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In Times of Corona

A retailer at the epicenter

Nelson Bryant’s store, Seattle Hot Tubs, is five minutes from Life Care Center, the Kirkland, Washington, nursing home that was ravaged by coronavirus. More than 30 of its residents died. Bryant’s area was hit hard, and first, with the COVID-19 virus that has shut down schools, businesses and caused many states to ask its residents to stay at home or shelter in place to try to prevent the spread.

“It happened about three weeks ago,” Bryant said during an interview on March 20. “Seattle has horrible traffic. When driving into work there was what appeared to be 50 or 60% fewer cars. That was a little eerie. I saw writing on the wall — I started putting business moves to address it.”

Bryant’s team is small — it’s him, his business partner Ryan Peterson, a salesman and a small delivery team. “I can adjust to a minute, I can adjust on the fly,” he says. He immediately began talking to the marketing company he works with about what their message should be. At first they thought a stay-cation theme, but with the seriousness of what was going on that didn’t seem like the right tone. “It’s too cheeky,” Bryant says. “Like putting a fun spin on something that’s not. We decided to nix that.”

Instead he focused on explaining to people what shopping for a hot tub was like — no crowds, not a large staff and a company willing to make whatever concessions to ensure customers felt safe.

“Doing anything for them to make them feel comfortable, even if it’s me coming out to your house,” Bryant says.  

He also decided to make their marketing right now as personal as possible, handing out his personal cell phone number and even using pictures of his family.

“I have a beautiful Marquis Promise hot tub, I’ve been using it every night with my family,” Bryant says. “Me and my wife and daughters were in it for 45 minutes last night. We turned on the music, we checked out, we didn’t have the news on. When you’re trying to present to customers I think when you actually believe that it will help them sincerely, and they can see the sincerity, that’s a lot easier. I think making it personal is good for us.”

They chose not to make private appointments in the showroom since it could potentially create an awkward situation. “If I make a private appointment, I’ve told this person that the store is only theirs,” Bryant says. “If someone wanders up, I’m put in a huge pickle. I’ve got a locked door and I’ve got to yell at [the walk-up] through the glass.”

At that time, just a week ago, Bryant’s biggest concern was his salesman who recently had a heart attack. “He’s of utmost importance,” Bryant says. “He’s in that high-risk category, but every day I give them the option, don’t feel comfortable don’t come. They have sick leave, we’ll work with them. But Steve insists on coming, he would rather just be there. He knows he only sees a handful of people a day.”

Bryant was also down half of his four-person delivery / technician crew. Two of his employees were ill, and though it was most likely just colds, no one could take the chance of potentially spreading something to other employees or customers.

“It’s just more of a moral thing,” Bryant says. “Every retailer in our area, if they have someone who’s sick you just have to send them home and that’s it. We’ll work with [the employee] financially, and this is hopefully just a short deal. My main guy said his concern is he will lose his job. There’s a 0.0% chance that’s going to happen; we’re going to all work harder to hold up the ship.”

At that time, Bryant had already sold a hot tub over the phone. The customer reached out online to see if they could purchase a tub without having to come into the store. The answer, of course, was yes. “I spent 45 minutes on the phone with them, telling them how we can easily do this without even meeting in person but you’re still going to get that service as if you did,” Bryant says. He asked the customer about their medical needs, how they envisioned the jets and helped them determine which model would be the best for them. He ensured them they would use the utmost care with delivery as well. “Our guys will stay six feet away from you. On top of that, we’ll Lysol it and sanitize it.”

But since that initial conversation, the city asked businesses deemed nonessential to close. “We could have found gray areas to stay open but decided to do the right thing,” Bryant says. “We delivered eight spas in 36 hours before we were shut down, so we were pretty busy. I’m still working, just doing appointments only.”

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