When Donny Stiver told his wife, Melissa, that he wanted to open a hot tub store, she had reservations. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in her husband, whom she’d been with since high school. He’d always wanted his own business, she says, and was a fervent learner and researcher.
“My doubt was really in myself,” Melissa says, adding that she wasn’t sure how she could effectively contribute to the business. “Which is why it took me years to come around to the idea.”
Donny’s career started about 10 years ago, working in the appliance department for Idler’s Home in Paso Robles, California. Eventually he was asked to oversee the revamp of the outdoor department, which was his first exposure to the spa industry.
“Through the first couple years, I found this huge passion for helping people,” Donny says. His drive caught the attention of Marquis representatives, who started to put a bug in Donny’s ear about opening his own showroom.
Melissa was eventually all in. “I decided we could either try this, it might work and we could give our kids a different kind of life,” she says. “Or if it doesn’t work, we can go back to what we were doing. I just got to the point where I was willing to take the risk.”
Donny says the couple didn’t know exactly what it would look like to open their own showroom, or where they’d land. They looked at relocating to Texas, Arizona, Tennessee and Idaho — but kept circling back to Colorado Springs.
For a year, Marquis held the Colorado Springs territory for the Stivers while they prepared for the move. They used the equity from the sale of their house to start their new adventure. In January 2020, the Stivers secured a commercial building for the store and a residential rental. The first week of March, they uprooted their family — their boys were 2 and 5 at the time — and settled into their new city. Two weeks later, the whole country shut down and the plans they had for getting their showroom ready were at a complete standstill.
“It was hair-raising,” Donny says of the struggle to open. Stiver’s Backyard & Leisure was finally ready for customers on May 5, 2020. “Then it was like the flood gates just opened,” Donny says of the rush of customers they immediately experienced.
In addition to a pandemic, many other challenges came their way. Their dog died a month after moving. Melissa had kidney stones, requiring surgery twice within the last year. Their eldest son was having major anxiety due to the move, and they didn’t know anyone in the area. There were many times they had to close for a day (or several) to deal with all that life had thrown their way.
Despite demand for hot tubs that helped their new business succeed, sales still fluctuated, and the couple admits they’ve heavily leaned on funds from the sale of their California home. “What seeded our business here has allowed us to literally not pay ourselves for 18 months,” Donny says. “We’re just living off our savings and reinvesting in our business to make it fully sustainable. And the Lord has blessed us every single step of the way.”
One such blessing, Melissa says, is the clientele, who understand Stiver’s is a small, family-owned business and give the couple a lot of grace — especially when their now 3-year-old is riding around the showroom on his tricycle chasing their new puppy every day the doors are open. A large back room in the store has a trampoline, play equipment and even a bed for napping.
“Our customers have been really great about it, because [our son] has fits or just zips around the displays and hot tubs,” she says. “He’s often on my lap while I’m talking to customers.”
Mentors and friends back home have also helped them succeed from a distance. A bookkeeper friend came for a weekend to teach Melissa how to do accounting, and Donny has business mentors from his previous job. Further, the right customers have walked in the door at the perfect time, such as a CPA; a lawyer to help with contract wording; a counselor for their son; and a quality electrician. “It’s incredible the people that God continues to drop in our laps,” Donny says, “not only as clients, but as resources.”
Despite the challenges so far, the Stivers are confident this is where they’re supposed to be, and admit they are much happier than when Donny had to work two full-time jobs back in California.
“It was probably good that we were a little blind about all that was ahead,” Melissa says, “because we just rolled with the punches and kept going.”
“I never thought being this stressed out would be so much fun,” Donny adds.
Photography by Daniel Regalado