Illinois pool company expands to hot tub sales under second-generation owners
Brooke Rossi’s father, Mike DesRochers, owned a concrete construction company, building driveways, sidewalks and home foundations. In the early 1980s, he built a pool in the family’s backyard and Rossi’s mother, Michele DesRochers, started looking into chemicals to care for the water. Because the family lived in a small Illinois town, Michele would endure a long drive to the closest supply store and buy chemicals by the case so she didn’t have to return as often.
“And then other people in our town who had pools started to ask her if they could buy a bottle of whatever [she had on hand],” Rossi says. “So she started selling chemicals out of the garage.”
The family owned storage units as a separate investment, and Mike turned a corner unit into the first retail location of DesRochers Backyard Pools in Wilmington, Illinois, in 1982. “My mom asked my dad if she sold a pool if he would build it,” Rossi says. “He agreed, probably thinking she would never do that, but she did.” From there the company grew, with a second location in Morris, Illinois, in 1989 and a third in Shorewood, Illinois, in 1999. The Wilmington location was in the storage facility until 2001, when the current retail location was purchased in an industrial park.
Rossi and her three brothers grew up in the business. After graduating from Illinois State University in 2005 with a degree in kinesiology, Rossi joined the company full time as retail operations manager. Her intention was to work there while she pursued a degree in physical therapy, “but I never left,” Rossi says. “I decided to make a career out of it.”
Rossi says one of the best things her mother did while teaching her about the business was take her to visit other retailers. “I learned how to set up a company differently than what she was doing,” Rossi says. “Because at that point, it was just my mom and dad running the company and we were going to come in and take a different role, wanting to grow the business. So, we learned from other [retailers]. They opened up their books, opened up all their information to us and I learned a lot. That was that first year and I decided to stay. [My mom] wanted to make sure I wanted to do this.”
In 2016, her parents retired and Rossi and one of her brothers, Brian DesRochers, purchased DesRochers Backyard Pools & Spas. Overall, it’s been a five-year transition, with their parents somewhat involved the first two years while Rossi and DesRochers learned the ropes. Their parents have almost completely transitioned out now.
Rossi says that among the challenges, the biggest thus far has been the initial transition, specifically building trust with customers after their parents ran the business for 35 years.
“Winning over the customers again was something we had to overcome — that we were going to treat them the same way our parents did, but it might be different policies and procedures,” Rossi says.
Bringing in Hot Tubs
Mallory Bjekich-Wachowski joined the company in 2006 as a sales associate, working her way up to manager of one and then two of the retail stores. When Rossi and DesRochers purchased the company, Bjekich-Wachowski was promoted to retail operations manager. In 2018, Bjekich-Wachowski guided the company into fully embracing hot tub sales.
“Previous to that, we weren’t selling very many,” Bjekich-Wachowski says. “One of my hot tub reps came to me and said, ‘Are you in or are you out?’ and I decided that I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. That year, I launched a social media marketing campaign just to see what would happen. And I sold our entire hot tub inventory in a week, which was a record for us.”
Before 2018, Bjekich-Wachowski says the mindset of DesRochers was that they were a pool company, and hot tub sales were just a bonus. “We would celebrate and get excited with each and every hot tub sale, that’s how few we were selling,” she recalls. “We weren’t really doing the right things to make it happen [regularly]. I had been going to trainings and realized, ‘I can do this!’ The DesRochers have always been so supportive of the things that I jump into headfirst, and they went all in.”
Bjekich-Wachowski put in place a strategic plan and trained with her Watkins sales rep, Scott Iverson, who she says believed in her and pushed her to succeed. The initial goal was to start ordering a truckload of hot tubs at a time by the end of 2018. She did it within a week.
Expanding into the hot tub industry wouldn’t have been successful without Rossi and DesRochers’ support, Bjekich-Wachowski says. “They are truly one of kind,” she says. “They’re willing to do anything our team is interested in doing, as long as they have a plan. They literally celebrated with me [about hot tub sales] and believed it would be awesome. They’ve been like that my entire career. And it’s one of the main reasons I don’t ever anticipate leaving, because if I want to try something, as long as I have a reason behind it, they trust me.”
When the state of Illinois shut down on March 21, Bjekich-Wachowski says she was so busy following up on leads that she barely slept that week. On March 2, new retail managers started at all three DesRochers locations. “If you can imagine, I was in survival mode,” she says. “But the staff was exceptional, and I don’t know that I could have worked through a pandemic with anyone else.”
That’s also why, Bjekich-Wachowski says, she and Rossi were grateful they didn’t have a ton of inventory, fearing it might be too much for the new staff to handle. “We’re still growing, still building our teams,” Bjekich-Wachowski says. “We are still relatively new to selling tubs in a bigger volume. If we had 25 deliveries in a week because two truckloads showed up, that would be a lot for our staff.”
In the beginning, upper management came together and decided they would not jump into selling anything new. “We always want to grow, but we want maintainable growth,” Rossi says. “We also think hard and plan before we bring in new products or large amounts of inventory. Having one good year isn’t worth it in the long run if you can’t maintain it or maintain your reputation. We work very hard to have exceptional service, and if we are selling items we aren’t experienced with, it could turn into a breakdown in the quality of service we deliver. We are very much quality over quantity.”
The team also decided against promoting the staycation. “We didn’t want to be like ‘Get your hot tub because it’s safe to be in water,’ ” Rossi says. “We didn’t feel like it was right to try and sell more stuff based upon people’s fears of the pandemic.” Instead, DesRochers maintained the same promotional language the company had before the pandemic.
Growing in Retail
Rossi would like to see hot tub sales continue to grow, specifically through the continued development of a sales team that is successful without Bjekich-Wachowski’s continued direct involvement. And while an additional retail location isn’t currently in the works, Rossi says she’s hopeful the company can expand eventually.
Rossi says she and DesRochers’ kids are young, so it’s too early to tell if they’ll go into the family business. “It would be up to them, but if my brother’s kids or my kids wanted to get into the business [that would be good],” she says. “I think the industry’s promising and has a lot of potential.”