Lamppa Manufacturing named top family-owned small business – Duluth News Tribune

TOWER — Four generations of family ownership have Lamppa Manufacturing’s legacy burning strong in a small northern Minnesota town.

What began as a side hustle for CEO Garrett Lamppa’s great-grandfather, Richard Lamppa, is now distributing across the globe, gaining the recognition of the U.S. Small Business Administration as Minnesota Family-Owned Small Business of the Year.

Garrett Lamppa is CEO of Lamppa Manufacturing in Tower.

Contributed / Lamppa Manufacturing

“What makes it special to me is it really recognizes our whole family,” Garrett said. “Pretty cool to see where we started and how far we’ve come.”

The company that makes Kuuma wood-burning furnaces and sauna stoves recently relocated to a larger facility and increased its workforce to ramp up production.

The original small team of four skilled employees averaged producing 100 sauna stoves and up to 50 furnaces a year. After scaling to an 18-person team, Lamppa sold about 650 sauna stoves and more than 100 furnaces

during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lamppa Manufacturing operated from the former Tower Creamery building until relocating to the industrial park in 2020.

Bob King / Duluth Media Group File

Since the pandemic, production has transitioned to a four-day workweek, Mondays through Thursdays, except for the office, which is open through Fridays, and optional overtime.

With a population of under 500 people, the family-owned operation is vital to the Tower community’s economy.

“There’s one thing if you’re bringing in hospitality, tourism jobs and stuff that is seasonal, but we’re providing quality jobs year-round, with benefits over here,” Garrett said. “A manufacturing job that pays with working Monday through Thursday — you can have a nice work-life balance.”

Dale Horihan, general manager of Lamppa Manufacturing, talks about the new building they were able to move into in Tower and how that has allowed significant growth at the wood furnace and sauna stove business.

Clint Austin / File / Duluth Media Group

The newly constructed facility located at 9501 Minnesota Highway 135 was

a joint project

between Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation and Tower Economic Development Association. It is roughly four times the size of Lamppa’s previous shop within the town’s former creamery.

“From our production floor and equipment, to the materials we’re using now — everything has changed for our operation,” Garrett said. “It’s been challenging and rewarding.”

Adam Schroeder, of Tower, uses a drill with a tap to add treads to brackets for Kuuma sauna stoves at Lamppa Manufacturing in Tower.

Clint Austin / File / Duluth Media Group

A majority of Lamppa’s stoves and saunas are shipped factory-direct, as the company doesn’t currently have the margins to go the dealer route, Garrett said.

Forty percent of Lamppa-manufactured furnaces are shipped to East Coast customers, where hardwoods are plentiful. Seventy-five percent of its saunas are shipped to frequent customers in Canada, and occasionally worldwide to places like Argentina, Ireland, Australia, Britain, Finland and South America.

More locally, their saunas can be found in the Larsmont Cottages along the North Shore.

Richard Lamppa first began creating sauna stoves for friends and family in the early 1900s.

Contributed / Lamppa Manufacturing

It all began during the Great Depression, when Richard Lamppa worked as a blacksmith for the Works Progress Administration work program. On the side, he sold sauna stoves made from 30-gallon oil drums to friends and neighbors in the Embarrass region, where many Finnish and Scandinavian immigrants settled.

In an excerpt from a recollection provided by Richard’s son Herbert on

Lamppa Manufacturing’s website

, he states: “I remember clearly how many hours I had to stand there cranking the handle of the blower of the coal-fired forge.”

The “Sweat King” was the original creation of Lamppa Manufacturing founder Richard Lamppa.

Contributed / Lamppa Manufacturing

An original sauna stove dubbed “Sweat King” that Richard built in the 1930s is now displayed in the new lobby. It serves as a physical reminder of the Finnish concept, “sisu,” which means strength and perseverance in the face of adversity.

“I see a lot of that in my dad, from him developing our products and even running the business,” Garrett said. “He had a lot of sisu to get this business to the point of where it was at.”

As a skilled welder, Garrett’s father Daryl Lamppa made additional improvements to the stoves over the years. To their knowledge, Lamppa now manufactures the cleanest-burning, most-efficient wood furnace ever evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Daryl Lamppa speaks passionately about his Kuuma wood-burning furnaces.

Bob King / File / Duluth Media Group

Prototypes would be tested in the garage of Garrett’s grandfather, Herbert “Herbie” Lamppa, as he assisted with product development. This is where they invented the Kuuma 1 stove design, which was demonstrated in “open garage” experiences.

After receiving several initial orders for the furnace stoves, word of mouth spread. This resulted in regular production, as well as helping to promote interest in the original sauna stoves. Sales also soared due to the oil crisis of the 1970s when homeowners returned to burning wood for heat.

Edna and Herbert Lamppa

Contributed / Lamppa Manufacturing

Herbert was mayor of Tower for over a decade and previously served as a St. Louis County commissioner. Having ushered in business development to the area, Tower named its civic center after him.

“He really was strong in the community and wanted to see this place succeed,” Garrett said.

Eventually, Herbert and Daryl transformed the old Tower Creamery (where Daryl previously worked and which his parents owned and operated for over 25 years) into a blacksmith shop.

Lamppa Manufacturing operated there from the 1970s to late 2019.

The old shop was located on the same block as Garrett’s grandparent’s home.

The nameplate on a finished Kuuma sauna stove at Lamppa Manufacturing in Tower.

Clint Austin / File / Duluth Media Group

They later developed the Vapor-Fire 200,

a design that nearly eliminated smoke emission

and a larger version called the Vapor-Fire 100.

In 2007, Herbert became ill, so Garrett was recruited part time to help his grandfather and dad with marketing and administrative duties through 2018 while he continued working another job.

Garrett’s grandmother, Edna Lamppa, passed away in 2017,

followed by his grandfather

the next year.

“My dad couldn’t keep welding forever,” Garrett said. “We were going to sell the business outright. Then when people heard that locally, it got back to IRRR. They wanted a business like this in Tower. They really wanted the jobs in this community, and they wanted to work with us to hopefully keep it going.”

In 2020, Lamppa Manufacturing relocated to Tower’s Industrial Park, and Garrett fully transitioned into the company as CEO a year later. His 4-year-old son, Leif, and 10-year-old daughter, Taimi, occasionally visit the shop.

Taimi and Leif Lamppa

Contributed / Lamppa Manufacturing

“I could definitely envision one of them working over here, running this in the long run,” Garrett said.

Last year, the The Kuuma BluFlame Gasification Sauna Stove hit the market with the help of financing through the Entrepreneur Fund. Lamppa is working to develop an electric sauna stove which they hope to launch by the end of the year.

“Sauna has really taken off in the last couple of years. We expect to see this happen across the country,” Garrett said. “We’re very well positioned for the next decade in the sauna industry.”

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