Pennsylvania spa dealer navigates business less than 100 miles from New York
Montgomery County in Pennsylvania was the first in the state to see presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, Dan Henry, owner of East Coast Spas in Horsham, Pennsylvania, recalls. On March 7, those first two cases were announced. Two more followed the next day and county commissioners signed a Declaration of Disaster Emergency.
The coming weeks, Henry says, were a blur of following gubernatorial mandates for the five states that East Coast Spas serves: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and northern Delaware.
“It took a lot of scrambling just to figure out what the various governors’ orders meant to us, to our customers and to our employees, trying to figure out how to proceed,” Henry says. “I know a lot of dealers are making the argument for staying open because we sell chemicals and that’s an essential business. But I closed my storefront as soon as the Pennsylvania governor made the order [March 20].”
The company has 14 employees and Henry says he’s doing everything he can to keep them all working, whether it’s from home for office staff or out in the field for repairs and deliveries. East Coast Spas is still selling products over the phone, even hot tubs and swim spas. Most chemical and product orders are being shipped from the store, where at least one person goes in each day to respond to emails, return phone messages and process orders.
Phone lines have a dedicated message informing customers the showroom is closed, and directing them to numbers for the service and sales departments. Advertising has been scaled back for the time being and, instead, East Coast Spas is following up with people. “We’re seeing an uptick in interest in product — chemicals, hot tubs and swim spas — even though we’re not physically open,” Henry says. “That’s been encouraging.”
Because the coverage area for the company is broad, so far there hasn’t been a shortage of work for Henry’s employees out in the field. “They have disinfecting wipes and the same crew member using the same truck every day, leaving from home [not the store],” Henry says. “We’re doing all the paperwork and payments electronically. Not working on hot tubs in people’s homes, only outside, so there’s not a lot of interaction. I tell them to pack a lunch, don’t go get a sandwich somewhere — that’s riskier than anything they’re doing in the field for us.”
As of March 31, only one employee didn’t feel well and took the recommended 14 days off to stay home, just in case; Henry paid him. “He’s doing the right thing,” Henry says. “I don’t want people to be hiding that they have a fever or something [because they need the work].”
Being only an hour and a half from New York City, the country’s epicenter for the virus, East Coast Spas has temporarily suspended providing service in New York state and will continue to take things day-by-day. “As long as I’m able to make sales and deliver, I have a business,” he says, adding that, if either of those things go away, he’ll look into the aid the Small Business Association is offering to help with payroll. “But I don’t want to jump into that prematurely.”
In the meantime, Henry says he’s hopeful and is working to encourage his staff. “It seems like we’re having conversations a couple of times a week about how to do it and different procedures,” he says. “I tell them we have a phenomenal pipeline of product that, when it’s sold, we need to deliver. That will keep our cash flow going for quite a while. And as long as we’re able to do that, we should continue to. We’ll get through this.”
For spa retailers in areas that haven’t been hit as hard yet by the spread of COVID-19, Henry makes two recommendations for the days ahead: don’t forget about your customers and to talk to your employees a lot so that you’re on the same page.
“We’re keeping an open mind,” Henry says. “Everything’s subject to change. I think that’s just how it’s going to be for a while.”