Mountain Hot Tub builds new headquarters to consolidate and optimize
By Michelle L. Cramer
Photography by Studio Macleod
Founded by high school buddies Tom Walker and Scott Smith in 1979 in Bozeman, Montana, Mountain Hot Tub opened its second showroom in Butte in 1989 and its third in Helena in 1993. Amid initial growth, the company was building a reputation in the region as a place folks wanted to work, as evidenced by the journeys upper management took to get there.
The Path Home
Kelly King’s career in the hot tub industry began in 1989. After working for a few dealers in Idaho, he landed in Vail, Colorado, managing hot tub sales for a pool builder. All the while, Mountain Hot Tub’s positive reputation was in the back of his mind.
When a position at Mountain Hot Tub opened in 1995, King says he jumped at the chance. “I put my house up for sale, I got everything ready to go, put my notice in,” King says, Then they called back, telling King the woman he was going to replace would be returning to her post. “I said, ‘Too late, I’m coming anyway,’ ” King recalls.
When King started at Mountain Hot Tub, there wasn’t a dedicated position for him — so he just started filling in where he saw gaps. “I would load up the trailer with spas and tents and go to west Yellowstone or a small town and do tent sales,” King says. “I would do long-distance nuisance service calls just to take the load off. I would go to our other stores in Butte and Helena and fill in for people on their days off. Whatever I could do to justify my existence and work for these guys. I was just kind of making it up as I went along to keep my foot in the door with them.”
In 1996, a manager spot opened at the Helena store, a position King held until 2001. That year, Scott Smith died in a car accident, and Walker asked if King would move back to Bozeman to help run the business as general manager. Around 2012, Walker decided to retire and sell the business and, when the initial buyer backed out, King stepped up. He and his wife Shirley bought the business in January 2014.
Likewise, Clint Struble just couldn’t seem to stay away from Mountain Hot Tub and the positive work environment Walker, Smith and King created over the years. He started at Mountain in the early 2000s. After a few years, he left for another job outside of the industry, but frequently came back to Mountain to help with sales events and a smattering of other tasks. Just before King bought the business, Struble moved to Seattle to work for a dealer there, but, in 2015, Struble returned again and rejoined the Mountain sales team at King’s request. At the beginning of 2019, Struble was promoted to sales manager.
“I’ve been kind of in and out of the industry over the last 16 to 17 years,” Struble says. “I’ve seen [Mountain Hot Tub] grow and change over those years — both here in the store and from a distance because I’ve always stayed in contact with Mountain Hot Tub. It’s a pretty unique place.”
Max Blaser is more of a newbie to the company, but like King, wriggled his way into the fold because he knew it’s where he wanted to be. About eight years into Blaser’s career with Verizon, one of his co-workers left to work for Mountain Hot Tub. “We had a great relationship and as soon as he made the transition over to this company, he started talking with me and saying, ‘We’ve got to find a way to get you over here — you’re going to love it compared to what you’ve been doing,’ ” Blaser says. “From that point on, I was always mindful of Mountain Hot Tub and what was happening.”
In January 2017, Blaser got a call from Mountain Hot Tub. He sat down with management and together they created a position for Blaser as the company’s first in-house marketing manager. “Honestly, in the beginning, there was a question of what [this position] was going to look like — adapting and evolving and seeing what the position entails. And two years later, there’s plenty of work to be done. And it started with the pitch, ‘Come work for somebody that you’ll actually like working for.’ It’s really been nice to do that.”
Bigger and Better
When King purchased Mountain Hot Tub in 2014, the company had 16 employees. In the last five years, the company has doubled its revenue, more than doubled its employees to 35 and continues to hire. With that growth comes the need for change, which is why the company built a new headquarters in Bozeman this year.
Until the new facility opened in June, Mountain Hot Tub was leasing five warehouse spaces throughout Bozeman to accommodate service departments, hot tub refurbishing needs and house inventory. While the new facility is an expansion of space, Blaser says they view it more as a consolidation, bringing all Bozeman-area employees back under one roof.
