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A Match Made in Kansas

Previous owner stays on as general manager at Wichita dealership

Photography by Matt Nykamp

When Jamil Toubassi bought a hot tub from Dave Garretson in 2007, he had no idea it would kick off a lasting partnership. At the time, Toubassi worked for Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kansas, but after finishing his career there and taking time off, he was looking to buy a business. Flint Hills Spas fit the bill.

“I came from a commodity-type background, not a retail background, so this has been a change for me in mindset for how things work,” Toubassi says.

Garretson, however, is a hot tub lifer, starting in the industry in the ’70s. After college, he started a remodeling company, doing high-end remodeling and backyard renovations. His customers started asking him about adding hot tubs to their designs — and Garretson kept seeing ads for California Cooperage hot tubs in national magazines like Playboy and Time. He saw the tubs in person and took the California Cooperage Wichita territory.

After getting to know some manufacturers at the trade shows, Garretson ended up getting poached, selling his store and going to work on the manufacturing and distribution side of the business in Southern California.

“It was fun back then; all the competitors were best friends,” Garretson says. “We competed during the day, then we go to dinner at night because the industry was so small.”

At one point, he retired and moved back to Wichita, but people told him he wouldn’t be able to stay away from the industry. They were right. He kept going to the trade shows and consulted for a company that could only afford to pay him in hot tubs. He started selling hot tubs again, out of a warehouse. In 2004, the Artesian line caught his eye at a trade show and he found it worthy of a storefront.

A decade later, Garretson was eyeing retirement again.

“He had a three-year horizon and then he wanted to sell,” Toubassi says. “Selling a small business is not easy. It’s not like selling a stock where you wake up, decide to do it and it’s done. It takes time.”

Fortunately, Toubassi and his wife Lesli were ready to buy before Garretson was ready to retire, and they wanted to keep Garretson on.

“We were very interested in retaining his industry and product knowledge and passion for the business,” Toubassi says. “Having grown up here, he knows a lot of people. That three years ended like last year, and he’s still going strong. We have more growth plans this year and beyond; I think he’s just as excited to be a part of it.” In late summer, Flint Hills will open its second location.

When business partnerships in general so rarely work out, in fact the failure rate is usually quoted at somewhere between 70 – 80 percent, and partnerships between a new and old owner even less so, Toubassi and Garretson are a true anomaly, and with polar-opposite business experiences to boot.

“Dave is coming from a small-business environment where things are done a little bit looser,” Toubassi says. “I’m coming from a big company with more structure. We’re fortunate because both of our personalities tend to be open.”

There have been disagreements, and it took a while for them to learn the personality and thought process of the other, but neither would change the arrangement.

In addition to the imminent opening of the second location, since buying the business Toubassi has increased product offerings and started a service department.

“When you’re introducing something new, no matter how much you think and how much homework you go on these types of things, you can’t think of everything,” Toubassi says. “Even to this day, we’re learning about how to do things the right way on some of this new stuff.”

Two years ago, Toubassi and Lesli bought a Great Harvest Bread Company franchise. “We weren’t really looking to get into a bakery or a café, but this is another example where we happened to know, on a personal basis, the previous owners of the business,” Jamil says. Lesli mainly runs the Great Harvest Bread Company operations, and Toubassi Flint Hills Spas.

“This has been a great experience; it’s been a lot of fun,” Toubassi says. “I enjoy being my own boss and being a small-business owner. The products we sell here are meant to make people feel good and happy. In some cases, we’re helping solve a physical issue, or we’re creating a mechanism for more family time or relaxation. People walk out the door of a spa store, and they have a smile on their face. We like being a part of that.”