With young family members stepping up, Leisure Time Pools & Spas secures its future
by Sarah Protzman Howlett
photography by Simon Hurst
Ryan Hayes has big dreams for the family business he’s been around since age 8. Already committed to taking over for his parents, who own Leisure Time Pools and Spas in Oklahoma City, when they retire, Hayes started out water testing and helping his dad in the store’s warehouse between throwing the baseball or football.
“I tried to soak up as much knowledge being around my mom and dad as I could,” says Hayes, now 27, of his parents Shannon and Bobby Hayes, who co-own the business’s two locations with Bobby’s brother, Tim, and Tim’s wife, Ann. Ryan Hayes is manager.
Once Hayes could drive, he started a pool-cleaning route to learn more about the industry that had long intrigued him. He started community college but soon heeded the call from his father, who himself had worked at Leisure Time since he was 14. “ ‘Come work at the school of hard knocks,’ ” Hayes recalls his father saying, who had likewise foregone higher education to work for Ryan’s father. “I was ready to go full time.”
Years later, while his grandparents — who had founded the company — were still living, Hayes made sure they both knew Leisure Time wasn’t going to be sold after their passing.
His grandmother Barbara Hayes — Ryan called her Nanny — wasn’t able to communicate near the end of her life, but Hayes says she smiled as he assured her the business would stay in the family. In failing health but still lucid, his grandfather Bob Hayes talked about vigilance and customer service, discussions that continued until a few weeks before he passed.
“One day, I sat at his bedside for more than two hours,” Hayes says. “He told me to have eyes like a hawk and ears like an elephant.”
It was Barbara who’d wanted to open a pool store; Bob was an air-traffic controller, and while the couple was raising five children, Barbara got the entrepreneurial bug.
She bought a small storefront, and slowly bought the other four or five stores in the same strip center. “She blew out walls until she owned the entire thing,” Hayes says of his grandmother.
Behind the store, Barbara erected a giant warehouse. Bob was still working for the FCC then, but he’d help out when he could, and at least once got even more hands by asking the local football team practicing down the street to help unload trucks.
Leisure Time has two locations in Oklahoma City, the south location being owned by Bobby and Shannon and the north by Tim and Ann. Three of Ryan’s cousins are involved in the north store: Jordan Hayes, John Connor, and their younger brother Tyler Hayes. Bob Hayes died in April 2014, and Barbara less than a year later, in February 2015.
On the operations front, upcoming changes for Leisure Time include finally introducing a point-of-sale system. Admitting that many of the stores’ processes are old-fashioned, Ryan Hayes says the company decided to partner with Evosus during the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo. The company has purchased the software, and the hardware will soon follow, Hayes says. In the meantime, “Everything we do is still rung out with a register and no barcode system,” Hayes says, “and all inventory is done by pen and paper. We have a sticker pricer.”
Hayes says Leisure Time’s new website, which rolled out about a year ago, hasn’t yet led to as many online sales as he’d like, “but getting people in the store through social media, and being able to connect with customers even when we are not open, has been really good for us.
“It’s hard to afford advertising being a mom and pop,” Hayes continues, “but social media has been great, being able to boost something on Facebook for $7 and reach 1,200 people in an hour,” but its most effective advertising is still word of mouth, Hayes says. His cousin, Jordan, helps with social media posts, as does his mom.
Five years from now, Hayes says he’d love to have a third store. “We hire high school kids, and keep them through community college or a four-year school,” he explains. “I would love to be able to pay one of them enough to manage another store with me.” And then some: Asked just how much growth he wants for Leisure Time, he says he’d like it to have stores nationwide and become as familiar a name as behemoth chain store Leslie’s Pool Supplies.
“It’s hard to do that and bring the same great service as a mom-and-pop shop,” he says, “but I’d love stores all over the country.”