Hot tub dealer creates his own competition with a second retail location and separate hot tub brands
By Michelle L. Cramer
Photography by Samson Madsen and Nathan Lopez
Though David Isaacs grew up in the spa business, as an adult he didn’t intend to remain involved. But when Isaacs was away at college, his father — owner of Isaacs Pools & Spas, then in Elizabethton, Tennessee, — died unexpectedly. David’s brothers took control of the business their father founded with his dad in 1978, but when David Isaacs returned home in 2004, the business “was a real mess,” he says and, through “a convoluted series of events,” Isaacs and his mother owned the business 50/50 by 2008. She retired in 2016 and Isaacs became sole owner of Isaacs Pools & Spas.
The company moved to its current location in Johnson City in 2011, the year Isaacs says he realized it was more than a pool company; it was a retail store, too. Up to that point, the company was selling Coleman rotomold hot tubs through Poolcorp on an as-needed basis for pool build projects. But Isaacs thought the retail location required something more, so in 2012 he brought Caldera to the floor and Bullfrog Spas in 2013.
“Over the years, I have been getting more and more immersed in the experiential retail side of things,” Isaacs says. “And it kind of got me on this thought about Bullfrog — that nobody has done more in my mind to help customers have an immersive experience in a retail environment.”
Isaacs felt, in order to fully showcase what each spa brand had to offer, they had to be separated, so they weren’t competing on the same showroom floor. So, in September 2018, Isaacs opened a separate retail location and business entity called Bullfrog Spas of Tri-Cities, with the expressed purpose of showcasing only one hot tub brand in each location and, therefore, creating his own competition.
Isaacs’ new Bullfrog store is decked out with a cutaway hot tub that customers can sit in, while virtual-reality goggles offer a trial run without getting wet. Isaacs says customers love Bullfrog’s touch-screen kiosk, and spend a long time scrolling through all of the design options available for customizing a Bullfrog hot tub. Isaacs is also amazed how much time customers spend with the Bullfrog design wall, changing JetPaks and colors to get a spa just the way they want it.
While Isaacs says there are many great hot tub brands, he has yet to see a manufacturer create the experience Bullfrog offers, which is his motivation for creating an exclusively Bullfrog retail store.
“This is the process of taking ownership,” Isaacs says. “The virtual reality, the touch-screen kiosk and the design wall are some of the most interactive stuff you can see in a hot tub store. That was worth investing in and creating my own competition with another immersive experience.”
Bullfrog Spas of Tri-Cities has a 100% close rate when customers do a test soak, Isaacs says. “We interact with them, bringing all the JetPaks in and getting them to sit in different seats,” he says. “By the time they’re finished, they have put the jets and seats the way they want and have created their own hot tub.”
Isaacs expected competition between sales staff at both of his retail stores, but the chemical sales staff surprised him. “They got more competitive over the sale of chemicals than my spa people did over the sale of spas,” Isaacs says. When Isaacs moved a couple of employees from Isaacs Pools to the new Tri-Cities location, it created concern with some employees remaining at Isaacs that sales would be lost, especially to each other. Though competition is what Isaacs says he wanted, he had to address the fact that some employees were taking it personally.
“I [reminded the staff] that this is a team effort, and that the Bullfrog store would be earning its own customers,” Isaacs says. “I encouraged [them] to focus on our customers and growing our business rather than focusing on how much business the new store might take away — to think about ways we can create a better experience for customers at Isaacs. The idea is to use this as motivation to become better managers, better sales consultants, and hopefully, as a result, become better companies. For us, the internal competition is forcing all of us to be at the top of our game.”
Mark Halvorsen, branch manager for Tri-Cities, says Isaacs and Tri-Cities share the same database on the back end of sales, allowing both locations to see the other stores’ chemical sales, which increases motivation to outsell one another.
For hot tub sales, staff at each location send the other a video touting sales made at the end of the day. “We tag each other in our videos,” Halvorsen says. “Over here [at Tri-Cities], it’s a ‘Whoop Whoop Sale’ and over there it’s a ‘Kaplowee Sale.’ Whenever we make a sale, that video is almost as exciting as selling it.”
Halvorsen says one of his favorite things about working for Tri-Cities is the familial relationship among employees, even with those at Isaacs Pools & Spas, despite the internal competition. “It’s a family atmosphere — everybody likes each other,” Halvorsen says. “And even though it’s a family-oriented company, it’s still a business and we operate like a business.”
When contemplating the Tri-Cities store, Isaacs talked to other retailers, most of whom told him that committing to a single brand will lead to a better-performing store. “It’s a great idea to give consumers choice,” Isaacs says, “but to [also] be the guy that owns both companies.”
There are five major hot tub dealers in a 45-mile radius of Johnson City. When sales staff at Isaacs and Tri-Cities ask which competing stores its customers have visited, most say they’ve gone to all five before making a decision, Halvorsen says. In creating his own competition, however, Halvorsen says that Isaacs is cornering much of the local market by having two of those five locations.
“Owning different brands opens the funnel to more consumers by giving them unique experiences and differentiating products,” Halvorsen says. “You have to remove yourself from the brand loyalty a bit and think about how you’re creating unique experiences with unique tubs that have all unique selling features — no matter what brand you’re putting in each store.”
While Isaacs says he won’t have a fully accurate assessment of how Tri-Cities is doing until its anniversary this September, he has operations in place for it to be successful. In addition to the two retail locations, delivery, installation and service operations are a third, separate entity for Isaacs, and he’s seen good results so far: “It’s off to a great start,” he says, “pretty much taking care of itself.”