Back in the retail game
By Michelle L. Cramer
Photography by Kaitlin Walsh
Ted Dellas started in the hot tub industry in 1988 with his first retail store in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. By 2007, his spa and pool business consisted of four stores, totaling approximately 150,000 square feet of retail space, 110 employees and more than $13 million a year in sales, Dellas says.
The company’s growth was attention grabbing, even in the beginning. In 1994, Dellas received an award from the state of Ohio as one of the fastest growing companies in Cuyahoga County. “We were growing by leaps and bounds,” Dellas says. “I still have that [award] on my wall in my house. When you’re getting [recognized] by your peers in your industry and certainly by some outside agencies, it’s gratifying to say the least. I really fell in love with the industry.”
The economic downturn in 2008 changed everything, however: The recession hit, and his bank wrote him a letter calling his loans. “I had 30 days to write a check for $1.4 million, which I could not do,” Dellas says.
To pay the bank note, Dellas liquidated his entire company and signed a non-compete with the hot tub manufacturer. To support his family, he took a job in the mortgage industry — a much slower pace than he was used to. After the non-compete expired in 2011, Dellas received a call from Bob Lauter, CEO of Master Spas. Lauter asked how Dellas was doing, “and I told him I was really unhappy,” Dellas says.
Lauter asked Dellas if he wanted to get back into the industry, and Dellas jumped at the chance. “After all the people I had done business with, which was literally millions and millions of dollars, I had just two people reach out to me: Bob Lauter and Tim Beal, the Master Spas rep. They put me into a position to get back in the industry.”
In 2012, Dellas opened a distribution center and called it LeisureTime Warehouse, selling hot tubs and hot tub products to consumers through online sales rather than as a brick and mortar store since, Dellas says, he didn’t have the funding to market a retail space at the time.
Dellas’ son, Teddy Dellas, joined the company in 2015. Dellas says he was earning a decent living by then, and within a few years his son suggested they finally open a retail location. “I told him I will never open up a retail store unless I find a brick-and-mortar building on a highway with 100,000 cars driving by, with a glass front, that is $4,000 a month or less,” Dellas says. “And he found one literally within 24 hours.”
In 2018, the LeisureTime Warehouse retail store opened. And he’s learned some things since coming back to the industry, namely how the pace is even faster.
For example, with his first business, Dellas recalls, customers started to pour into the store in late March and early April, as soon as a nice day hit: “Now it’s the third week of June after Memorial Day and we get 500 to 1,000 calls [asking about products we sell and services we offer],” Dellas says. “People wait until the last minute to do everything. But if you can react to it effectively, you can make the margins you want. It’s not the big eating the small anymore in our industry; it’s the fast eating the slow.”
Dellas says his retail store is doing fantastic since it opened last year. “If I had known it was going to do this well, I would have done it a lot sooner,” he says. “There is still good business out there. The industry has changed, the demographic has changed. The market and the margins have changed. But there are still customers who want to buy our products, and they’re willing to pay for them.”