Business Spotlight: Head Above Water
American Pool & Spa owner restores the company to profitable levels
Monday, April 23, 2012 11:33 AM
While studying business management at Missouri State University in the early 2000s, Tony Dotson worked for All American Pool & Spa Center. Six years ago this month, he purchased the pool and spa business.
American Pool & Spa Sales Manager Aaron Anthes and owner Tony Dotson showcase one of the company's hot tubs, an acrylic Bullfrog Spas unit. Dotson, who worked for the company while in college, purchased it six years ago and has built it up from the brink of bankruptcy.
“Upon graduation, I couldn’t find a profession I liked better, so I ended up purchasing the company,” Dotson says.
Acquired under HSR Enterprises LLC, Dotson promptly changed the business name to American Pool & Spa. Since the purchase was assets only, Dotson sought to distinguish the business from the previous owner, Tim Rutherford, while maintaining the recognition of its original name.
With three employees, the company sells and installs spas and above- and in-ground pools, and offers service and repair, and related products. Earlier this month, the 3,000-square-foot store at 3237 E. Sunshine St. unveiled showroom renovations. During the slower season November–February, Dotson and his right-hand man and sales manager, Aaron Anthes, worked with King Construction of Rogersville for the $5,000 cosmetic remodel.
Dotson updated the space to tile and earth-tone walls from worn-out carpeting and bright blue and orange walls. The changes signal a shift in the store’s target market, he says.
“People with discretionary income are able to purchase a $5,000 hot tub,” he says. “I no longer wanted to have the Wal-Mart mentality that we’ve had for about five years.”
Spa products and supplies represented 12 percent of the $487,000 in 2011 revenues, and Dotson has identified that market for growth. The company was carried by pool product and supply sales, at more than two-thirds of revenues last year, and installation and repair services, at 16 percent, Dotson says.
Dotson has seen his fair share of challenges in his pool and spa career, starting with pulling his company away from the brink of bankruptcy after the purchase.
“The previous owner was looking to get out, and I found out within a couple months of buying that it was because he was going bankrupt. The revenue was not where it should have been according to the paperwork I received from him,” Dotson says. “We’ve been trying to turn it around, and I managed to finally make a profit after three years.”
Dotson’s current challenge is in the form of online competitors. He says customers often search prices for discounted products online, and the trend can make it difficult to price his products for a profit. “The Internet is a killer,” Dotson says. “Without service, we wouldn’t be here, I don’t think.”
Anthes, who started working for American Pool & Spa in June following a short stint in business development for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, says his primary goal is to build up the spa side of the business. He and Dotson are working to brand the company through its Web site, social media and Anthes’ chamber connections.
The showroom features acrylic Bullfrog Spas and the line of BioGuard chemicals, for which American Pool & Spa is considered a platinum seller. Dotson says the top-selling hot tub is Bullfrog’s six-man 562 model with five jet packs, two pumps and a lounge seat.
“Now that we actually have a true spa showroom with lots to look at and choose from, I’m trying to build up sales in that department big time,” Anthes says. “We’re collaborating with a lot of people with projects to make it more of a turnkey kind of store. You can get your stonework or your decking done through us.”
Hardscapes & More LLC, New Horizons Hardwoods Inc. and King Construction are among the companies teaming up with American Pool & Spa for the one-stop shopping model. These companies showcase their products in the American Pool showroom – for instance, New Horizons’ teak product is on the counters and a deck sample gives customers a first-hand look – and American Pool refers interested customers in the company’s direction.
“We want to help them grow their business,” New Horizons President Laura Beaver says of the informal partnership. “We’ve received one referral from them so far and hope to see more – we’re hoping this pays off for both of us.”
Aaron King of King Construction performs in-ground pool installations that incorporate technologies such as automated temperature controls and lighting systems. “We have the same philosophy on customization,” King says. “There are a lot of guys out there who want to build the same pool over and over again because it’s the way to make the quickest buck. But pools are art, and Tony and I agree that customization is important.”
With a stable pool customer base, Dotson is setting his sights on the retail spa market. “Because the economy went down, hot tub sales declined dramatically for us during the last several years, so by bringing on Aaron Anthes and renovating the showroom, I’m hoping to build that customer base back up again,” Dotson says.