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AWARD LEISURE have experienced an extreme roller coaster business ride

Christina Connor talks exclusively to Mark Anthony of Award Leisure…

While many hot tub retailers acknowledge 2020 as one of their most challenging ever business years, surely no retailer has experienced a more extreme roller coaster ride than Award Leisure. Reading more like a best-selling novel, the past 12 months has seen the company undergo twists and turns including a change of their main supplier, the design and manufacture of their own hot tub product line and, in a surprise latest chapter, they have entered into a new supply agreement with the renowned Canadian-based spa manufacturer, Beachcomber Hot Tubs. “Comprehending Covid-19 and the impact it might have on my business, the lives of my family and my life was the most confusing time of my life,” reflects Mark Anthony, Founder and Managing Director of Award Leisure. “Having taken responsibility for every decision I have ever made, I have always been 100% accountable for every outcome – practically, emotionally, financially and spiritually and with absolutely no outstanding legacy of debt or ill-will,” Mark continues. “For the first time ever, I had no control of the situation. I literally could not do anything about any of the circumstances created by Covid-19. “

Mark admits he hit an all-time business low in May 2020 when, as the coronavirus implications hit, he was terminated as a dealer with his existing supplying. The 14-year relationship had seen Award Leisure progress from 55 spa sales annually to a 500 plus unit business, earning them the title of UK Retailer Of The Year. Mark says: “I would never have voluntarily changed brand given the history but to accept new terms would mean a huge turnover deficit and we would have gone out of business.” Mark feared for the future of Award Leisure’s 32 staff, as all seven stores were forced to close and plans for an eighth showroom were temporarily mothballed. Mark reveals: “My business was worthless as I knew it. I felt a loss, a loneliness I hadn’t experienced since I lost my mum when I was ten years old and my nan when I was 38. “I’ve never been in such a financially exposed and defenceless position in business before.” Conversely, Mark found a fresh drive of energy and motivation. “For the first time in many, many years, I felt a sense of freedom, and of starting over.” With the support of Nat West, with whom the company has banked for some 25 years, the business secured a Bounce Back Loan and, set about surviving and rebuilding the company with a completely different business model. BLIND FAITH “Consciously, sub consciously or through destiny, on May 5th, 2020, using blind faith and with no other choice if we were to move forward, our management team made a decision to turn to China,” Mark reveals. “We decided to take the best of the best of all hot tubs we’d sold over three decades; of everything customers had told us (good and bad) about hot tubs (whether they’d bought or not) and use our loan money to design our own range of hot tubs – from scratch.” Mark, and his brother Paul, the company’s Operations Director, already knew how to make moulds with formers and casts through their garden statue business. Fibre glassing large ornamental pools, ponds and streams is something they had been doing since 1984. Mark again: “We wanted to design something that no one else had. A range of hot tubs that no one could take from us. A legacy if you like, of all the effort we’d put into the industry,” and he continues: “But where to start in a global pandemic, without which we wouldn’t have even considered or been able to afford, such a momentous and prolific idea.” Mark reached out to a contact in China where the company had been sourcing some top selling accessory products for Award Leisure.

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AWARD LEISURE TURNED TO CHINA for a new range of hot tubs like the Empire – marketed under a British Hot Tubs brand

“With his help and because of our association with China and the volume of pizza ovens we sold, Paul, my daughter Charlotte and myself were able to fly out, many times to China on special visas, to visit the factory we’d chosen to manufacture our hot tubs,” Mark explains. From late May 2020, at least one of the Award Leisure trio was in China, working at the factory through to the end of 2020. Sometimes it wasn’t intentional, as they were ‘trapped’ there through travel restrictions. Says Mark: “From edges to shaping seats, and from plumbing lines to filtrations systems, we chose every external and internal measurement on every hot tub – based on how many bathers, the size of the bathers and how many we could ship on containers for space efficiency.” Following accredited medical advice, jet positions and jet types were carefully placed in all seats to focus on massage to alleviate key muscle areas on feet, back and legs. Mark continues: “We chose specific Balboa topsides and heaters to be strategically compatible with 13 amp and 32 amp supplies and reinforce every shell with strategically placed angle iron. “Lights for inside and outside of the spa with waterfalls and sprays are made from our own designed moulds to our own specification and then strategically placed these in the hot tub. “We created a vacuum area in the factory, which eradicates dust and the possibility of delamination or spider cracking,” Mark points out. With a bespoke specification, Paul designed and introduced to the factory, a 240-check point quality control list that each hot tub has to complete before leaving the factory. Using this process Award Leisure is working towards an ISO certification by the end of 2021. Award Leisure is now trading its Chinese manufactured hot tubs under its own banner of British Hot Tubs – another potential elephant in the room. We challenged Mark on the marketing: “So why British Hot Tubs, you ask? Well they are designed in the UK, that is our claim,” Mark insists. “Our hot tubs are designed by us, made exclusively for us and exist entirely because of us.
“We choose the parts and performance of the hot tub, the structural integrity of every unit; the cost effectiveness related to the UK climate, the best value for money according to the customer’s budget and a genuine guarantee related to the hot tub’s reliability which can be honoured.” Just as another twist in the tale, Beachcomber Hot Tubs also approached Mark. “Negotiations and relationship building went on between us both for many, many months,” Mark confirms. “We spoke nearly every day through lockdown and their advice has been invaluable in helping me stay focused on getting Award Leisure through this pandemic.


Beachcomber Hot Tubs founder Keith Scott was instrumental in forging the new relationship. “With the priceless advice from the 46 years Keith has had in the hot tub industry, I’ve learned as much in this last year, as I have since I started in hot tubs,” Mark believes. “Beachcomber were one of the founders, if not the founder of the hot tub as we know it now,” Mark continues. “In my opinion, Keith Scott, the Scott family and the Beachcomber team have influenced in some form or another, nearly every hot tub brand I have ever come across,” he adds. “I have been so lucky to find myself in a position of being able to partner with one of the few blue ribbon brands in the world,” says Mark. “Beachcomber will bring their culture of excellence to our business. With their support, we will be able to take our business to a much higher level. “I hope that I can learn from Beachcomber and using the amazing marketing and ambition that Beachcomber have, share this with our existing franchisees and Beachcomber dealers, our own stores and any new dealers who would like to join in our joint success,” says Mark. Prior to the Beachcomber stock arriving on UK shores, Award Leisure is renovating all of its stores, ready for the start of the 2021 season. “We are aiming to create an ‘Apple Store’ experience,” explains Mark. “We want to create an environment that matches the beauty and elegance of the Beachcomber range,” Mark continues.

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Significantly, 3,000 plus hot tubs since Award Leisure’s first sale in 2006, the team want to concentrate on their strength as hot tub specialists. “For this reason and because demand for hot tubs is now as high as we’ve ever known, we are not focusing on anything other than hot tubs and swim spas,” confirms Mark. This was a tough decision for the Award Leisure because of the strong sales of its outdoor accessory products. “We do not want to spread ourselves too thinly,” explains Mark. “Time spent selling or demonstrating a pizza oven could be time spent giving advice to a hot tub customer,” he continues. “In the short term, we will be focusing exclusively on everything hot tub and swim spa and despite our Chinese contact’s disappointment in this decision, his consolation is that he is now employed to manage the quality control in our hot tub factory in China.” Mark concludes: “After 14 years in the hot tub industry, Covid has made us aware, more than ever, that Award Leisure are exceptionally good at supplying, fixing and servicing hot tubs. “We can deliver our promise consistently and support both our claims and our customers’ expectations.”

Award Leisure
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