Backyard Leisure | Eye on Expansion

Dealer seeks to be the Bass Pro Shops of hot tubs

Backyard Leisure opened in 2006, not long before the recession of 2008 stunted sales in many luxury sectors. But the company was so new, says Josh Michels, senior wellness consultant and son of owner Earl Michels, that it was growing despite the downturn. “You could consider it a difficult time to start,” he says, “but in the end it was maybe better for us because we didn’t become accustomed to an easy way to sell hot tubs.”

A dozen years later, another misfortune visited the Michelses when a fire destroyed the Backyard Leisure showroom — thankfully, a lot of inventory was in an offsite warehouse — and eventually led the company on a trajectory toward expansion. Instead of rebuilding, the company opened a new, 33,000-square-foot showroom in Terre Haute, Indiana.

“I believe it was the plan all along to put us into a situation where we were able to have this type of facility available at [a price] that made sense,” Earl Michels says. “It was providential.”

Not long after acquiring the new space, Earl was watching a YouTube video about Bass Pro Shops’ winter wonderland, where a customer reported driving 200 miles with her kids just to see it. When she effusively commented on all that Bass Pro does for the community without expecting anything in return, Earl immediately recognized skilled marketing.

“If you can get people to walk through your door, and they don’t even realize you’re doing it to get them to walk through your door — and for the purpose of buying something — that’s a stroke of brilliance,” Earl says. “I want to be that kind of retailer. That’s the vision going forward for Backyard Leisure.”

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To that end, the Michelses are developing what Earl calls “world-class” mood rooms at the Terre Haute and Champaign showrooms. While the estimated time for completion of the project is unknown, the determination to let customers experience a spa like it’s in their own backyard remains a driving force. The design starts with a facade on one wall as if it’s the back of a house, with a she-shed serving as a changing room. Customers will also be able to provide pictures of their own backyards, and Backyard Leisure will project it on to an 11-foot by 30-foot wall, with computer-controlled lights simulating the night sky.

“We want to be an experience people are willing to drive for,” Josh says.

Earl says his Bass Pro–inspired ambition will service his goal of a spa on every patio. “If we truly believe hot tubbing provides wellness benefits, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to make sure as many people as possible can experience hot water immersion and massage therapy,” he says. “If they’ve got a 6-by-6-foot space in their backyard, they ought to have a hot tub on it.”

Photography by James Brosher