Working With What’s Available
By Michelle L. Cramer
Photography by Ryan Feister
Owner: Bob Davis
Virginia: Bedford, Salem, Madison Heights and Lynchburg
Hot Tubs: Marquis
Swim Spas: Marquis
Backyard Living: Grills, wood stoves, fireplaces, fire pits
Bob Davis hung up his spurs in 1982 to marry, settle down in Bedford, Virginia, and work for a pool company. But the traveling rancher and self-proclaimed cowboy wasn’t fond of his employers and, after a heated discussion with them, abruptly quit on a Friday in June 1984.
“The following Monday, I just started doing my thing,” Davis says. “I had a pickup truck and some tools, and thought if I could build some swimming pools, I could make some good money.”
Davis started Aqua Pros that summer, and in 1985, in addition to working on pools, he and his wife, Mary, began to sell Sonoma hot tubs by taking them around and showing them on a trailer. But this touring-spa method didn’t always work. “People would just make fun of the ‘big bathtub,’ ” Davis says. So, in spring 1986, the first Aqua Pros retail location opened in Bedford to make selling hot tubs and chemicals easier.
The business continued to grow, and Davis noticed people were driving 30 miles from Lynchburg, Virginia, to buy chemicals from Aqua Pros. “I asked, ‘Why do you come here when there’s a BioGuard dealer in Lynchburg?’ ” Davis says. “And they would say, ‘Well, we like you all better.’ ” That was all it took for Davis to jump on an opportunity to open a store in Lynchburg in 1996, followed by a third store in Madison Heights in 1997. A fourth Aqua Pros store opened in Salem, Virginia, in 2014.
Right Place, Right Time
This September, the Aqua Pros’ flagship location relocated to what used to be a Golden Corral restaurant, expanding the retail space from 900 square feet — where a maximum of five hot tubs could be displayed — to 5,500 square feet that can display up to 12 hot tubs and boasts plenty of room for expansion.
Davis will tell you that the growth of his company has a lot to do with being at the right place at the right time, and everything to do with divine intervention. Several times over, he was able to get a substantial deal on retail space. The location in Salem is a prime example. The owner of the property was asking more than $125,000 for it, but Davis’ wife didn’t want him spending that much.
“I told the lady who owned the building it could get ugly at home if I bought it,” Davis says. “She told me to make an offer — anything I could. I offered $50,000 and she took it. Today, that property appraises for close to $300,000.”
Davis advises spa retailers looking to have more than one location not to worry about making all locations look the same; it’s more important, he says, to get into a space you can afford and then renovate if need be. Customers don’t care about the continuity among locations, he says: “They care about great service and great products.”
Though Aqua Pros sells Marquis exclusively, his technician services all brands of hot tubs, with many service requests coming in directly from manufacturers who have a dealer in the area. Davis also emphasizes the importance of service techs taking every opportunity for continuing education.
To keep the business thriving in the offseason, Aqua Pros sells fire pits, fireplaces, gas stoves, grills and more. The company also services these products, plus offers installations and chimney sweeps.
With the hearth side of the business thriving, Davis recently had another idea for diversifying. Since he grew up ranching and his stores sell grills, “I thought it would be cool to sell beef in our stores,” Davis says. What’s more, he raises and processes the beef himself.
For Davis, it all comes back to finding many ways for Aqua Pros to be successful long term. “I don’t understand how anyone in the hot tub business can be hot tubs alone,” Davis says. “And I see people who don’t take spa chemicals seriously. Our traffic on pool and spa chemicals is very large; it brings people into the store on a daily basis. And every time somebody comes in, it gives my employees an opportunity to talk to them about another product.”