The Spa Shoppe owners delay second location in favor of stronger infrastructure
Photography by Rey Chico
Dave Harris is taking a vacation day. He’s spending it at home, where his three kids are laughing and carrying on in the background while we talk.
“I love my kids,” Harris says. “They’re awesome. They’re currently tormenting the cat.”
In 2005, Harris and Mark Wallis co-founded The Spa Shoppe in Whitby, Ontario. That he’s now able to take vacation days to hang out with his kids, he says, has been a long time coming.
A Chance Taken
Harris and Wallis met and became best friends in ninth grade. After graduating high school and earning computer programming degrees, they found themselves working together for a pool and spa company. Three years later, that company went out of business and the pair, then about 25 years old, took on its hot tub service clients. Harris’ parents, who knew nothing of the hot tub industry, saw potential in what Harris and Wallis were creating, so they invested.
In 2005, The Spa Shoppe opened in Brooklin, a rural area removed from the bustle of Whitby. “It was on a very desolate stretch of road between two pretty booming ends of the town,” Harris says. “We didn’t get a lot of traffic from the people [in south Whitby], which is where the majority of people live, down by the lake. So it was years of killing ourselves trying to get this thing off the ground and then it plateaued. People just drove by us. It wasn’t a destination.”
Relocation, they decided, was the only way The Spa Shoppe was going to attain the growth they envisioned. In 2014, the store moved to south Whitby. “Now we’re in front of everybody’s face,” Harris says. “We’re basically on the busiest corner right now and it’s awesome. We get tons of walk-in traffic now, which was unheard of [in our location] before. It made a big difference.”
To Lease or Own
Within three years, the company had seen enough growth that it was time to expand. The plan was to open a second location in a neighboring town, but then the opportunity to purchase the land The Spa Shoppe resided on became available. They couldn’t pass up the chance.
“It was either that or expand to a different location and have leases at both,” Harris says. “So we decided to [purchase the land] and we still have the hope of expanding to a second location.”
Doing so is plausible now, Harris says, but it’s about finding the right people to run a second location first. Current staff is trustworthy, capable and long term, he says, so he’s not worried. His concern is finding the same caliber of people twice over.
“I don’t think [expanding is] a wise move unless you have the right people for the job,” Harris says. “If the business is plateauing, we look at whether we’ve maximized what we’re doing to get a good foothold. We have done that in our current store, and it’s time to open a second location. But our biggest issue is finding the right people for the job and not jumping on an opportunity just because we can. We have to have the infrastructure in place.”
He also doesn’t want to essentially start over to get a second location off the ground. “I don’t want to destroy my family by working seven days a week for the next couple of years,” Harris says. “There’s so much to consider. I know how much of an impact it had opening the first store, and there’s going to be a lot of growing pains all over again.”
However, Harris knows that if Wallis is with him, a second location can be successful. “If we do it together like we did the first store, then we can at least share the burden,” Harris says.
Harris is more sales-oriented, while Wallis is more service-oriented and the numbers cruncher. They fell into these roles naturally based upon their personalities, “Yin and yang,” Harris adds.
Only in the last year has Wallis delegated some service department management to a company service tech.
“We’ve been trying to build clones of ourselves lately so we don’t have to go out as much,” Harris says. He’d like to spend more time promoting the business, working on the website and lead generation. For now, he’s focusing on sales. Last year Harris took some time to work on building the business and do service calls, but the company’s numbers reflected a drop in sales without him on the showroom floor.
So for now, Harris is spending most of his time in the showroom, and looking to hire and train to essentially recreate himself — even if it takes four more people, he says. In five years, he and Wallis want to have that second location open — maybe even locations three and four — and maintain a more hands-off approach. “It’s hard to let go of power sometimes,” Harris says. “But it’s also important to make sure you’re working on your business and not for it all the time. It’s something we are constantly battling. That’s a big one for me; I want to work on my business all the time, but it’s always calling me.”
In December 2018, The Spa Shoppe was named 2018 Retailer of the Year at the Hydropool World Conference in Mexico.
The Complete Backyard
While The Spa Shoppe doesn’t currently sell backyard accessories other than Covana spa covers (Harris expects they will be adding saunas soon, too), the company does provide full backyard creation services through subcontractors.
“Our primary focus is installing the hot tubs in their backyard,” Harris says. “We don’t build, but we do subcontract for the customer. If they want a one-stop-shop, we’ll take care of all of that. We know all the tradesmen [in the area]. We’re very good friends with a lot of the deck companies and electricians. We have a lot of good rapport with landscapers. And whenever our customers are looking for stuff like that, we don’t mind acting as the general contractor. We can get financing to cover all the costs. If that’s what the customer wants, I find that’s the easiest way to make a sale. We’ll never turn down any business.”