Bill Renter fell in love with Bullfrog Spas long before he ever sold them. The owner of The Deck and Patio Company, a deck and landscape company, Renter had written off the hot tub business after a poor experience selling them years earlier. But when he found himself in the Bullfrog booth at a trade show, the product — with its proprietary JetPak technology — made sense to him.
“I said, ‘I’m in,’ ” Renter says. “I drank the Kool-Aid.”
But because of territory issues, however, Renter didn’t have the chance to sell the hot tubs until a few years later, and it was just in the nick of time. During the recession, Renter’s decking company was hit hard. “I laid off 27 people in one day,” he says, which was 60 percent of his staff. “Our sales dropped by 70 percent. We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
His hot tub sales started off slowly. Renter mostly sold them at home shows, online and out of the decking company’s small showroom. “We did a so-so business,” Renter says. When their relationship with the local home show went sour, his Bullfrog Spas rep suggested that for less money than it cost to go to events, it could open a retail store. Renter crunched the numbers. His rep was right.
“I was willing to break even the first year,” he says. He sold 107 hot tubs; the prior year, it was only 35. Spending the same amount of money, Renter tripled his sales.
It was Renter’s first time delving into retail, and though that first year was a success, he still made mistakes. The location he chose — across the street from a Costco — had great foot traffic, but the lease terms were risky: He had to move out of that store about 18 months after it opened. “But we found a store in a better location in the same area with lower rent,” Renter says. The business remains there today.
Renter’s landscapse-design background (he still owns the Deck and Patio Company and says it does about twice as much business as the hot tub store — but has twice as much overhead) means he can offer his customers a complete backyard with creative hot tub installations. He is also leveraging his relationships with other companies to find new leads, and he does the same for them.
“We have good relationships with other landscape contractors and pools builders,” Renter says. “We recommend other contractors, especially the ones who recommend us. There are lots of places on Long Island where people can buy hot tubs, and an endorsement benefits all of us. That relationship is sacred.”
Renter has also used social media and online advertising to grow his business.
“My own habits are, if I want to find out information on something I pull out my phone, I type in keywords and get information,” Renter says. “I believe our customers do the same thing. We have pretty much eliminated all advertising. Instead of spending $50,000 a year on advertising I spend $50,000 paying my blog expert. That’s where we’ve invested, and I believe it’s paying off.”
Renter praises Bullfrog Spas and the people behind it. Without its support, he says, his business would not be where it is today. “We have a lot of talented people,” Renter says. “In this day and age, we can’t afford to have people who don’t go above and beyond.”
Renter says his store manager, Mike Burkowitz, acts like an owner. Burkowitz is responsible for putting together and running the company’s incentive program. “He actually came to me and said, ‘We need to have some sort of incentive or reason for people to buy every week when they come to our store,’ ” Renter says. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s a lifer.”