Hub of the wagon wheel
By Michelle L. Cramer
Photos by Iris Photography
Owner: Blaine Budke
Nebraska: McCook and Grand Island
Hot Tubs: Passion Spas, Strong Spas, Cal Spas, Caldera Spas, Coast Spas
Swim Spas: Cal Spas, Passion Spas
Chemicals: Leisure Time
Accessories: Leisure Concepts
Hot Tub Brokers in Nebraska is Blain Budke’s second run at a retail store. He entered the industry in 1999 as Tri-State Spas, which grew to four locations. Over time, however, he closed two of the Tri-State Spas stores and sold two, becoming a sales rep for spa dealers at state fairs and expos. He traveled all over the country and called himself The Hot Tub Broker.
A few years later, one of the individuals Budke sold a store to was in financial trouble. Budke reclaimed ownership of the location, in McCook, Nebraska, in July 2017 — but he needed to remove any association with the Tri-State Spas name. “I went with Hot Tub Brokers, and it’s worked out really well for us,” Budke says.
McCook has a population of about 7,000, and is a hot spot for several smaller surrounding communities. “It’s like McCook is the hub of a wheel and the smaller towns are the spokes,” Budke says. “So everybody comes to our little town to shop. We sell about 150 hot tubs a year out of McCook.”
A Larger Wheel
In May of this year, a second Hot Tub Brokers location opened in Grand Island, Nebraska — 150 miles away, with a population of around 60,000. Until then, Budke would travel that far for a hot tub install anyway, so he says it made sense to add the Grand Island location.
“It’s also the hub of the wagon wheel,” Budke says. “There’s a trade area of about 300,000 people in the [Grand Island area]. That’s what triggered me to open this location, and it’s been working out fantastic.”
Aside from Budke, there are two employees at the McCook location — a secretary and a part-time salesman — and the Grand Island store has a manager and a service tech. Right now, Budke does all the installs, splitting his time between both locations — Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Grand Island; Mondays and Fridays at McCook. He installs a significantly higher number of hot tubs in the Grand Island area, while patrons of the McCook store are far more spread out.
“We’ll [install] two or three hot tubs in one afternoon in the Grand Island area because we’re only traveling 10 miles from the store,” Budke says. “Where, in my McCook location, we can only set up one a day because we’re traveling 100 miles one way.”
Budke expects to hire one or two more people soon. “I’m building this up so my employees can run the stores and I can go down south and play in the wintertime,” he says. “We’ll just keep paddling along, keep selling hot tubs and make a lot of money.”
Budke’s short-term goal is for Hot Tub Brokers to sell 200 to 250 hot tubs by the end of 2019. He believes the environment he creates in his stores will make that possible.
“People are coming in here to have a good time,” Budke says. “We sell fun that’s going to last them eight, 10, 12 years. Hopefully their kids are going to grow up having a hot tub and will come back and [buy one as adults]. And then Mom and Dad are going to downsize later because they don’t need an eight-person hot tub anymore. We sell [generations of] fun, and that’s basically what it comes down to.”