What does North Dakota’s oil boom mean for the spa market? Depends on who you ask.
America’s fastest-growing state (population: 700,000, an all-time high) is second only to Texas as the nation’s largest producer of crude. Unemployment is an enviable 3.1 percent — the lowest in the nation — and job creation seems to be continuing unabated.
All that combined with some teeth-shatteringly low temperatures and you’d think hot tubs would be rolling off showroom floors faster than you can say “I drink your milkshake.”
You’d be half right.
The trickledown effect from the state’s oil-rich economy is evident in industries such automotive dealerships, which are selling jacked-up pickups to 25-year-old field workers. But so far, “it’s not like a gold rush in the hot tub industry,” said Troy Derheim, owner of Tubs of Fun, a Master Spas dealer with locations in Fargo and Grand Forks.
That said, the boom did keep business steady in what was a shaky environment for sellers of bigger-ticket leisure products in other regions. “I think we’ve been able to maintain, where other parts of the country have had a huge slump,” Derheim said.
One reason for less than stellar sales is that while many people are drawn to North Dakota for the economy, these transplants are holing up in apartments or “man camps,” and don’t fit the demographic of a hot tub buyer. Working on an oil rig is tough, Derheim said, adding that, “Guys are coming and going all the time because they can’t handle it.”
Yet some newcomers have boosted spa sales. Spas Etc. in Bismarck had a banner year in 2012, due in part to oil executives buying homes there. Also, many workers split their time between the oil fields and the state’s capital in a one-week-on, one-week-off sort of arrangement.
“Everyone who has a business is doing better,” said Jerry Caulfield, president of the company.
Vince Wuebker, owner of HotSpring Spas & Pool Tables 2 in Fargo, recently opened two new locations, one in Grand Forks and another in Bismarck. But don’t assume the black-gold rush had anything to do with it.
“When I was at the [International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo] in Vegas, a couple … came up to me and said ‘Boy, you’re doing good. Must be all the oil in North Dakota.’ That drives me crazy!” said Wuebker, who estimates his sales are up 74 percent over last year. “I tell you what it is, it’s hard work. We work harder and longer, seven days a week, than anybody else.”
There’s a six-hour distance between Fargo and the state’s Bakken shale formation, so his flagship location hasn’t seen much spillover from the oil money. But as North Dakota settles into this new economic reality, he anticipates business will be even more brisk.
“Call me in three years,” Wuebker said. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”