Pool and spa professionals seeking a new source of revenue might
want to consider following in the footsteps of Jan Sotelo, owner of
Modern Design and Build in Austin, Texas.
After constructing more than 150 pools over the course of 11 years,
he and his wife, Keli, opened Modern Pools and Spas four months ago
as an exclusive dealer of Marquis Spas and Master Spas’
Michael Phelps Signature Swim Spas.
Taken alone, this business move isn’t that unusual. Though he
never stocked an inventory, he’s been working with hot tubs
on a limited basis since 2000.
His strategic decision to open a stylish showroom this July in an
exclusive, busy shopping mall, however, is a different story
“With the recent economy, we were looking for a new revenue
stream. We wanted to fill in the gap and offer things at a
different price point, so we decided to take on spa sales and do it
in a big way,” Sotelo says. “Very few people know about
swim spas, so we went to the highest end retail location to
The 7,200-square-foot showroom at The Domain in Austin sits between
a Victoria’s Secret and Sur La Table, where a calm
environment beckons shoppers away from the bustle of the mall. The
clean lines, sleek lighting and open floor plan offer an appealing
backdrop for the 15 models carefully placed throughout the floor.
Serious buyers who don’t feel comfortable testing one
of the four wet models in public can easily head over to his
4,200-square-foot warehouse a mile down the road to try out a unit
Some experts suggest a spa’s features are what sell the
product. While this may be partly true, Sotelo believes having an
inviting place to display them is more effective, especially when
catering to a sophisticated customer.
“I have been in the Austin market for a while. What sells
product [here] is how it looks,” he says. “Your
high-end buyer is not going to go to a warehouse facility. In order
to reach the high-end clientele that is willing to pay [for the
product], we put it in a different setting than what they are used
He bases this philosophy on his personal experiences as a designer,
as well as his trips to industry trade shows, where manufacturers
typically set up elaborate displays using everything from pergolas
to palm trees in hopes of enticing dealers into buying 10 or 20
units. “The manufacturers put a lot of money into showing
their product. You go to the dealer and it’s not the same
setting. We feel like it works the same way with consumers,”
he explains. “It’s the same philosophy. Why not take it
to the next level?”
Many shoppers are drawn to his showroom’s serene ambiance.
Others stop in to look at the enlarged photographs of
Sotelo’s pool projects lining the walls, much like in an art
gallery. Either way, one thing’s for certain: The plan is
While most dealers agree that today’s shopper has previously
owned a spa, the award-winning designer has effectively reached
nearly all first-time buyers. So far, he and his staff of two are
selling an average of three Marquis models and one swim spa per
week. Originally the showroom was meant to be a temporary location
to launch his new business, but he has had such a positive response
and consistent sales that he is considering staying through the
holidays and possibly into next year.
Sotelo also attributes his instant success to the average $100,000
price tag of his pool projects, claiming this actually has
validated his authority to sell spas. Knowing that he usually
produces a much more expensive product, he says, makes customers
feel more confident in their spa purchases.
Although a slowdown in pool builds prompted Sotelo to turn to spa
sales, opening the showroom may actually boost his firm. He has yet
to seal any deals, but he has landed at least one new lead per week
since the grand opening, and uses the heavy traffic area to reach
homeowners who otherwise may have never heard of Modern Design and
Manufacturers are expressing approval of Sotelo’s concept
store as well. He says several spa makers have visited the space
and voiced enthusiasm for his unique approach. Granted, the
interior walls, floors and colors of the room already existed, but
it lent perfectly to the mood Sotelo was hoping to capture. The
permanent features also made designing the space slightly more cost
Sotelo admits opening a retail store in a mall can be an expensive
method of boosting business. Not only did he hire a commercial real
estate broker, he also is paying some of the highest rent in
Austin, which includes a percentage of his overall sales, as
written in the lease. Luckily, however, he has a design background
that helped him create a stellar space. If someone is interested in
opening a showroom in a mall or redesigning an existing one, he
suggests investing in the right help.
“I recommend that they get with a designer,” he says.
“There is an expense with that, and in the short term it
might not pay off, but in the long term it will.”