing financing and streamlining operations.

MRC, based in Bethlehem, has provided leadership training for managers at Cardinal Systems for a decade.

“We want to make sure those people are well-trained,” Hawkins said.


Family owned Cardinal Systems has changed dramatically since it began in 1976, Hawkins said. At that time, it only made a swimming pool panel.

“That was the extent of our product line,” Hawkins said.

Mickey Bradley founded the company, now owned by his grandchildren David and Rachel Bradley. Today, Cardinal Systems manufactures all of its products in Eastern Pennsylvania at its main facility in Schuylkill Haven and also has a second facility in Schuylkill Haven and a third operation in York – for a total of 140 employees.

Pool companies are the biggest customers for Cardinal Systems, and it sells and ships products throughout the United States and Canada.

Automation was a key in creating new products as the company worked to insulate itself from the housing slump.

“Automation has made all the difference,” Hawkins said. “The machine does it for us.”


MRC’s help with training occurred through its Manufacturing Leadership Institute. Cardinal Systems sent about four department heads annually through the program over the past five years, and plans to continue to do so.

Having safe, well-trained employees is the key not only for building the skills of employees to use in their existing role but it also enhances their lives as individuals, Hawkins said.

“Even if they go somewhere else and are more marketable, good for them,” he said.

MRC helped to show Cardinal Systems how to foster teamwork and instill problem-solving skills to increase employee effectiveness.

Hawkins said the program helps department heads create a vision statement, lead a company and develop strong finance skills.

“They really manage their groups on their own; my job is to make sure they have what they need to run their groups,” he said.

Often, those leaders and directors of departments who have gone through the course talk about it long after it’s over, Hawkins said.

Another unusual aspect about Cardinal Systems is that no projects or acquisitions are funded if the company does not have the money up front, according to Hawkins.

“We use our own money, and if we can’t afford it, we don’t do it,” said Hawkins, who had been Cardinal Systems’ chief financial officer and vice president of administration. “We want to control our own destiny.”

Doing so, Hawkins said, allows the company to spend more time thinking about new products and activities to do with its employees, including polling all employees at every level on ideas for new businesses and uses of equipment.

“New product innovation will come from all employees,” he said.

Note: This is the 10th of 25 stories we will feature this year about manufacturing companies that have been helped by Manufacturers Resource Center, which is celebrating its 25th year this year.


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