Stivers overcome unlucky timing to build their small business dream
It was the worst possible timing. The absolute worst. After dreaming for years, being encouraged by fellow Marquis dealers and finally persuading his wife Melissa to buy into the plan, Donny Stiver moved his family from California to Colorado and was ready to open his own hot tub business.
The date? March 2020.
“Donny’s the risk-taker in the relationship,” Melissa says. “Donny and I have been together since we were 15, and since the day I met him, he wanted to work for himself. He just didn’t know in what capacity.”
The Stivers sold everything and left their friends and family behind with the hopes of changing their family’s life. In California, Donny managed the backyard department for a large appliance retailer, which included selling hot tubs. In addition, he worked another full-time job and managed his own hot tub maintenance route so Melissa could stay home with their two young boys. It was a sacrifice the couple was willing to make, but the reality was they barely got to see Donny. Business ownership was hopefully a path to provide financially for them and allow for more family time.
They looked all over the country — where could they find an open Marquis territory in an area that fit their lifestyle with the added benefit of a few friends who already lived there? The answer was Colorado Springs, Colorado.
All things considered, the plan was going relatively smoothly. The couple would work in the business together, both manning the showroom. Donny would handle deliveries and maintenance while Melissa was in charge of bookkeeping. They found a great deal on a store location that was much bigger than they thought they could afford. The bigger space allowed them to set up dedicated play areas for their boys, who often join them at the store. They got the improvements made, hot tubs delivered, were ready to open, and then …
“The week we moved here, Donny got hit by an uninsured motorist,” Melissa says. “And then two weeks after that, the country shut down and the city said you can’t open your business. Two weeks after that, our dog died. And probably a month after that, we got our oldest into therapy because his anxiety spiked from the move, so we had a six-year-old who was having panic attacks.”
It was a lot. “It felt like everything fell apart,” Melissa says. “And I was like, ‘We’ve made the wrong decision.’ ”
But like it or not, the decision was made, and the Stivers had to make it work. In May, they were allowed to finally open their doors, and like the rest of the industry, got a deluge of sales.
“It was retail ownership by fire,” Donny says. “We both grew a lot personally and in our business mindset.”
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Donny admittedly doesn’t like asking people for help, but reaching out to business mentors and fellow Marquis dealers during this period was crucial. “At the end of the day, none of us had ever been through anything like this,” Donny says. “There was an aspect that we’re all learning; we’re all pivoting. They were all really, really encouraging.”
Now that the Stivers have a few tumultuous years of business ownership under their belt, the pace has gotten more manageable. And Melissa is beginning to understand why Donny loves selling hot tubs.
“You don’t think that being in the hot tub industry, you’re going to be involved in these intimate choices and decisions in a family’s life, but that really is what happens,” she says. “The business is just a vehicle. We talk a lot about how our store can impact the community around us.”
Donny assumed he would end up in law enforcement like many in his family. But the hot tub industry has provided another way for him to help the community. “When I stumbled into the hot tub industry, I discovered this ability to help people,” he says. “I love hearing the stories of rehabilitation.”
The Stivers have also discovered they not only work well as couple but also as business partners. “We communicate a lot about not just life but the business,” Melissa says. “If we weren’t talking constantly, it would kind of fall apart.”
Though Melissa claims to be the worrywart in the relationship, Donny says it’s much more of a balance.
“We’re such a good team in business,” Donny says. “There are times where I get worried or flustered. Melissa is there to bring me back to center.”
They both look forward to the day they can have an employee to help out, so when they get pulled in two different directions it doesn’t mean a temporary “closed” sign on the door.
“Coming into this right in front of the pandemic, do I suggest it? No,” Donny says. “Do I ever wanna do it again? No. But as difficult as it was, I think it was beneficial for us in learning this small business ownership.”