It’s no secret that this economy has been devastating for the spa industry. An astonishing number of dealers have gone out of business, and many of those that remain are barely hanging on to solvency.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard a lot of industry members say this has become a sort of proving ground, where only the very best businesspeople will survive. I don’t entirely agree with that theory because location, spa brand and even dumb luck all can play a huge role in a dealer’s viability in the market.

But when looking at who has closed shop vs. who is still in the game, an overall pattern does emerge.

My mom was recently in from out of town, and we decided to visit a spa dealer in a suburb of Los Angeles. As we approached the entrance, I noticed a man standing near the doorway talking on a cell phone. He had on baggy shorts and a baseball hat, and was deeply immersed in a loud, laughing conversation. I wondered if he was a customer.

The store was due to close in a few minutes, and the man behind the counter was helping someone else. My mom and I wandered around a little, and I wondered if we should come back another day. Then the guy from outside walked up to us. “Do you need help?” he asked.

I looked at him dubiously. Did he work here? “That would be great,” I said. “Can you tell me about these spas?”

The man shook his head. “I’m sorry, I’m not the person you need to talk to. I’m a service tech and I was just leaving for the day, but I noticed you standing here. Let me get someone who can help you.” He walked up to the employee behind the counter, who had just finished with the other customers. “These ladies need help,” he said, and didn’t leave until he was sure the salesman was working with us.

The sales rep really knew his product. He immediately sized up who he was dealing with — a middle-aged woman and her elderly mother — and launched into the health benefits of owning a spa. He talked about research as well as his own experiences.

When I brought up energy costs, the man’s reply was extremely detailed, but also interesting and not overly technical. I then asked about the particular brand of spa that the store carried, and he discussed why it was an excellent product, yet never bad-mouthed the competition. The sheer depth of his knowledge base combined with a natural enthusiasm gave me a real sense of confidence in the business.

I walked out of there thinking that the store owner had a gift for hiring and training staff.

My mother walked out ready to buy a gazebo. And she lives in an apartment. In New York.