March 30, 2004 > Bob's Foam Factory
Bob's Foam Factory
It can do almost anything and that's what makes this stuff interesting. Bob Duncan knows all about it; he has worked with this fascinating material for over 35 years. Actually, foam is not a single substance, rather a wide variety of products with varying degrees of density and flexibility. Although foam is not manufactured at Bob's "factory," once a block of it arrives, uses are limited only by people's imagination.
Bob started working with foam as an employee of an Oakland foam manufacturer in 1968. Subsequent moves within the industry culminated with the opening of his own business in March 1979 on Enterprise Street in Fremont. After a year and a half, Bob's Foam Factory moved to its present location on Pestana Place off Fremont Boulevard between Auto Mall Parkway and S. Grimmer Boulevard. With his wife, Kathy's help, the business grew and people began to understand the many uses for foam products. When Bob's Foam Factory was capable of surviving on its own, Kathy left to pursue her career as a manicurist, but following "retirement" in 1995, she came back to help out again. She says, "It's a good business and we work well together."
Entering the large warehouse, visitors are met by rolls, blocks and pieces of foam of every type and description in stacks and bins, ready to be cut, shaped, stamped or sized for a wide range of uses. Foam cushions, expertly inserted into covers, wait to be picked up in one area while customers ask Bob for advice on padding or designs in another. It doesn't take long before the possibilities of using this material start to creep into your consciousness. Looking around, foam is everywhere. Even a dartboard on the wall is backed with a large foam wall protector for errant darts.
Those who have been introduced to the range of densities and uses of foam become steady customers. Service is quick and often orders can be filled in a day. Bob has handled many requests for foam throughout his years in the business and says, "There are many thousands of uses for foam; from making a dog bed to a fan filter to a jump pit, to a mattress or cushion. There isn't a day that goes by that people don't sit, sleep or walk on it!"
Kathy adds that a customer who races motorcycles called to buy foam to cushion falls when doing stunts over a "jump pit." The pits, 30 ft. by 40 ft. are filled with foam to prevent injury to the rider and damage to the bike. Unusual requests are common and although Bob's Foam Factory is open to all customers, large or small, he has had some interesting requests from the motion picture industry. When the movie, Anaconda, was being planned, an order was placed with Bob for specific foam cuts used to create the snakes. Bob says "We cut about four different size snakes for them, from about 8" diameter to 24" diameter." Each piece of foam enclosed a mechanical device and was covered by "skin."
Other movies using foam from Bob's for characters include copies of Willy, the whale in Free Willy 1 & 2, and set pieces for Millennium Man. The light weight and ability to mold to almost any shape makes foam an ideal material for costume designs and facsimiles. Disney, Lucasfilm and Paramount are good customers at Bob's Foam Factory. Bob says, "Sometimes, we just get specifications and don't have any idea what they are doing with the foam. We used to cut the patterns for all the characters at Chuck E. Cheese." Kathy adds that "originally, every piece of the characters were cut separately - lips, eyelids, torso, nose, ears, etc." Bob told them to give him a template and he started cutting 25 - 50 pieces at a time.
For non-movie clients, customers come in for cushions, mattresses and mattress toppers (he carries memory foam mattress toppers that are advertised heavily on television and in print), wedges to prop a person in a particular position and padding for comfort. Kathy says people come in for bean bag pellets, foam for pillows, dog beds and toys. Packaging material is available too. Foam blocks for play and die cut letters, numbers and shapes are lightweight and easy to handle without the danger of injury from sharp corners or damage to furniture. For outdoor durability, neoprene can be an answer. Boaters are interested in coastguard approved Airex flotation foam used in airplanes, boats and for patio furniture. It is also used for exercise and Yoga mats. Kathy says that this material is so buoyant, that one 2 1/2 inch thick piece of it - 42" x 68" - will keep six adults afloat indefinitely. "You can puncture, rip or tear it and it will never absorb any water."
Foam comes in a wide variety of densities. Each can serve a different function. Bob says that if people can tell him the intended use, he will be able to show a few different types of foam that will be suitable for the purpose. There are also differences in the cell structure of foam. "Reticulated foam has large cells that allow air and sound to travel through so it can be used in speakers, creating a nice appearance without interfering with sound quality. Air filters also may use reticulated foam. Kathy adds that the filters over a cooking area use reticulated foam as well as air conditioners and pond filters. All, of course, are available at Bob's Foam Factory.
Asked about the most usual things that Bob's Foam Factory has been asked to do, Bob and Kathy defer to Paul King, Bob's indispensable employee who has been working with them for 23 years. Some of the costumes used in Bay to Breakers runs and for other promotions have been created at Bob's Foam Factory. Bob says that people can have the parts cut out and it is relatively easy for them to glue them together to make the shape they desire. He adds, "Whatever you can think of, can be cut out of foam." School plays and special events such as the Candle Lighters haunted house have used foam pieces for set design.
Another practical use of foam is to pad carrying cases. "We do a lot of special padding for camera cases, sales cases or pieces that need to be protected from moving around," says Bob. "If foam is fit to the case and cut to accept the items stored in it, when the case is opened, everything is in place and organized." Space exploration vehicles use foam to organize and protect components too. Kathy and Bob are quick to point out that anyone can come in and take advantage of their advice and products. Kathy says, "You don't have to be a high volume customer to use our services. We are here for everyone, from large orders to a single small item." They add that shipping fragile items can be done with confidence using foam protection.
Recently, Bob's Foam Factory donated twenty-five mattresses to U.S. troops serving overseas. It started with a parent who sent a foam mattress to her daughter. The other troops were so envious, that the soldier sent emails to several companies asking if they would donate more mattresses. Bob's Foam Factory was the only one to respond, paying for the foam and shipping. They received a heartfelt "thank-you" letter for their kindness. This act of caring is indicative of many other donations and acts of support for the community by Bob's Foam Factory that often go unnoticed.
Bob's pledge to his customers has never wavered. "We have been here for many years and people know that if you need anything that can be done with foam, even something special, you can come in and we will make it for you."
Bob, Kathy and Paul invite everyone to come by and see them even if you have no current need for foam products. They are celebrating Bob's Foam Factory's 25th anniversary and giving everyone who comes by a free 4"x12" round neck pillow. Don't forget to register for a drawing to be held on April 15th for a free memory foam mattress and cover.
Bob's Foam Factory
4055 Pestana Place, Fremont
Monday - Saturday 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.