Jim Riggs (left) and his brother, Matt, call the plays at Hot Springs Pools and Spas.
PHOTO: Hot Springs Pools and Spas Jim Riggs (left) and his brother, Matt, call the plays at Hot Springs Pools and Spas.

When Boomer Esiason has trouble with one of his hot tubs, the ex-Cincinnati Bengals quarterback calls on his old roommate Jim Riggs for a quick refresher.

Riggs, the general manager of Hot Springs Pools & Spas in Greenville, S.C., was a tight end with the Bengals from 1987 to 1992, but retired a few years later when his wife became pregnant with triplets. Still, his association with football, and the lessons he picked up on the gridiron, are evident in his current profession.

For instance, Riggs’ company recently built an inground pool for his former coach Sam Wyche, who took the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1989. And a number of his past teammates, as well as the team’s head trainer, regularly buy chemicals, covers and filters from the store, which drop-ships orders to the Bengals’ office.

“I’ve got hot tubs that I sold in the early ’90s in Cincinnati, and these knuckleheads still have them,” Riggs says, “and they call here wanting new heaters for them. I say, ‘Buy a new one!” but they don’t.”

He may have a tough time convincing retired ballplayers to upgrade their tubs, but Riggs, along with his brother Matt, have built a profitable business nonetheless.

Matt Riggs, who himself played college football at Clemson University (S.C.), founded Hot Springs Pools & Spas in 1989; he had been inspired by the therapeutic benefits of hot tubs after their father used one to treat a circulation problem associated with diabetes.

The business would enjoy sustained growth over the next 16 years, during which time the Greenville store relocated to its current 25,000-square-foot showroom. The brothers opened a second store, in Asheville, N.C., in 1996.

Today, the company is fully diversified, offering a full line of hot tubs by Watkins, as well as gunite and vinyl-liner pools, service and renovations, and backyard amenities such as fireplaces and kitchens.

The company’s success, Riggs says, can be traced to the brothers’ backgrounds. They’ve developed a staff, or team, of more than 60 members, many of them with 10 years or more of service. And there’s very little turnover. Health insurance and a 401(k) are among the benefits of employment, and a base salary plus other perks help spur collaboration in sales and unity among the employees.

To promote healthy competition, Riggs introduced store-vs.-store monthly sales incentives, such as iPads or monetary bonuses, for whichever location sells the most of a particular product. The result is a sales force that  works well together and isn’t focused on overselling one model. 

“We work as a team and pay attention to key words that the customers give [us] in order to try and close the deal,” he says. “The game is ever changing, and each customer is totally different, so you have to game plan [for that]. We have to adjust on the go.”

That’s not to say Riggs and his team haven’t dropped the ball on a few occasions, including a time when they missed sales opportunities for a hot tub saltwater sanitization system.

But as it would for any good student of the game, the experience taught Riggs to remain active in his dealer network by communicating regularly with his manufacturers. He also better familiarizes himself with products now by testing them himself, which helps him avoid becoming “lackadaisical.”

“It’s easy to get so comfortable that you are not showing people cutting-edge stuff. I see it all the time in our stores,” he says. “It’s hard trying to teach an old dog a new trick. It’s almost like you’re upset because they sold [too much of one] hot tub, but you’re not. You just want to be diversified because, in this day and age, the manufacturer wants to see every line doing well. … They are looking at those numbers, too.”

In fact, this versatility has proven effective even through the current economy. When Riggs noticed sales of his higher-priced spas were lagging, he added price-point models to his lineup. They quickly became top sellers during the recession.

Despite a dip last year, December was still the second best month in company history, Riggs says, adding that 2012 has started strong in spa sales and new-pool construction.

What’s more, the brothers are familiar faces in the community. Both are full-time coaches for the JL Mann Academy high school team in Greenville. Jim’s sons, incidentally, are on the squad, and already have garnered attention from multiple colleges, including Clemson, Penn State and Vanderbilt University.

Riggs’ visibility has helped boost sales of hot tubs and pools to parents, but it’s also allowed him to offer his neighbors a healthier lifestyle. And that, he says, has always been the basis of Hot Springs’ business model.“We really sell the therapeutic value,” he adds. “We sell it because we believe in it.”