How It All Started By Steve Dempsey
I started my working life in menial jobs and decided to get into business for myself.
My last job was in the advertising field working for a daily newspaper. I realised I liked the freedom of working for myself so I started a business in advertising, specialising in print and press, this lasted three to 4 years, working with small business and corporate customers.
After this, I had an opportunity to help set up retail franchising in the pool and spa industry in Sydney. This then led to an opportunity to purchase one of the franchises and enter the retail space.
As with most franchise opportunities in the early 90’s, it was all profits for the franchisor. With no future in the franchise business we separated ourselves and formed Splashes Spa World, opening our first store on the Northern beaches in 1993.
Instilling American Spa Philosophy Into The Australian Spa Scene
Back in 1993, there were 8 or 9 Australian spa manufactures and several importers of American made spas.
We aligned ourselves with the Australian made Stylus spas and the high end American brand LA spas, LA are still available today.
I was introduced to a couple of American spa gurus in the early days and learnt from them over a period of 2-3 years.
Whilst Australian made, at the time was where we wanted to be, the gap between the product made locally and the LA spa ideals of therapy, comfort, economical to run and structurally sound were huge.
Over the next 15 years I tried to instil American philosophy into the Australian manufacturing scene.
In that 15 years I had dealings with at least 6 Australian Manufacturers.Unfortunately this was met with resistance.
Australian spa manufacturers in the 90’s
Stylus Spas, now sold and the company broken up
Maax Spas, liquidated
Monarch Spas, liquidated (now Spa World)
Heritage Spas, liquidated
Signature Spas (now Just Spas and owned by the Chinese)
Sapphire Spas were formed in the early 2000’s when key staff members broke away from Signature spas and formed a manufacturing company.
I did have some success with Sapphire Spas, but again the resistance to change was tiresome and frustrating.
I could see the writing on the wall with the slow demise of the Australian spa manufacturing scene.
OASIS Carved A New Path In The Market By Focusing On Quality
In 2007, just before the GFC I set off to China with a colleague with the same values as myself to find a start-up manufacturer that we could grow with.
Splashes still dealt with the Australian and American manufacturers with the knowledge China could fail.
After 2 to 3 years of travelling to China we settled on our current supplier, Crystal Island spas.
Crystal Island were building under 500 spas a year at this stage and were eager to partner with anyone with spa and swim spa knowledge.
We branded the spas OASIS and started to build moulds that were suited to the Australian and European market.
We certainly had some hiccups trying to convince the factory to build a quality product and not focus on price.
Once we overcame this mentality, we focussed on comfort, quality, economical to run and built to last. This has been instilled in the Crystal Island Oasis brand from the owner through to the manufacturing floor.
Fast forward to 2013/14, the factory was now producing 3000 spas a year and getting a very good foothold in the Australian and European markets.
The Oasis brand had been accepted and recognised and Crystal Island was winning manufacturing awards throughout Europe. Swim spa of the year 3 years in a row.
Splashes Is And Will Always Be A Family Owned Business
Back in Australia, Splashes began to grow into Sydney’s largest spa retailer with 4 stores and 2 sub dealers in the Sydney basin. Splashes was Crystal Islands largest customer worldwide with 25-30% of all spas produced coming into the Sydney warehouse.
At this stage, we looked at our strategy for the next 5 years and realised the product was now at the level that we no longer needed the Australian manufactures.
We were also offered the Jacuzzi range of American made spas. Although, we could not justify the price when the Jacuzzi range did not offer significant increase in quality or comfort, to justify the excessive price point. Let’s face it, raw materials are raw materials and they certainly were not gold plated.
How We Overcame The Australian Resistance Of Chinese Manufactured Spas By Focusing On Quality & Ergonomics
In 2017, with the factory now growing and the Oasis range being the only product on the showroom floors, the factory decided to expand into retail.
The Crystal Island group offered to buy Splashes at a handsome price and this was accepted.
I was to be part of the transition over the next 5 years and guide them through the ‘Australian cultural resistance to Chinese manufactured products’.
I was prepared to do this, but then started to question whether this would be good for the Splashes brand long term as we’d built up over 20 years of goodwill and my name was associated with the brand.
In the end I returned the initial deposit and did not sell, a decision I was very happy with as I realised Splashes was part of me and did not want to let my customer base down or tarnish the reputation.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have sold the business. But whilst the Chinese may be great at manufacturing, they know very little about retail in a western culture.
What Splashes Learnt During COVID
Moving forward to 2019/20, we were sailing along with the showrooms doing well and the factory now producing over 6000 spas a year. Then Covid came along.
Throughout the ‘Covid years’ the product category began to grow exponentially, with the factory now producing over 10,000 spas per annum.
At the start of Covid, I was at a crossroads. How to maintain customer contact and service, without actually having access to the showrooms.
Unfortunately we closed 2 showrooms and began to increase our online awareness.
Realising with less showrooms, we needed to still be able to engage and inform our customers not only prior to the sale, but after the sale.
Splashes Continues To Put Customer Service First
I then set about setting up a learning centre on-site at Splashes. This has been a huge success as we have been able to maintain customer contact and look after their needs remotely, whilst still providing them with great customer service.
I then started training my staff to take and handle all customer enquiries that come through the office, if they don’t have an answer they find out and get back to the customer.
Unfortunately, a lot of companies in the spa industry have reverted to call centres and lack that personal touch.
I have adapted the business to the current climate and feel as if we are in a stronger position than ever to look after our customers with personal sales, and after sales service.