Phoebe Briley didn’t grow up thinking she’d sell hot tubs. But after 15 years of selling them for someone else, last year Briley started her own store, Jacuzzi Hot Tubs of the Triangle in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area.
Briley studied painting and digital art in college, and has a master’s degree in fine art from the University of North Carolina. While she was finishing her degree, she took a part-time job at a local hot tub store.
“I really just enjoyed it,” Briley says. “It was fun.” She stayed on with the company after graduation and helped them with sales, and also developed a website and social media presence. Out of all the products she sold there — game tables, grills, saunas — hot tubs became her favorite.
“My real passion became the hot tubs, and that’s where I felt I connected with the industry,” Briley says. “Those relationships with my customers were the most meaningful to me.”
Working from home during the pandemic gave Briley a preview of what a business focused exclusively on hot tubs could be like. “Working out of my own art studio home office was really empowering,” Briley says, “to spend the time I wanted to with those customers. It was so refreshing to me.”
As her partner Rani listened to her sell spas out of their home, he encouraged her to take the next step.
“As I started to think about the next chapter of our life as a couple, doing something that was more focused on the hot tubs was very appealing,” Briley says, “because that’s definitely where my heart is.”
Having sold the Jacuzzi brand in the past and knowing the local territory was open, Briley started the conversation with the company’s sales reps. From there, everything came together organically.
“I’m not an impulsive person by nature,” Briley says, “but it all happened in a way that was comfortable, and it felt right at every turn. I have a great partner who was supportive, great family that was supportive, and all the people at Jacuzzi we’ve come to know, they were over-the-top amazing in their support and encouragement. There was never a moment of doubt that this wasn’t the right fit for us.”
After she gave her notice with her employer, signed her dealer contract and started looking for retail space, lead times had already crept to 18 weeks. That felt like a lifetime to go without delivering a spa, especially as she quickly realized she’d need to start placing truckload orders every couple of weeks to keep up supply. Briley secured a retail space in August, launched her website and started pre-selling in September, and by mid-November she had spas on her showroom floor.
The 1,200-square-foot showroom was carefully plotted out to be as COVID-safe as possible. Briley chose four models to keep on the floor that gave people the best idea of the collections and options available. The floor is taped off to show proper social distancing, and several Molekule air purifiers keep the air clean.
“After COVID, we’ll be moving the spas around and packing more in there so we can show more variety,” Briley says. “But for now it’s worked pretty well. I look forward to the post-COVID layout. We have a small kitchenette so I can have a coffee bar eventually and make it feel really lovely.”
They opened, and continue to operate, the showroom by appointment only, which Briley says hasn’t hindered sales. “What’s interesting is that the majority of our customers have not even asked for an appointment,” she says. “I’ve been doing a ton of Zoom chats with prospective customers and those have been a lot of fun. People have responded positively to communicating virtually. I think it’s a very low-pressure environment and Jacuzzi has so many great digital assets available, we can accomplish a lot with screen sharing and just talking through questions. By the time I finish a 30- to 45-minute Zoom with a customer, they almost always comment on how helpful that style of shopping was. I’d say my closing ratio on virtual sales presentations is over 90%.”
Despite the nerve-racking process of ordering so many spas before even having the doors open, it has paid off. “Business has been even better than what we had hoped for,” Briley says. “Every time we have a truckload arrive, it’s pre-sold and had we not followed the good advice we were given by Jacuzzi, we’d be dealing with really challenging delays in getting our hands on product to sell.”
As of right now, there are no Briley originals on the walls; unsurprisingly, she finds little time to paint these days. But maybe eventually.
“[Owning the business] has really been a good thing in terms of balance and creativity,” Briley says, noting she no longer has a 40-minute commute and can more easily set the tone for her day by working early or late. “You’d think it’d be stressful because of all the things I have to do, but it’s actually created a lot of balance in our life.”