____________________ Published November 3, 2014 ___________________

It’s not your normal business mix,” says Christian Ryan. He's commenting on his own reaction when he first got into marketing and distributing hot tubs. “I was hesitant – it was so different from what I was doing.”

But Ryan, President and owner of Premium Wholesale, the proprietor of a mattress, bedroom and dining furniture business, “took the plunge”. Twelve years later, he says “It’s a lot of fun”.

“Most of the fun” says Ryan… “Ok, all of the fun” … comes from working his customers. It originates directly from their reason for looking for a hot tub in the first place. “When people purchase their hot tub, they’re thinking about being with family, spending time with friends, and entertaining – having that oasis at home in the backyard. That’s fun!”

Ryan launched the factory-direct business in 1996, when he and two friends he met working at a marketing company started to sell mattresses out of a storage unit. The business model was simple “go-direct”, they had low overhead and could move product quickly. By keeping the price down, they moved high volume. It was a business model that worked. Eventually, they found a more permanent space, and Ryan soon added bedroom furnishings, dining furniture and billiards.

In 2002 Ryan started selling hot tubs, using the same marketing model that worked so successfully with his other products – advertising in classified ads. As a result, “hot tub sales picked up very quickly.”

Twelve years later, and after two moves – the most recent in August 2014 – hot tubs and the new Michael Phelps Swim Spas make up 90% of their business.

Working with his younger brother, while a third helps with sales, the business now operates at two locations. Their newest showroom, which also serves as their distribution facility, is located on 17 Manitou Dr., Kitchener. The second store is located on 6435 Dixie Rd in Mississauga. From those two locations, Ryan serves dealers not only in the Southwestern Ontario corridor, but coast to coast.

Premier Wholesale Home & Leisure staff pose in front of the innovative swim spa (l-r) Dan Weier, Conner Ormie, Steve Harrickey, Amanda Campbell, Christian Ryan and Cheryl Phillips

The new location, at the corner of Manitou and Fairway Road, is a definite adaptation to the times. They were located in an industrial park, and that worked well when they were getting a lot of business through classified and newspaper ads. But “that sort of thing has gone as times have changed,” says Ryan. “We needed a facility that was more of a retail type location, with traffic out front.” Ryan purchased the building and enjoys the additional space. In acquiring the building, Ryan is solidifying his commitment to future business, and to long term customers. “We’ll be here for the long term,” adds Ryan.

Premium Wholesale Home and Leisure focuses on recreation and outdoor living. “By offering quality products that are going to last, we try to offer customers a better price.” They do this by negotiating terms directly with manufacturers while keeping their overhead low, a lesson learned from their early days marketing mattresses out of a storage unit.

Despite the recession of 2008, Ryan’s hot tub business has prospered. Aside from the social attractions, there are the health benefits that come with relaxing in hot water and adopting hydrotherapy. “If you look back to early cultures,” says Ryan, “there were hot springs that only kings, queens and the wealthy had access too. In today's time, we’re pretty blessed to have a product that we can put in our own back yard and recreate that royal experience.”

Many studies show that hot water therapy is great for your health. Tricia Mangan, a medical Journalist who writes for LiveStrong, highlights some of those qualities: “The heat, buoyancy and massage elements of a hot tub can provide a number of health benefits. People with nagging aches or pains, stiff muscles, circulation problems, headaches, sleep disturbances and chronic medical conditions like diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and arthritis may alleviate their symptoms and stimulate healing with hot tub therapy.” Ryan couldn’t agree more. “If you look at what athletes do after games, they’re in hot water whirlpools. It obviously helps with stress, helps blood circulation, muscle recovery and does all sorts of beneficial things.”

Changes in the way hot tubs have been designed have also advanced health benefits over the last decade. “Some of the higher end spas have really moved towards targeting therapy jets, by having different jets for different functions, so that they create different effects – if you had a sore lower back, or shoulder, you’ve got seats with neck and shoulder massage. There is even a bio-magnetic therapy seat that they now offer, utilizing the earth's magnetics. Studies show this to be a simple way that works the metals in the blood, and helps circulation and recovery.”

“North Americans are some of the hardest working people in the world,” says Ryan. “Everyone is trying to provide for their families and raise their standard of living. We all deserve it and need it. At the end of the day what people need is to de-stress and work out the knots.”

Ryan carries one spa line that is specifically designed for the North American lifestyle. It’s a Master Spa and suitably called Healthy Living. The manufacturer redesigned the spa in 2013 and has modified the jetting to provide more hydrotherapy, with less irritation. “What Master Spa did with their Healthy Living Spa is, they provided more volume of water with less pressure, through larger nozzle jets, larger plumbing, bigger pumps that provide more flow and doesn’t target to one pin-prick area. These jets pulsate, and spin. They're Swedish massage type jets of various sizes. The foot jets are especially nice as they're based on hitting the reflexology points found in the foot.”

Advanced design improves the outcome of the spa experience and that’s driving repeat sales. “We’re seeing more and more spas that are been upgraded and traded in. Some of those spas have reached their life span; in other cases, the owners want more accessories.” Science has not only changed the way the hydrotherapy is being applied, but also the materials used to manufacture the hardware. Today, most spas have lifetime warranties. People are liking the difference in innovation. “The tubs are just so much more energy efficient, they use better insulation that doesn’t take on water, they’ve come down in price, the covers are better. There are just so many things now, as far as adding music, relaxing, and get you into that certain state of mind. They have iPad stands that suction cup to the side of the tub, with Bluetooth, so you can watch movies and your TV right there.”

As a added bonus, Premium Wholesale Home and Leisure has a great relationship with their suppliers. When Master Spa first came to Canada, they didn’t have many dealers, “so we were able to essentially work with them and become their wholesaler in Canada.” Having the additional distribution channels creates a benefit for customers. As the second largest dealer in North America, “we have the largest volume and lowest price points.”
Ryan puts on a lot of shows. “We have dealers that we’ve set up over the years, out on the east and west coasts, so we pretty much have all of Canada.” Part of their growth plan is to build their dealer network. “Some of the dealers were established and we brought them over to our brand, and others were entrepreneurs who left a full time job to do this full time. They’re all enjoying this business and the growth and improvements in the industry."

One of the bigger game changers is the adoption of the swim spas. “More and more people are starting to realize they exist,” says Ryan. They are an all-season pool that you can use all year long. Like a hot tub, they have a hard cover, and separate hot tub and swimming area built in. “It’s great because, talking about health and wellness, water is such a great way to exercise, you’re buoyant, there is less effect of gravity on your bones and joints. For a lot of people as we get older, that’s a huge thing, so you’ve got low impact, aerobics, and all kinds of things you can do in it. In Canada, especially with the short swim season, it’s something you can extend or use it all year round.”

Water therapy is a new solution for so many age groups. “Boomers see the benefit of staying healthy and keeping in shape, and the swim spa is a great option. They have rowing gear, underwater bike, underwater treadmill, and obviously swimming is such a great exercise on its own.”

Ryan's new location is designed to continue a way of business that has worked well for 18 years. The brothers will continue to offer customers a better experience and better customer service. “We have more space to display new products, we’re looking at saunas, and looking at adding fibreglass pools. During the winter months we do a lot of research at trade shows.” In the end they want to make sure that if they bring a product in, they will be able to offer it at the right price and provide the right quality that customers have come to expect. For Ryan, that’s all part of the fun.

For more information on Exchange Magazine Corporate Profiles contact Luke Knowles at luke.knowles@exchangemagazine.com

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