As the only hot tub retailer to be awarded the prestigious Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday award, Sapphire Leisure has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the back of a warehouse in Bicester.
What started as a bit of a gamble back in 2004, has developed into a thriving hot tub business.
The multi-award winning Jacuzzi dealership now occupies four showrooms in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Kent and the West Midlands and employs a 12-strong team of staff members.
“We started out as Sapphire Spas with a website, a small showroom and a container of hot tubs from Sapphire Spas in Australia,” recalls partner and creative manager Lisa Ruggles.
“When the first order of six hot tubs was placed, we had no idea where it would lead us.
“Amazingly, all six hot tubs were sold before the container reached UK shores. Delivering them all was quite a task but it was such an exciting time in the history of the company.”
Sapphire Spas became Sapphire Leisure when it started importing its own brand of hot tubs, and then expanded its offering even further in 2011 by becoming an authorised Jacuzzi dealer.
Since then, the team has found that the once popular lower cost models have been overtaken by Jacuzzi hot tubs. The current bestseller is the mid-range Jacuzzi J-335 with patented PowerPro jets to deliver a non-abrasive deep massage.
Says Lisa: “Becoming a Jacuzzi hot tub dealer was our biggest landmark moment. It was definitely at the right time, as the lower end of the hot tub market was hit by the recession, causing many of our competitors to cease trading.
“We were very unsure of how it would work as we were so used to controlling all the processes of our hot tub sales, from specifying design changes with the factory to all the warranty work.” She adds: “Not having to buy hot tubs in container loads was quite a change. It has definitely freed up capital allowing us to invest in growing the business.”
Sapphire Leisure is headed up by directors Keith Ruggles and Andy McBride. James Coombe is the Head Delivery and Service Technician and he works closely with Georgina Ruggles who works from the Bicester branch making sure the diary and CRM systems are in order. Lisa Ruggles is responsible for the marketing side of the business and oversees the website and social media channels.
In addition to hot tub and chemical sales and advice, Sapphire Leisure has adapted to market requirements by offering bespoke packages to holiday home owners, hot tub hire and servicing and maintenance packages. The company has also witnessed a steep rise in the number of holiday home owners choosing to buy new and used hot tubs, particularly over the last few years.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical customer,” comments Lisa.
“Right from the early days of Sapphire Leisure we learnt the appeal to own a hot tub crosses all social classes.
“We have our geographical areas with Jacuzzi, which has definitely shaped the company. Before this, we would be delivering hot tubs all over the UK.”
One of Sapphire Leisure’s greatest passions is its charity work. In 2014 the company partnered with a local charity, Blue Sky Thinking, which supports research and treatment into childhood brain tumours. For every hot tub sold, Sapphire Leisure donates £10 to the charity, adding vital funds to its cause.
Lisa explains: “We had the pleasure of meeting five-year-old Skye Hall when we delivered his hot tub wish. Skye had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and his brain was being destroyed by the treatment he had been given.
“Although he was paralysed from the neck down, he still wanted to live life to the full. Two days later, Skye sadly passed away.” Lisa continues: “He did get to go in his hot tub and his parents kindly emailed me to tell me he was the most relaxed and happy he had been for some time.
“We have been helping Blue Skye Thinking since meeting the Hall family and I have recently been asked to join the board of trustees. Such an honour and privilege.”
Looking ahead, Sapphire Leisure hopes to further establish its Kent and West Midlands showrooms – which are both fairly new.
Longer term, the business plans to build on its current referral systems and become market leaders in its areas.
Lisa concludes: “We have recently employed some additional staff, so training them and establishing the showrooms are our current priorities. It’s a bit of a baptism of fire through the summer months, but it’s much better to be busy.”
Tel. 02476 639147