“When I look at our [old] service center and the office space, we went from one person there answering the phones to three full-time service coordinators,” King says. “They really outgrew the space that was never set up to be an office. It was noisy and crowded — I really have good people, and the catalyst was that we needed to get a better space for these guys to do their job.”
The repair facility was also unmanageable, King says, with hot tubs accepted in trade stacking up so high that many were being taken to the landfill instead of refurbished. The new facility, however, has a 2,000-square-foot workshop with six hydraulic car lifts so the repair tech can work better.
The previous Bozeman showroom was limited in both the number of displayed hot tubs and number of salespeople working the floor. “They didn’t have their own space,” King says of the sales staff. “They were all working behind the counter on a computer and we built little cubbies for them to hang a coat on. How much more could they do and how much happier would they be in their job if they had the resources? That equals productivity and it makes it so that they want to be here.”
Additionally, the new facility has a covered loading area — imperative in the winter months’ perpetual snow. “We can load our trailers with spas for deliveries without taking the forklift out in the snow,” King says. He also put a basketball court in the shop and added a comfortable break room that looks like a diner. Conference rooms will be used for OEM product training and training new staff for all three locations.
“Part of this comes from a trip back east,” King says. “I have a nephew who works for Google, and I spent a day with him going through their building. If you want really talented people, give them a space they want to be in.”
King is also looking to attract new employees with the space he’s created. “There’s a lot of talent here and what can I do to ensure our success by attracting talented people?” he says. “That’s a big component of why we put in an amazing break room, not only because our employees deserve it, but I think it’s appealing if somebody is looking for a place to work and sees how we treat our employees.” During the build process, contractors repeatedly told King they would love to work at Mountain Hot Tub, and that’s how King confirmed he was on the right track.
The customers weren’t without consideration in the expansion process. Blaser says it was frustrating when a customer would come to the showroom asking for a part, and the customer or an employee would have to drive to a warehouse to get it.
“There’s just a lot that gets lost in translation when you have tubs and staff moving between facilities at several different locations,” Blaser says. “You’d end up in a situation where you’re not exactly sure how the ball got dropped, but you know it did. By getting everybody together, we’re really going to create the best possible customer experience.”
Goals for the new facility don’t stop at employees or customers; the community will also use it. Struble has been in communication with local swim coaches to do training in swim spas. Blaser says they’re also looking to host local Chamber of Commerce events, networking groups and other business events. “We want to open the facility to people who need meeting space,” Blaser says. “We have a couple HOA groups that are going to meet here. There are plans to reach out to PTAs to see if there is a need for that. We really want to make this facility a great communal hub.”
“It’s really important to kind of build a fortress around our business as far as taking care of every single person who comes in the door,” Struble says.
Where to Go From Here
In five to 10 years, King plans to have Mountain Hot Tub running without him having to always be there. He and his wife want to travel, and take time off to see family and friends.
Creating this new facility was a big step for King in giving his employees the tools to do their jobs well and make their own decisions. “I don’t have to be the answer guy,” King says. “They have a higher level of job satisfaction if they solve problems on their own. And when you tap into the brain power of 30 really smart employees, that’s way more than I could ever come up with myself. So let’s use them to run the business and make decisions and not rely so much on me.”
Indeed, there are five salespeople in the company with a combined experience of more than 80 years, Struble says. “We’re kind of a rarity in the retail and sales world,” he says. “There’s usually high turnover, and that we’ve kept people for that long is pretty crazy.”
Blaser sees how the new facility contributes to King’s long-term vision. “I think we can accomplish more, have a better game plan, have better execution,” Blaser says. “We look at it just like a sporting team — that you’ve got to do consistent things to get consistent results.”
“If you want to trust your employees to make decisions,” King says, “you better have good employees. And if you want really good employees, you better build your business around attracting good people and keeping them.”