The Waterworks Spas and Saunas “Wellness for Life”

Woman owned small business owner sits outside the sauna while petting their dog

The Waterworks Spas and Saunas is a 46-year-old Alaskan family-owned business, now owned by second generation daughter, Kali Bennett. They provide sales and service of high-quality hot tubs, saunas, and swim spas. From Dutch Harbor to Homer, Anchorage to Fairbanks they service and deliver their products all year around anywhere in the state of Alaska, on and off the road system. With two showroom locations in Anchorage and Eagle River, as well as an online digital showroom, they can provide access for clients to browse and select their new wellness product from wherever they might be, even from the comfort of their couch.

Born and raised in the business, Bennett’s experience is vast. Growing up with The Waterworks as her second home taught her a lot. “As a small girl I remember helping my mom stamp the checks and write out the bank deposit slips,” Bennett recalls. “I learned how to drive at 14 when my dad needed a driver for the hot tub deliveries. We would drive all over from Valdez to Fairbanks to Homer. Winter, Summer, Spring and Fall it didn’t matter we’d go.” Leadership has always come naturally to Kali, founding a chapter of Rotary Interact and a small business of her own–cleaning hot tubs for The Waterworks clients while still in high school.

Under Kali Bennett’s leadership, The Waterworks has expanded, opening a second location in Eagle River, nearly doubling the size of the team, and spearheading the path to focus on at-home wellness products. “Our focus has always been on being here for our clients. We believe it's not about buying something but instead becoming a part of The Waterworks Family,” says Bennett. “We will be here to take care of our clients.” Consistently selling the same brand of hot tubs, Hot Spring Spas, since the mid 1980's and the same sauna brand, Finnleo Saunas, since the late 1990's, The Waterworks has created lifelong friendships through the decades and thus repeat business is not foreign. “We understand how important our client’s wellness is. We believe Wellness is for life.”

As many businesses are aware, there was no play book for 2020 and the covid pandemic. As the tides quickly shifted and the consumer's focus turned homeward towards wellness, demand skyrocketed for hot tubs and saunas. The Waterworks hired two pertinent people that helped lead the way through the roller coaster of chaos, a sales manager, and an operations manager. “We were able to pivot to meet the market’s demand,” explains Bennett. “What I couldn’t foresee was that we would have finished the year having pre-sold nearly 50% into the next year’s allocation.”

During 2020, The Waterworks experienced incredible demand, but it was offset by multiple challenges. “From product shortages and allocations to extreme shipping delays and factory shutdowns it felt as though we were drowning in the literal chaos of it all,” recalls Bennett. “The climbing freight rates and wholesale price increases alone would make anyone go crazy.” This adversity was further compounded by new ways to conduct business. At least 70% of The Waterworks’ sales presentations were conducted virtually. “We often did not meet our new clients face to face until the day of delivery.”

Proactively anticipating the demand and wanting to properly serve her clients, Bennett had the forethought to sign on two new manufacturers. “We were able to meet 2021 head on!” Nearly doubling their sales in 2021, they delivered a record number of hot tubs across Alaska. “Many of the same challenges we faced in 2020 were repeated,” recalls Bennett, “but this time we were both experienced and prepared.”

Being a full-time mother, wife, and business owner; Bennett’s time is often limited. However, Bennett and The Waterworks team have been a long-time community supporter. “I recall my dad using the delivery truck to drive little league floats in local parades, “Bennett recalls. “We’ve always had the community in our heart.” Consistent with the desire and values to serve the community, The Waterworks is continuing its 15th annual sponsorship of the Special Olympics Alaska Polar Plunge. “When we got the call that there was a Make-A-Wish child who wanted to relax with his family we jumped at the opportunity to turn his wish into reality.” Said Bennett. “But it was my team that truly stepped up and delivered the new hot tub nearly 150 miles away.”

Growing up skiing at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, Kali has a sweet spot for small resorts, so she actively donates to and supports The Alpenglow ski club, Anchorage's local nonprofit ski mountain in the winter. In the summer you can find her working with the local little league, volunteering to photograph events and games. Kali’s desire to give back and support our community is a driving force in how she approaches business.

Under that leadership Bennett has big plans to help even more Alaskans soak and sweat their way to wellness in the coming years. Since 2015, Bennett has worked with Julie Nolan at The Alaska Small Business Development Center to get help with the many obstacles of running her small business. She has attended multiple trainings through the S.B.D.C. In 2021, amid the chaos of mid pandemic Bennett was able to successfully purchase a permanent warehouse for The Waterworks. “The timing was impeccable. We had literally run out of storage space for all the pre-sold spas,” said Bennett. “We simply could not deliver them fast enough.” With the help of the SBA 7a loan Bennett purchased a warehouse with a huge storage yard. “As soon as I closed on the property, we had three container loads of hot tubs arrive. It was a miracle that we were able to have a home for them.”

Bennett is currently planning further real estate expansion in 2023 to include new showroom space with an outdoor display. “Ironically, we sell products designed for year around use in Alaska, but have never been able to display outside, recalls Bennett. “This expansion is driven by a desire to best serve our clients and community. We believe that everyone has a right to wellness.”

This article does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA of any opinions, products, or services of any private individual or entity.