An eight-time AQUA Show attendee, store-owner Bret Kahl brought along his entire crew for the first time in 2005, including his wife and partner, Melanie, store manager Tina Meyer and two service technicians. As a result, he's been able to turn more of the maintenance and repair chores over to his employees, allowing him to devote more time to management, finance and other issues.

TECHNICAL TRAINING GROUND

"Our two service technicians are pretty new to the store," says Kahl, "so we took both of them to AQUA this year and sent them to the technical courses, including the half-day session on 'Troubleshooting & Repair of Spa Control Systems' with Willie Wise. They both got a lot out of it and it has been terrific for our business. I was typically the one who would go out and do the repairs and a lot of the customer training, but their experience at AQUA has really helped catapult them into a better understanding of the inner workings of spa systems. It has freed me up to do some of the things I need to spend more time doing, such as being in touch with vendors and customers. It is already making more money for us."

BUSINESS SCENTS

"We attended every seminar we could fit into the available time, concentrating on management, store design and employee and customer relations. They were absolutely awesome and really motivated us to make some changes here, including an extensive remodel based on information we picked up. The store was already pretty modern, but our goal has been to give it a warmer, more welcoming appearance since many pool and spa stores can be pretty cold. We're also intermixing things and trying to give each unit its own individuality to show customers how it might look in their home or backyard environment. Our choice of colors and even scents is something we learned at AQUA. We've had people walk in and say, 'It smells like a spa shop.' But at one of the sessions we found out about a service that allows you to periodically change the scent throughout the showroom, with each scent triggering a different emotional response."

TAKING IT ON THE ROAD

"The seminars I took at AQUA a few years ago on selling at fairs and home shows taught me a lot about exhibiting at off-site events and really sparked me to do that. We do about 12 events a year, which not only provides 25 percent of our annual income, but brings new customers into the store."

DIALOGUES WITH DEALERS

"This was my first year attending the dealer round tables and we all found them to be extremely valuable. We won't miss them again, and I would absolutely recommend them to other dealers. It is a real good eye-opener that there is a lot more to the industry than just what we're doing here in our little store. They allow you to interact with other dealers from all over the country on an open playing field and be able to get their feedback on how they've dealt with the same issues that we're dealing with here. Where else can we sit around and talk shop and get that kind of input from our peers in this business. After one of the round tables I hung out and talked to a dealer from Australia to kind of pick his brain, because he's very involved in the industry over there and had a lot of information to share that was very helpful in setting some new policies that might help us."

PROFITABLE FLOOR SPACE

"As a result of a seminar on maximizing profit per square foot, we sat down and looked at our numbers to determine how many of each unit we were selling, what our profit was on each of them, and what we were actually making in terms of square footage. My normal response would be to fill up the shop with as many models as possible so that customers don't walk away and go somewhere else. But we found out that one of the units was not really cost-effective to even have, and we took it out. Things like that are critical to profitability."

Store Stats

Deciding on a career change in 1992, Bret Kahl purchased an 82-spa service route, got 30 days of training from the previous owner, and set out on his own. As the equipment began to break down, he hired a service technician who ended up teaching him everything there is to know about spa repair. The business has grown and evolved over the years with the help of Kahl's AQUA education. In March 2004, he and his wife decided to open their own 2,400-square-foot store in the small desert community of Ridgecrest, Calif., where they stock two spa lines, the full gamut of parts and accessories and chemicals from two suppliers who have given him exclusivity in the area. "Going to AQUA is always extremely motivating," says Kahl. "This year we worked things in shifts and cut our store hours in half so that everybody could attend . . . that's how important it is. We would travel to the other coast to attend AQUA if we had to."