Finding a new job was the furthest thing from Ryan Sessler’s mind when a Masco Corp. recruiter contacted him through his LinkedIn account last December. His wife had just given birth to twin girls, and that was his first priority.
“Family is really big with me, and I was concentrating on my kids,” says Sessler, who at that time was the director of North America Sales for Pentair’s RV/Marine/Industrial division.
But after a recruitment process that lasted nearly five months, the 37-year-old father of four stepped into his new role as Watkins Manufacturing’s vice president of sales and marketing — North America.
“When looking for a place where you can fit in, you need to ask yourself how all the pieces fit together,” Sessler says. “The culture and people at Watkins really give you a great perspective of what a successful business can be like.”
No stranger to success himself, Sessler attended Pepperdine University, where he received his Bachelor of Science in business administration, followed by an MBA from Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business Management.
In 1999, after a stint at the Southern California Marine Association, he joined SHURflo, a pump manufacturer serving the RV market. After the company was acquired by Pentair in 2005, Sessler moved up the ranks.
Aside from the obvious water references and discretionary-dollars market, there aren’t many similarities between the RV/Marine and hot tub industries. But Sessler is able to see the bigger picture and how the two segments relate. In fact, he joins the ranks of executives who are transitioning from other luxury-item industries into the spa business.
Embracing both the similarities and differences will help him relate to his customer base, he explains.
“From a product side, hot tubs are plumbing products. I came from the plumbing-type industry, and this is a plumbing-type product. Really, it’s just taking a high-ticket luxury item and being able to understand that industry.”
For Sessler, the focus is on educating people about the benefits of owning an upscale possession.
“There are always people looking for a boat, RV or hot tub, but we need to drive those who don’t understand the lifestyle to get them to understand the lifestyle. The products we sell are not needs, they are definitely wants. So how do we get people sold into the lifestyle of owning a hot tub?” he says.
To answer this question and fully achieve his mission, Sessler first must learn the ropes. The initial step, he says, is to get to know his customers and engage the industry as much as possible. Indeed, he believes building relationships is key, and so he makes it a priority. Though still busy settling into his new position, he’s already visited a few dealers, and plans to see many more in the days ahead.
“Concentrate on your customers and the relationships you have with [them],” Sessler says. “That should be No. 1. If you do, the rest will come along. The profitability. The success. All those successes will come along.”
Sessler says he is adjusting to his new job quite nicely, but it doesn’t come without the obvious challenges. Not surprisingly, he points to the economy as one of the greatest obstacles. “We have a serious issue with consumer confidence right now,” he notes. “People are tentative about going out and spending money. Anyone selling product right now is dealing with how to address their customers. It’s a global issue. It’s not just with hot tub customers.”
Despite these unique times, Sessler sees some advantages to selling luxury items for the home — like hot tubs — in an economy that’s in slow recovery.
As someone with experience marketing to those pursuing family fun, he recognizes that people who are ready to spend money plan to do so if it will make staying home more comfortable and enjoyable, like buying a hot tub, “especially since it’s in the backyard all the time, so they don’t have to take the family anywhere.”