“Retail Raves” asks one retailer to specify a product that’s making a difference in his or her business. All professionals featured in this column are selected at random.

In 1978, my wife Sandy and I started a business to sell nothing but water beds. But that didn’t last long.

After visiting a store in Omaha, Neb., that carried trampolines, pinball machines and other family entertainment items, we realized we could do a lot more with our shop.

A year later, we expanded our flagship store in Sioux Falls, S.D., to include products for the recreation room, particularly pool tables.

In the early ’80s we took on hot tubs, and soon after began selling patio furniture, billiards and aboveground pools.

Thirty-two years and countless new product lines later, we have grown to four locations and carry everything from shuffle board and outdoor kitchens to fireplaces and gaming accessories.

Diversify to survive

Next to family, diversification is the backbone of Splash City. Although we haven’t had the 20 percent increases we’ve experienced in years past, overall, things are steady. We attribute this to our growing and changing lines of products. We’ve found that by offering a variety we can maintain sales, so that if one line doesn’t sell, another will.

For example, foosball was hot for a little while, and now Ping-Pong is popular. Shuffle board was slow, but it’s coming back. The key is to know what people want, and make sure you are carrying what’s popular. If I were just selling pools or just selling billiards, I probably would have been out of business years ago. You need variety to attract foot traffic.

Five years ago, a fellow dealer at a Brunswick Billiards advisory board meeting suggested I carry bar stools, and I thought they would be a good addition. Today they are probably our best-selling item.

Tempo Industries and Lawrenceville are two of the most popular manufacturers we carry, and are available in prices ranging from $129 to $800 apiece, with most sales falling in the $250 range. Customers love the variety of bar stool options available. The stools are practically custom-made because the shopper selects the type of frame, color, finish, height, swivel and fabric. And it only takes four weeks to get the stools built to their specifications.

We don’t stock any stools in the store because there are so many options, but we do have a vibrant wall display to showcase the different possibilities. This has allowed us to feature several models without taking away valuable floor space from our spas and other large items.

‘Beat you again, gramps!’

In our market area, it’s not very expensive to do television spots, so we run one daily on major networks during popular primetime shows. We’ve tried several approaches, but the most successful has been commercials featuring our family members.

After all, it is a family-run business with family-themed products, and Splash City is an expression of our family. My wife is in charge of paying the bills and keeping the books. Our daughter Kelli is the head of our service department. And our son-in-law even works in the shop.

In one commercial, I’m playing pool with my grandkids, and my eight-year-old grandson exclaims, ‘Beat you again, gramps.’ In another, he’s sitting in a hot tub saying ‘Ooh that feels so good!’ That attracts more attention than having a bathing beauty or a girl sitting in the hot tub. It shows that it is something the whole family can enjoy. If I go to the grocery store, people comment about how refreshing it is to see the kids in the commercials — though many ask me when I’ll let my granddaughter beat me at pool!