A Hot Tub Life

Mike Dunn retires from Watkins Wellness

With the equipment pack in the backseat and the hot tub strapped to the top of a red, four-door Fiat, 16-year-old Mike Dunn started his career in the hot tub industry in 1979. Dunn’s father acquired a hot tub mold in lieu of rent owed to him by some commercial tenants, and the two of them traveled across California, Arizona and Nevada selling spas at shows.

The first sale Dunn ever made was from the parking lot at The Big A, the stadium where the Angels played, Dunn says. It was the Anaheim RV & Boat Show, and his dad needed to run some errands, leaving him to man their 10-by-10 booth. When he got back, Dunn had a signed contract for a $1,495 spa.

“Those are my very humble beginnings,” Dunn says, who will retire in April after 42 years in the industry.

His father’s manufacturing business didn’t survive, but Dunn’s life in the hot tub industry was cemented. While working in sales and marketing for Hayward, Watkins Manufacturing was one of his OEM accounts. In 1993, Watkins president Steve Hammock hired Dunn away from Hayward to become Watkins’ national sales manager.

Hawkeye Spas Brochure 1986
A Hawkeye Spas Brochure from 1986

“We laugh now, but he played hard-to-get, and for good reason,” Hammock says. “He had tremendous upside potential at Hayward and was highly valued there. We needed someone who was in demand, and thankfully, he eventually said yes. That turned out to be a great day for Watkins as well as for Mike and his family. A true win-win.”

Watkins has since acquired three hot tub brands: Caldera Spas, American Hydrotherapy Systems and Endless Pools. It rebranded to Watkins Wellness, in a move that helped push both the company and industry to focus on the holistic benefits of spas. “We shifted from a hot tub business to a wellness business,” Dunn says. “We call that our noble purpose at Watkins — change and improve peoples’ lives. We’re passionate about it.”

Dunn says the culture he helped develop at Watkins, where he spent the last 27 years of his career, is one of his proudest accomplishments.

“Anyone who knows Watkins speaks about the culture,” Dunn says. “It is within the four walls, but outside the building too with our dealer network and partners, the relationships and community we’ve built. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever known in business. The Watkins Way encompasses our values, and we live our values, it’s not just something we hang on our wall.”

Hammock says Watkins as it looks today would not be the same without Mike Dunn. While he says there are too many specifics to mention, “it is fair to say Mike has been consequential in every major decision Watkins has made over the past three decades,” Hammock says.

Dunn has seen not only Watkins change and grow, but the industry as well. He is struck by the level of professionalism and maturity in the industry now. “We’ve become a viable business,” he says. “A business where someone can make a career and thrive in this industry.”

Dunn has worked with the International Hot Tub Association to help protect the industry since its inception, serving on the leadership team since 2008.

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“Mike is an extremely intelligent person with great integrity,” says Cindi Magray, the 2020 IHTA leadership team chairperson and longtime member. “Every conversation I have with him leaves me feeling such admiration for him. Mike will be sorely missed from our industry. He worked tirelessly to make us the great industry we are today and certainly leaves us in a better place than when he started decades ago.”

As he reflects on what his career has meant to him, Dunn says he’s learned that doing your best has to be good enough — a tough lesson for a perfectionist.

“I’ve always aimed high, and you don’t always achieve your desired level of outcome,” he says. “There’s a point where you have to be satisfied with what you’ve accomplished and leave it there.”

While the company growth and accomplishment are meaningful, Dunn has found the most satisfaction out of helping his employees and colleagues find success.

“I love coaching and developing other people,” he says. “seeing other people grow and accomplish more than they think they can because I’ve pushed them and challenged them. I have a heart of wanting to teach, and I enjoy and I’ve found way more fulfillment in that.”

His colleagues over the years, like Matt Teague, director of business development at Watkins, have noticed and appreciated his open-door policy.

“He’s a coach, a mentor, a confidant,” Teague says. “I don’t know of anybody who is more willing to take the time to be a good listener to coach and to teach.”

As Watkins Wellness looks ahead, Dunn has been working with his replacement, Vijaikrishna (VJ) Teenarsipur. Teenarsipur comes from Masco, Watkins’ parent company, where he’s worked with the Delta faucets and Kichler lighting brands.

Teenarsipur says Dunn is a wealth of knowledge, with experience “on a level that goes beyond the business.” Hammock agrees that Dunn always knew the customer was “the center of the target” and never failed to deliver for them.

Dunn, who has had significant health challenges over the years, says he is the healthiest he’s been in a long time, which makes now a great time for him to pursue other passions. “I feel like I’m stepping away with the company in good hands,” Dunn says. “It’s been an amazing journey for me, and way beyond anything I expected.”