'Imagining' a New Store Concept

Cailley Hammel Headshot

If there's one thing David Ghiz has learned from his years in the pool and spa industry, it's that seeing is believing. So when designing the 15,000 square foot space that would become Imagine Backyard Living (Scottsdale, Ariz.), his top priority was creating a feast for the eyes and the imagination.

"It was really about trying to change the way people thought about hot tubs, and I felt like if I did it in an experience where they could see them much better set up, they would be more apt to buy them," he says.

The final result does not disappoint. Those who visit Imagine Backyard Living are treated to six large vignettes, and while each is anchored by a hot tub, that's the only thing they have in common. As guests move from exhibit to exhibit, they see different decking and hardscaping options, shade structures, outdoor furniture options and accessories to tie it all together. When customers return for later visits, they're likely to see new arrangements throughout the store, as the vignettes regularly change to reflect new products and trends.

Imagine Backyard Living opened its doors in 2014, and after just one year was honored with several awards, including the 2015 President's Award, given to the Jacuzzi dealer with the largest single store sales in the world. (They beat more than 1,000 other stores in 60 countries for that honor, to boot.)

Those who know of Ghiz may not find the honor surprising — retailing is in his blood. David Ghiz is the son of George Ghiz, who opened longtime retail/builder/service firm Paddock Pools in 1958. The family sold Paddock to a private equity firm in 2005.

We chatted with Ghiz and asked him more about Imagine Backyard Living, its unique concept and what sets it apart.

Tell me more about the vignette concept — where did the idea come from?

A Hydropool display highlights a unique tile treatment and accessories.A Hydropool display highlights a unique tile treatment and accessories.

My background was in retail. We used to own the largest swimming pool and backyard living company in the United States, Paddock Pools; my brothers and I sold that in 2005. There, I ran our retail operation — we had 17 retail stores between here and Las Vegas. We always had locations that allowed people to get a vision of what the products might look like in their backyard. So my goal when I opened this new concept was to create a place where they could really see everything in separate vignettes. Each one has a different design theme and different materials, different hardscapes, so there's all kinds of things people can get ideas about here.

Hot tubs are clearly the star of each vignette, but it's interesting to see how you marry them with outdoor living products. Why was that important to you?

One of Imagine's outdoor furniture arrangements.One of Imagine's outdoor furniture arrangements.

I always felt it was important for people to see this product in a different light because I think the impression people get of these things is, "It's that box, it's got wood siding and it sits over there in the corner and I really don't want that. But I do want a great living space, and I do want a nice outdoor extension of my home." And in my mind, a hot tub is a critical piece of it.

We sold tens and tens of thousands of swimming pools at Paddock, and I honestly wouldn't put one in my backyard today because it just doesn't get used. It looks nice, but even in Phoenix where it's warm most of the year and hot in the summer, once you get past August and the kids are back in school, the pool sits out there for nine months and nobody really uses it. It's expensive and it's costly — it's a lot of things that if it comes down to making a choice, I think this is a much better choice because it's a product people can use every day of the year. It's always ready to use and it's efficient from a cost standpoint and again, just how it can change your life, there's nothing else like it.

Installing a hot tub instead of a pool also saves space for entertaining, cooking and other activities, which is reflected in your vignettes.

This vignette showcases a pergola, fire pit, portable spa and more.This vignette showcases a pergola, fire pit, portable spa and more.

All of that is part of the concept, and having this product that you get home after a hard day and it's ready for you, 10, 15 minutes just changes everything. If you're married, your partner can get in and sit in there and just connect for 10 or 15 minutes, unwind, no phones, no TV, no computers, it's a lifestyle change.

And the other part of my whole vision of this is that the shopping experience for hot tubs is horrible. In most cases, it's similar to maybe buying a used car in a lot of ways. The way that people are treated by [those] salespeople, it's not our approach. I think giving a consumer a place to shop and see it in ways that they've never seen it before in a showroom that's beautiful… It's a multifaceted experience we're trying to create for the customer. It starts with our website all the way through them visiting the showroom and working with our designers and delivering the product and the aftercare we provide and all of it. It's a whole different way to do it.

You mentioned that hot tub salespeople can come off a bit like used car salespeople. How are your salespeople different?

I think it just starts with the showroom. I think what we've done here is created a place that changes that impression when you walk in. You walk into most these other hot tub places around the country, and you get that feeling just by walking in the store. So we immediately kind of eliminate that impression with the way the store feels as soon as you walk in the front door.

Certainly, our goal is to sell as much product as we can, but we know how to do it in a way that isn't going to give the consumer that impression. It's part of the culture, part of the secret sauce, part of what we do here that makes it different.

I've heard you have a pretty cool space for test soaks — and even have disposable swimsuits?

It was important to me for people to have a place to get in the water and try them. So I built two really beautiful private test soak rooms, one for Jacuzzi and one for Sundance, and I found disposable swimsuits, so if somebody is here and didn't plan on getting in, they can. We've got changing rooms in each of the rooms, and the rooms connect in-between with a private hallway, so they can go between the two without having to come back on the showroom floor. They're lit nicely, we have music in there because the spas have Wi-Fi Bluetooth sound systems so they can turn on their music, they can synch it to their phone and play their own music or play what we have in there. We have robes and towels. It's a great place for people to try them and experience the benefits that they offer.

Whenever you can keep people here, it's always a good thing.

After a year in business, Imagine Backyard Living won several awards from Jacuzzi and Sundance. How did it feel to succeed to that degree so quickly?

You know, we felt really good about it, of course, but in the business world today, and especially in the world of brick-and-mortar retail, you've got to be focusing on today and tomorrow, always. So we celebrated and were excited about it, but immediately tried to figure out what we're going to do today to be better than yesterday, and that's what you have to do.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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