Dave Cintorino has experienced more than his share of peaks and valleys.
In mid-2009, less than a year after launching a $30,000 rebranding effort that included a name change and the addition of a third showroom, the owner of Home Escapes all but shuttered his 23-year-old hot tub and backyard supply company based in Vienna, Va.
“We were a victim of the business just not being there,” Cintorino said. “I had to shed debt by closing my doors and shrinking the company.”
Though traditionally affluent, Northern Virginia in late 2008 saw its jobless rate jump nearly 50 percent over the previous year, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. And local home prices took a nose-dive, bottoming out around early 2009.
In response, Cintorino reduced his staff from 25 to five employees, and trimmed his business down to where it consisted of little more than selling replacement parts and offering service from his home.
But the intention was always to open another store, he said. And before the end of 2009, Cintorino had already identified a suitable new location in Reston, Va. So he, his wife Nancy and a longtime friend made the investment, and in January 2010, Cintorino opened a new, 4,000-square-foot storefront.
He also made key decisions early on that helped carry the business through tough times.
Those moves included warehousing less inventory and lowering the cost of freight by consolidating orders with fewer manufacturers. In addition, he outsourced hot tub deliveries to a local firm, which meant he no longer had to carry delivery personnel on staff.
Home Escapes has seen consistent sales growth over the past 18 months, prompting Cintorino in late 2011 to double the size of his existing location.
More good news came earlier this year, when the company was among 12 retailers to be named a Customer Satisfaction Sales Award winner by Caldera Spas, with whom Cintorino has done business since the late 1980s.
“I look at it as more of a reset than anything else,” he said. “I was just so focused on helping people and being honest about what I went through. I think they understood that.”
The experience also has changed Cintorino’s role in the business from general management to selling products on the showroom floor — a job that first drew him to the trade back in 1986. That, combined with continued support from suppliers and consumers, has put Home Escapes back on track.
“Our customers were very enthusiastic that I stuck around,” he said. “Other dealers had gone out of business and left scorched earth behind them. My intent all along was to figure out how I could help the customers and make it as much of a soft landing as possible.”
According to area retailers, a number of Mid-Atlantic spa dealers either contracted their operations or left the industry altogether when the current recession took hold.
It may not have mirrored the dramatic plunges of the Las Vegas or Phoenix markets, but Northern Virginia did see home prices dip, particularly among the higher- and lower-income demographics, said Robert Seh, president/owner of BJ Pool & Spa in Fairfax Station, Va.
Still, despite its fluctuations, there is a general sense of optimism for the region: “Sales dropped in hot tubs, yes, but what we lost in sales we made up for in service,” Seh said. “I know the buyers are still here, and those who maintain them are still here. So we’re not selling the tubs like we used to, but … the market is getting better.”