Valley Pool & Spa

Pandemic squashes grand opening plans but not store success

Eric Cassidy’s heart dropped when the Pennsylvania governor told businesses to go to limited operations March 19. That coming weekend, Valley Pool & Spa had intended to announce the grand opening of its seventh location.

“Three months of hard work and long hours, long days to put together what we feel is going to be our best store long-term,” Cassidy says. They didn’t know if the store would open at all now, let alone host a grand opening. Would they even be able to find employees with everyone under stay-at-home orders?

Eventually, the store opened a month and a half later to little fanfare. “Literally, we just turned the ‘open’ sign on,” Cassidy says, “We let customers find us organically.”

While it wasn’t quite the climax you wish for after the grunt work to get a store ready, Valley was so busy that no one really noticed. The company raced to get its ecommerce site up when it initially had to close its doors (read more about it in “Rush to E-commerce” on the SpaRetailer website); it implemented curbside pickup and online sales.

And after the initial COVID plummet, things took off. Valley had already moved away from the just-in-time inventory model, getting customers to buy mostly from its stock. “Ninety-nine percent of what we sell is from our stock,” Cassidy says. “We either sell from stock or we sell from inbound shipments, and that’s how we’ve sold for the last handful of years. At this point, we’re selling from spreadsheets because there’s not a lot of inventory.”

Fortunately, the shutdown came right as the Pittsburgh home show was wrapping up, so they had a hefty delivery on order.

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“We didn’t see the effects of the initial surge negatively, because we always have a healthy inventory stock to start the season,” Cassidy says. “It began to affect us in midsummer [when] everyone’s lead times were 20, 30, 40 weeks out on product.”

Jim and Dolly Harding started Valley in 1967. Their granddaughter, Corinne Kraft, took over the business in 1987. For his part, Cassidy, now vice president of sales and operations, has been working at Valley for 15 years. In 2018, Kraft sold the company to Leslie’s Poolmart, though it still operates as Valley Pool & Spa.

Though Valley had key employees in place for its newest location, like a store manager and assistant manager, hiring to fill the rest of the spots was tough. The saving grace was seasonal labor: High school and college kids who wanted summer jobs, weren’t as concerned about coronavirus and weren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. “We seemed to find that in those cases, if employees were laid off they were sitting at home waiting to see what their employer would do,” Cassidy says. “They were not actively looking for other work because they didn’t view it as a permanent layoff.”

Valley also continued to advertise during the pandemic, paying close attention to messaging. “We looked at this as an opportunity to market the good,” Cassidy cays. “We focused on being here to help our customers, to make sure their pool or hot tub is safe and enjoyable for the summer.”

Though Cassidy doesn’t expect sales to continue at this pace forever, he sees good things for the hot tub industry next year. “Although most manufacturers should have an increase in 2020, most of the output and the results of 2020 will be in 2021” in the service, warranty, supply and chemical sectors of the industry, he says. He’s also optimistic that word-of-mouth will continue to drive sales, spreading “the joys of hot tub ownership and making the products more mainstream.”

Photography by J. Aaron Hager