Hot Tub Retailer Encourages Buyers to Shop Locally

3/50 logoMunie Leisure Center sits across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, and is part of the Metro East St. Louis area, home to about 300,000. AQUA recently spoke with owner Michael Ford about the 3/50 Project, a program that encourages people to spend their money locally. "I really want to get the word out about that," he said. "I think it's something everybody in our industry should be aware of."

1. Tell us a little about the 3/50 Project.

Well, I've been working with a guy to redo my Website, and he sent me a link to some of the other new sites he's done, and from one of those sites I just happened to stumble across the 3/50 Project and became interested in the idea. It just rang so true.

The idea is for people to spend $50 each month in three locally owned businesses. It would generate billions of dollars in revenue for small, local business and help save that entire way of life.

One of the things it points out is that for every $100 spent locally, $68 goes back to the community through taxes, payroll and local services like accountants, bankers and other expenditures. Spend that same money spent in a national chain and only $43 stays local and gets recirculated.

And if you spend it online, none of it stays local.

People tend to talk about spending locally more than actually doing anything about it. I don't mind reminding people about the importance of small, local businesses. I think most of our good customers are on board and they do support us and they understand that there's something here beyond what they can get someplace else. But, you know, some people need reminding. But the neat thing is, even though this will come from me, it's not just about me and this business. It's every little business in every little town. These little businesses are the key to the nation's economy, and we need you all to shop local.

2. If we don't all do something, the big chains will take over everywhere.

Exactly. My wife and I go out to eat, and there are so few good local restaurants here. And, it's not that there aren't the people that have the skills and the ability to run them, it's just that the chains have run them out of business.

We own a Christian bookstore, too. And there's a real tough business, with Amazon and Borders out there. But fortunately, it's a niche market that we can excel in, so we do OK.

3. How long have you been selling spas?

I've owned Munie for almost 18 years. The previous owner had it for about 10 years, and he bought it from somebody else. It goes back quite a ways β€” about 40 years. Started with a guy building inground pools out of his garage. A guy named Dallas Richter started it.

Today we have a store and we sell hot tubs, aboveground pools, chemicals, the whole retail thing. And we build inground pools and service both pools and spas.

4. How's hot tub business been?

We're probably down 50 percent, and that would be for hot tubs and aboveground pools.

5. Have you changed your sales presentation to try to close a higher percentage of sales?

We always tried to work hard at every lead we had, but I would say, yeah, there's probably a little more urgency because there are fewer leads. But the same processes have worked for decades, so I don't know that we're really about to change the way that we follow up on leads. A lead never gets dropped or lost, and we never pre-judge leads in any way, because you just don't know who might end up being a buyer.

Sometimes salespeople may pre-judge a customer, perhaps even when they walk in the door, thinking, 'This isn't a customer that's willing to buy right now, or ever.' There's none of that here. We follow up on every single one of them until they say, 'No.'

6. Have you noticed any difference in people's buying habits?

We sell Jacuzzi and Nordic, and interestingly enough, with the Jacuzzis we're finding this year that people are buying larger tubs than they did last year. (We're kind of new with Nordic so I can't compare.) Maybe we're just better at our sales ability this year, but I don't think so. People just want bigger tubs, and that's fine with me: They're more expensive and more profitable. It's surprised me, though. The biggest seller generally has been like a 7-by-7 spa. That's a nicely priced spa, and we position it about the way people position a 24-foot-round aboveground. But the bigger spas have been the bigger sellers, as opposed to last year when those 7-by-7s were the biggest sellers.

So units are down, but dollars can still be up because the per-unit averages are up. That's what I talk to my salespeople about.

7. Tell me about your staff.

I have three people that work out on the floor, and two of them were here during the good old days. The other has only been in the industry for about 18 months and has only heard stories about how busy it used to be.

8. Are the old salespeople staying optimistic?

So far spirits are pretty good. I am very fortunate to have just an outstanding team here, and I think because of that spirits have stayed - I won't say 'high,' but they haven't gone into the dumps or anything. Everybody just works together and we're all on good terms, so we all help keep each other up.

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

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