- January 3, 2011
Ed and Margaret Bell had no idea what kind of adventure they were in for in 2006, when they launched a hot tub business.
The recession was about to decimate the housing market, and in turn many would-be customers would vanish. The couple leased a high-traffic location on U.S. 41 in Sarasota to lure customers, but that backfired, too. The roof of the building leaked. The landlord, also hit by the recession, failed to keep up with maintenance. And drive-by traffic was at a minimum. “Our timing was really harsh,” says Margaret Bell.
But the Bells persevered.
“We were very frugal,” Bell says. “We did a lot of things ourselves. We had a vision, and we stuck to that.”
A decade later the company, Sarasota-based Adventure Hot Tubs & Pools, is in a reverse position: It's growing at a solid level, at least 10% a year in revenue; it recently reintroduced a product; and it seeks to hire several salespeople. The Bells decline to disclose specific revenue. The company has eight employees, including the Bells. It also maintains a division for pool repairs and renovations.
Another dimension of the company's growth, says Margaret Bell, is it's finally in a position where it can turn away customers the couple believes are too high-maintenance. “If we see they are not a good fit for us, we find it's better to just move on,” says Bell. “When the economy was down, we did everything that came in the door.”
The company's showroom and office space is in a pair of buildings on 17th Street, north of downtown Sarasota, that total about 5,000 square feet. Adventure Hot Tubs & Pools sells and installs a line of Jacuzzi and Nordic Hydrotherapy hot tubs, among several other brands. The company also has a line of swim spas — machines shaped like large hot tubs where someone can swim continuously against a water current.
Adventure Hot Tubs began to sell a line of swim spas, which run about $11,000 each, in 2014. But sales didn't take off. Olympic star Michael Phelps has since embraced the concept, and Adventure recently reintroduced the line.
The company also sells outdoor kitchens and fiberglass and concrete pools. While fiberglass pools cost a little bit more than traditional concrete, Bell says fiberglass is easier to maintain, with less costly repairs and upkeep. One big advantage in fiberglass, says Bell, is the installation process takes about two weeks, while concrete can take two months. The opportunistic company expanded to pools in 2011. “If you're going to put in the spa,” she says, “you might as well put in a pool.”
The Bells got into the pool and spa business a bit by accident. Ed Bell was in construction in Ohio and Margaret Bell, a Sarasota native, worked in marketing for the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and Ringling College of Art and Design. She also ran a bookstore in Sarasota.
Ed Bell followed his passion for motorcycles when he moved to the Sarasota area, and he took a sales manager position with Rossiter's Harley-Davidson. But Bell quickly realized he made a mistake. “I was going crazy being stuck inside,” he says.
He started a pool care and pool cleaning service. With the homebuilding boom of the early 2000s, the firm grew quickly. By 2004 it had partnered with another pool cleaning service, when the book of business surpassed 450 accounts, says Bell. Two years later, the company was in hot tubs and spas.
The success, says Margaret Bell, partially goes back to the ability to shift into different niches. It also goes back to a service-first mentality. “It's customer driven,” Bell says. “It's all about the customer.”