P/S Retail: Lessons Learned

Cailley Hammel Headshot

Running a pool and spa retail business is really a long, expensive education. Hopefully, you never have to listen to the same lecture twice.

So when you find that your service people have been camouflaging your service trucks at night and going into business for themselves, or your staff has quietly shut down the store to go skiing, all you can do is smile, make a few notes and perhaps a few changes.

Lesson #1) Don’t hire people who like skiing more than working at your store.

Finding great staff members is never easy, but try to filter out people who care more about their hobbies than retail. Jake Boyles, co-owner of Crystal River Spas in Carbondale, Co., learned this early on.

Back in the ’90s when Crystal River Spas opened a second location in Steamboat Springs, a popular ski resort town, the Crystal River team had to work with the available labor pool — and that was filled with ski bums.

photo of a snowboarder“That was a huge problem because any time it was a good ski day, which was most of the winter, the Steamboat Springs location closed for an unofficial ‘powder day,’” Boyles says. “But we were two and a half hours away, and this was in the mid-90s, so it’s not like we had security cameras we could log into and check and see what was happening. We’d have to wait for the business owner next door to us to tell us, ‘You guys know your store’s been closed all week?’”

The lesson? “You’ve got to be careful as to where people’s priorities lie,” Boyles says.

Lesson #2) Don’t name your company after your product line.

Before he carried Bullfrog Spas, Rick Liskow carried another line of portable spas at his Minnesota stores and named a couple locations after the manufacturer name.

“All my trucks, the clothing on all my employees, down to the gloves and hats and shirts and umbrellas and raincoats and sales bags we took to the shows — we branded that company like you wouldn’t believe,” he says. “And today, we’re not carrying it. That was a major mistake — it took me a year and a half to get all the stuff off my truck and I had to change all my signs on my stores. We’re talking $30-, $40- $50,000 worth of expenses.”

Liskow has since changed the name of those stores to Minnesota Hot Tubs, and cautions fellow dealers against making a similar mistake.

“What if the company has financial problems and goes bankrupt? Then what are you going to call yourself?” he says.

Lesson #3) Watch out for the “moonlight switch.”

Don’t make it too easy for employees to use company assets for personal use. For a while, Crystal River was competing against its own employees in the company’s own trucks.

“We provided trucks to our service people and slapped magnetic signs on the side, like so many people do,” Boyles says. “And frequently, the guys would take the trucks home because they were doing a service call in the neighborhood where they lived or doing a service call first thing in the morning on their way into the office. But what we found was those magnetic signs come off so dang easily, you can be moonlighting just like that! You’ve got company parts on board, and nobody is the wiser when a white truck without a sign pulls in the driveway.”

The company only learned their techs were doing double-duty when a customer called to complain about a repair done off-the-clock — even though it was the customer who convinced the tech to perform the repair. Boyles realized the magnetic signs had the potential to lure even the best technicians to tackle a side-job here and there.

But now, moonlighting isn’t an issue for Crystal River Spas.

“We have full vehicle wraps — you can see them coming from a mile away,” Boyles says with a laugh. “You can see our trucks better than police cars!”

What lessons have you learned in the hot tub industry? Send your ideas to [email protected]

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