Follow-Up File: Cooperage is soaking up fresh sales

What he said then: In October 2008, The Tribune reported that California Cooperage, a San Luis Obispo hot tub and billiards retailer, saw a drop in low-end sales.

“It’s all the more expensive, better-built, higher-quality products that people want,” said manager Ted Fletcher at the time.

Owned by Paul and Denise Hodgson since 1980, the retailer’s customers tended to be 35- to 60-year-old affluent homeowners.

What he says now: Sales in 2008 and 2009 were down compared to previous years.

But Fletcher is optimistic after a big boost the past few months.

“It’s the best fourth quarter we’ve had in five or six years,” Fletcher said. “That’s usually our slow time of year.”

Hot tub sales traditionally slump in fall and winter.

California Cooperage sold three hot tubs the week after Christmas, Fletcher said. “In most years, that wouldn’t happen.”

In some cases, customers are paying $2,000 to $9,000 to install a spa instead of a family vacation.

A “Cash for Clunkers” weekend campaign urged past customers to upgrade to new spas. It generated a few direct sales, Fletcher said, followed by a “buzz.”

“It seemed after that happened, we started seeing an increase,” he added. Some customers said they meant to come during the promotion.

Consolidating into one showroom has boosted sales of the billiards equipment and bar furniture, which had dropped significantly.

Customers stopping for spa chemicals, he said, might pick up something for their pool table when they see it.

Previously, gaming and bar merchandise was kept in a separate 3,500-square-foot showroom. With only three full-time employees, there wasn’t enough interest in pool tables to keep the second building staffed.

“It was really becoming a burden more than anything,” he said. “Billiards had taken a larger hit than we anticipated.”

Tied to the housing industry, pool tables see competition (especially in California, where space is at a premium) with home theater and gaming system sales, Fletcher added.

Fortunately for spa dealers, some sales are driven by medical need. That supports the industry when luxury sales decline.

California Cooperage has seen its typical customer creep up in age, Fletcher said, to between 40 and 65.

While the single 3,600-square-foot showroom holds less merchandise, he said most customers prefer custom work these days.

In the first few weeks of January, Fletcher was encouraged to see many early shoppers. Those who make such large purchases often take six months or more before deciding.

“It’s not an impulse buy,” he said. “It’s always a good sign when we start seeing early in the year a traffic flow increase.”

Name: Ted Fletcher

Job: Manager

Company: California Cooperage

— Raven J. Railey