Unmasking the ‘Hot Tub Capitalist’
March 7, 2015
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
REVIEW: American Made — A Boomer’s Reflection, by Cliff Branch
Long before he made his bones in the San Luis Obispo County real estate development world, Cliff Branch was, in the words of one associate, a marketing “mad man” awash in Boomer Generation hedonism but possessed by a desire to make money — lots of money.
From the smoky haze of the 1970s comes Branch’s recollections of an era where the masses’ pursuit of personal pleasure led to a Branch brainstorm — he modernized and popularized a product that would revolutionize the American landscape: the hot tub.
Several decades ago, Branch wrote a best-selling book about cocaine’s lure and addictive properties under a pseudonym, perhaps to avoid social ostracizing over his admitted use of the drug. Now, he has included that story in a polished book about his life, and it has become a soul-baring, lighthearted, and historically entertaining memoir of a different time in America, and in Cal Poly town.
Branch was a Cal Poly undergraduate when he co-founded a San Luis Obispo based head shop that later became Warehouse Sound Co. After a multimillion dollar sale, Branch opened California Cooperage, a large hot tub factory on Industrial Way, and created a product for a generation synonymous with sybaritism.
The fresh-faced Branch was widely considered a marketing genius by his peers, who despite the advertising-driven laid-back appearance of his hot tub operation, peddled his redwood spas to over 300 nationwide dealers as fast as his employees could turn them out.
His marketing acumen gave hot tubs a major boost when he hired two models to disrobe and step into one his products at a national convention of hot tub manufacturers. He eventually sold that business to the Coleman Company.
In the ensuing years after Cal Poly, Branch and his various partners created several multimillion dollar companies, as well as real estate developments that helped shape San Luis Obispo County.
American Made provides a rich tapestry of San Luis Obispo history, as Branch interacted with people who would later become local household names.
He initiated a business partnership with Tom Spalding while both were undergraduates, and both became millionaires in their 20s when they sold one business to CBS. And he formed profitable associations with local luminaries Jim Smith, Rob Rossi, John King, and other Central Coast movers and shakers.
The book also presents a series of short essays about “Life under Boomer Rule” and includes more than 600 of places and people from the Central Coast.
Branch’s American Made is a refreshing journey into the past of a cozy coastal county, to a time when sensory delights — and the open enjoyment of same — were foremost in the minds of an entire generation.
Annie’s Publishing, Berne, Indiana. Published March 4, 2015. paperback $19.95; hard cover $29.95. Available on Amazon, soon available on Kindle.
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