Q&A With Dan Stebner

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photo of Paul PorterDan StebnerSun Peaks Aquatics

Sun Peaks, B.C.

Dan has been servicing hot tubs at Sun Peaks ski resort for 15 years. In 2010 he won the Pleatco Industry Achievement award, for superior performance as a service person. He is also the inventor of the Spa Lash, a locking system for hot tubs.

We're talking about the state of the industry in this issue, Dan. How does it look in Sun Peaks?

Right now, in my neck of the woods, it's been status quo for three years. And I'll bet it'll be two more before we see any measurable growth.

Building starts — they're basically zero. From 2003 to 2006, it was crazy around here with townhomes going up and a hundred hot tubs a year being installed. And now we're down to about five.

Some of the folks that are just on the edge of needing a new hot tub, and they're putting off that spa purchase until the economy changes, those people are doing more retrofitting. And that retrofit work is helping immeasurably.

My wife says, "Everyday, Dan, you're always out going for it." And I tell her, "Yeah, that's right, because we have to retain a sustainable mass of customers or we're going to have to find something else to do." And I want to stay in this industry.

What kind of retrofit work are you seeing?

I've done lots of new electrical systems, or just upgrading into topside controls. I usually say to people, "You know, these tubs only last so long. At the very least, we should give it a new brain and heart. If you want, you can leave the old skin on."

I've always equated hot tubs to dogs, saying, for every year we're alive, you're tub's alive seven. So they ask me, "Well, Dan, do you think I need a new tub? And I look at their UL plate and say, "Geez, 1999. That's 12 years. That's like 84 for a hot tub. That's getting pretty old."

One issue that emerged from the AQUA survey was unlicensed, unprofessional competition. Is that a problem in your area?

Well, there are a lot of guys that just get into the business without knowing anything, or they spend a few months working for someone, picking up a few tricks of the trade, before they go out on their own and try to take over his accounts. But if you go around trying to sell against those guys, you become a whiner.

You spend too much time saying, "Please, hire me, I know I'm better."

So I looked at my business, and I said, "You know, I still have people questioning my credibility based on price, based on value, based on backyard-cowboy competition and stuff like that. What do I have to do to appear more professional and significant in the market?"

My answer was to open up a retail store. I had to do that to become credible.

Most people thought it was crazy to do it. They said, "How the hell are you going to make that thing work? You live in a ski resort in the middle of nowhere."

But I had to do it because now I can say to my customers, "Yes, I do retail, I do repair, we install, replacement, I do emergency service. We do it all. We're resort hot tub specialists. Come on down to my showroom." And as soon as I get them there, they believe in me.

That's what I had to do to become credible.

I feel for everyone who is trying to be credible in this industry.

How do you think we can build credibility for the service trade throughout the industry?

I think the only way for us to build credibility is through training. The more we educate ourselves, the more we'll see our customers better at paying their bills and being receptive to us as professional tradespeople.

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