Watkins Wellness’ Mike Dunn Retires After 42-Year Career

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Mike Dunn

Spa Sauna August 1980Since Mike Dunn entered the hot tub manufacturing business in 1979 — as a teenager helping his father Jack run Hawkeye Spas in Corona, Calif. — the industry has evolved from purveyor of a “party product” (Dunn’s words) to a provider of powerful products that improve people’s lives. When he says “these are not your father’s hot tubs anymore,” he means it.

After more than 42 years in the industry, Dunn will leave his post April 30 as executive vice president of Watkins Wellness, where he spent nearly three decades upon arriving in 1993. His resume also includes a stint at Hayward Pool Products and several volunteer roles in his San Diego community. (Dunn’s successor Vijaikrishna “VJ” Teenarsipur has moved over from Masco, Watkins’ parent company.)

AQUA caught up with Dunn, 58, during his final month at Watkins for a video chat about how the industry has changed, where it’s going and his plans for a weeks-long road trip that will take him and his wife Sandy from coast to coast.

AQUA: What is the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the spa industry over the past four decades?

Mike Dunn: One of the biggest things I’ve seen change is the professionalism of the business. We’ve become a legitimate business made up of stable, professional companies and stable, professional individuals — versus what I would call the fly-by-night nature of many of the companies that were around in the early days. It was a little bit like the wild, wild west back then.

AQUA: What do you think sparked that change?

MD: I think part of it was the growth of the business. Companies got larger and people came in from the outside. But I also think there was a point in time where a lot of the people in the business recognized that we needed to remove some of the stigma from what people thought about hot tubs. It was time for us to mature and grow up as an industry.

AQUA: What are some other changes that were critical to the industry’s evolution?

MD: The product evolution has been dramatic. I feel that we’ve matured to a place where our products are like advanced appliances. I also think wellness has become such an important part of why people are buying our spas. I don’t even know if “wellness” was a term back when I started in the industry. We now refer to our products at Watkins as personal improvement products.

AQUA: It’s obvious you’re leaving a much different industry than the one you entered. From a professional perspective, what accomplishments stand out most?

MD: I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had a 42-year-plus career in this business, and I’ve been incredibly blessed to work with a handful of outstanding companies and thousands of great people. I’m also proud of the reputation I’ve maintained and what we’ve accomplished at Watkins. I’ve always said that when I step away, I want to be able to look back and say, ‘Hey, I was part of building something successful,’ and I can say that.

AQUA: Was your good-guy reputation the secret to your success?

MD: I think one secret to being successful in this business is passion. You have to love what you do — and love what you do for people. Our company has recognized that our role is to change people’s lives for the better, which is a noble cause. The second secret is along the lines of what you just mentioned, which is doing the right thing and having integrity by being honest and straight with people. Your only asset is your reputation. It follows you throughout your career, so you have to protect it.

AQUA: Where do you see the spa industry headed?

MD: I think the best days for this industry are still ahead. We’ve all gotten a bump in demand from COVID, and people have awakened to the benefits of our products at a level I’ve never seen before — a level I couldn’t even have dreamed of. Families seem to be re-prioritizing what’s important, and our products fit perfectly into what they want and need. Then you have an aging population, which wants to be more active and do the things they love longer. The benefits of hot water allow them to do that.

AQUA: Why have you decided to retire now? Are you comfortable talking about that?

MD: Absolutely. I’ve been an open book with my customers and people who know me. I decided to retire back in October of 2019. I gave Steve Hammock, the president of Watkins Wellness, an 18-months notice that I wanted to step away in April 2021; we just didn’t announce it until about six months before I was leaving. I’ve been challenged for a good part of my life with kidney disease. I’ve had two kidney transplants, the most recent in 2018. I’m as healthy now as I’ve been in 30 years, so my wife and I decided a few years ago that this would be a good time to step away, take care of my health and go live the life that we worked for. We’re going to start with a drive across the country, and we’ll probably stop to see six or eight of my previous customers along the way. So many of them are dear friends.

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