When your last name is in the title of a business you didn’t create, a lot of assumptions can be made about your upbringing. For Jeff Bassemier, who currently serves as president of Bassemier’s Fireplace Patio & Spa, a business founded by his father, John, such assumptions can be frustrating.
“We didn’t get anything handed to us growing up,” explains Bassemier, who took over operations of the Evansville, Indiana-based business in 2018. “Our first car was handed to us thanks to money that [Dad’s] mother had left us when she passed on, but I had to work for insurance, and I had to work for gas.”
Bassemier recalls purchasing a gumball machine as a child, with help from a loan his father had given him — with the stipulation that he pay his father back with 75% of the profits made from that gumball machine, until the loan was completely paid off.
“He would keep a ledger entry for it and he held me to it,” Bassemier says. “He would judge me and say, ‘Those gumballs are your inventory and it is getting low.’ He was teaching me business through a gumball machine.”
With his father now retired, save for a board position, and his mother, Diane Bassemier, working three days a week from home, Jeff and his brother James Bassemier — who serves as the company’s vice-president — have had to apply all those lessons in operating a retail business. The business began in 1968, and equal partners Jeff and James understand the consequences of mistakes. They know that failing to keep track of inventory, or pay back a loan, could impact not just the 48 employees dependent on the business for survival, but a legacy that the sons may pass onto their own children one day.
Fortunately, Bassemier’s management team is made up of people Bassemier can trust, which has been a large part of his leadership style. Upon taking over, Bassemier says he wanted to clearly define roles for his managers. “The first thing we did was teach them to manage,” he explains. “I gave them their parameters and gave them guardrails.”
That trust may have something to do with the general positivity among his staff. According to purchasing manager Gary Leach, many of the employees have remained with the company for decades, some as long as 40 years. “They treat the employees very well,” Leach says.
Bassemier recently added a new showroom location, purchasing a 10,000-square-foot building. Unlike many retailers, he didn’t have to go far to find the building, as it was located directly across from the original 9,500-square-foot building. According to Leach, the new location, which is being called Jacuzzi of Evansville, is almost regal in its appearance, perhaps owing to its former life as a church.
“It’s like nothing else you’re going to find,” Leach says. “It’s a gorgeous facility. Jeff pulled out all the stops.”
While the older location still carries patio, sunroom and fireplace products, the new showroom is more focused on grill supply, swim spas and hot tubs. According to spa specialist Kelly Ballard, at any time the room can contain up to 25 spas at once.
“One of the things starting to happen, especially since we’ve moved into the new building, is more customers actually wanting to do a wet test,” Ballard says. “Actually wanting to come in and try out spas to determine the difference and help them pick out which spa they want.”
Taking the time to scrutinize and test the product before making a purchase is one huge difference Ballard says he has noticed between today’s customers and those who had flooded in during the height of the pandemic. “During COVID people were pretty much just buying anything that was available, as crazy as that may sound,” Ballard says. “But I think people are getting back to shopping around and trying to figure out what it is they really want from their hot tub.”
While the pandemic was without a doubt a business driver, it also came with unique challenges that other businesses might have found overwhelming. Leach feels that one reason Bassemier’s was able to roll with the punches was because Bassemier prioritized keeping his staff safe. “The way Jeff dealt with the pandemic was incredible,” Leach says. “He took all the necessary precautions, like putting screens up around the counters, sanitation stations throughout the store. And even if people weren’t able to be here because they were sick, they got paid. Jeff took care of everybody, and we still took care of the customers.”
For Bassemier, a successful business means taking care of the people that make that business run. “Nobody ever missed a paycheck,” Bassemier says. “And I don’t say that to be boastful. I say that because, if you’re running a business and you can find a way to do that, and you run into a situation where you’ve gotta send a teammate home for 14 days? Make sure the last thing they have to worry about is where their next meal is coming from.”
In much the same way as Bassemier’s father treated his family like they were a part of his business growing up, Bassemier treats his employees as part of his family, regardless of their last name.