Southern Leisure Spas & Patio

2020 marks family and business growth for Texas business

Finding out that your child has a life-threatening health condition is every parent’s worst nightmare. A couple days after Cole and Amber Taylor’s daughter, Madison, was born February 23, they found out she had three congenital heart defects. Surgeons told them Madison had a 60/40 chance of making it to her first birthday. At the same time, Cole Taylor was trying to figure out how to keep his four-location hot tub retail business afloat.

“I’m telling my wife, it’s been a bad month, I may need to trade my truck in for something smaller; we may need to make some cuts here; I may have to go a couple of weeks without pay,” Taylor says. “Without shattering her emotionally, I was trying to prepare her for what might be coming on top of everything going on personally.”

Despite the odds and two open-heart surgeries — with a third scheduled down the road — Madison is thriving. So is Southern Leisure Spas & Patio.

With the help of his father, Brad Taylor, a pool builder in Abilene, Texas, in 2012 Cole Taylor started a swimming pool supply store in the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound, Texas, that had a few hot tubs on display. “Hot tubs happened by accident,” Cole Taylor says. “We saw there was a real need in the market for someone who specialized in hot tubs. Now we don’t sell pool supplies at all; it’s all hot tubs and barbecue grills.”

They expanded that first small store from 2,000 square feet to 5,200 square feet. Then came expansions into Arlington and Richardson, both in the Dallas metro, and Austin, Texas. A fifth store was planned for this fall, but that’s been pushed into 2021 because of inventory shortages.

“Between that first and second store, I learned I couldn’t be involved on a day-to-day basis with every decision,” Taylor says. “I started trying to put people in place. Nobody can do this by themselves. You’ve got to have the right team and environment and culture.”

Fortunately, Taylor had one key piece in place almost from the very beginning. In late 2013, he hired Garret Loverin to be the first store’s manager, a longtime family friend and Navy veteran. Loverin had no experience in the hot tub industry, and the two of them ploughed through the growing pains together. Loverin is now the general manager and oversees most of the day-to-day operations of the business. But shortly after Taylor brought his daughter home from her first 34-day hospital stay, Loverin turned in his notice.

Cole Taylor (left) and Garret Loverin (right)

“I got burnt out because I was being pulled in so many different directions,” Loverin says. “I felt like it was time to try something else.”

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It was an amicable split, and after a few months apart, both realized what they had and wanted it back. Taylor says it was a much-needed lesson.

“You can see what’s broken when you’re in it day to day,” Taylor says, adding that 300% sales growth in a single month amplified some problems in the business. “It made me step back and say, ‘I’ve got to create new processes, because we’re still doing things in this area like we did when we had one store selling 100 spas a year.’ Now we’re selling 100 spas a month. That’s where him leaving and coming back was a blessing in disguise.”

“It feels like family coming back,” Loverin says.

Even before Loverin’s departure and return, Taylor wanted to make Southern Leisure a great place where people wanted to work. They’ve recently started offering more benefits, like a 401(k), health, dental and vision insurance. Employees rotate a floating day off during the week, so everyone works only five days a week.

“Adding stores is great, profitability is great, but I know if I want to make my work/life balance better, I have to keep people around,” Taylor says. “I was able to get some guys who have been in the industry five, 10 years and they’re young.” The company joke is that the average age at Southern Leisure is only 25 and everyone is under 40.

“[Cole and I] work well with each other — we feed ideas off each other,” Loverin says. “We see that having the right long-term employees will be a huge key to our success.”

Photography by Phillip Dahir