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Waterworks Wins: SBA Honors New Generation of Spa Seller

by | Mar 13, 2024 | Featured, News, Retail, Small Business

Kali Bennett has been in the business since before hot tubs included built-in stereos and LED light fixtures.

Scott Rhode | Alaska Business

Every year, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) selects a small businessperson from each state to celebrate National Small Business Week April 28 to May 4. For Alaska, the delegate comes from The Waterworks, a retailer with showrooms in Anchorage and Eagle River. Kali Bennett is the shop’s second generation of ownership.

Worth the Wet

The Waterworks began soothing Alaskans’ tired muscles with hot tubs, spa tubs, swimming spas, and sauna equipment in the ‘70s, established forty-eight years ago by Linda and Tim Bennett.

“We are so proud of her,” Linda says of her daughter. The couple started the company by selling redwood hot tubs because Tim needed a place to test underwater camera systems for building offshore oil rigs in murky, churning Cook Inlet waters.

The couple have stepped away from ownership, so Linda now gets to do what she loves as a client care ambassador, maintaining the company’s model of treating customers like family. Tim visits nearly every client’s backyard to consult on the best placement for their new hot tub or sauna.

Having grown up in the business, working in both the field and office, Kali caught on quickly and since 2007 has brought Waterworks up several notches.

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For example, in early 2021, “We were able to use an SBA 7(a) loan to purchase our warehouse, because we were literally running out of space in our small storage yard,” Kali recalls. “We moved in just in time to receive three truckloads of hot tubs that were all pre-sold and ready to be delivered.”

Utilizing her knowledge of the SBA 7(a) process, Kali was able to secure a new flagship location in early December 2023. “We were lucky to find a great location that thankfully just needed some slight modifications. I believe it was the fastest design/build ever,” she says. Part of the credit goes to Midnight Sun Builders, whose principal was a high school classmate.

Small but Thriving

The Anchorage showroom in leased space on Old Seward Highway is soon to be vacated. This spring, Kali Bennett is moving The Waterworks into company-owned space down the road, closer to Dimond Boulevard.

Scott Rhode | Alaska Business

As Alaska’s 2024 State Small Business Person of the Year, Kali Bennett is among a class that includes a contractor in California, a logistics company in Louisiana, and an ice cream shop in Illinois.

“Our 2024 National Small Business Week award winners exemplify excellence, innovation, and commitment, and the SBA is proud to showcase their incredible achievements and impact on their communities and our economy,” says SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

The agency released census data in January showing a record-breaking 5.5 million new business applications filed in 2023, making it the strongest year of new business applications on record and the third consecutive year of historic small business growth.

“More Americans than ever before are pursuing the American dream of business ownership and able to access more opportunities, with historic investments in communities across America in local infrastructure, broadband, manufacturing, innovation, and clean energy,” Casillas Guzman says.

Kali Bennett was able to step into an existing family business, yet she still looked to SBA for ways to step up her game. Last year, she participated in the agency’s T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined program. The acronym for the executive training course stands for “Train. Hope. Rise. Innovate. Venture. Elevate.” It’s designed for owners who are busy running their shops.

“Oh my gosh, the training was laser-focused, and really helped to pinpoint areas of the business that I needed to move it forward,” Kali says.

Her favorite part was an Alaska-specific peer group that understood the uniqueness and challenge of running a small business in the state. “What I find is most people off the ‘island’ of Alaska don’t know how business works in February when everyone goes to Hawaii,” she says (having just come back from a vacation herself). “Those Alaskans did. I really thrived with T.H.R.I.V.E.”

After Kali returns from National Small Business Week in Washington, DC, she’ll have some more important business the following weekend. On May 10, The Waterworks is cutting the ribbon on its new Anchorage showroom.

“Alaskans love to adventure and to be outside in all seasons,” she says. “I wanted to create a space that reflected that and showed them how hot tubs and saunas can easily be part of their outdoor wellness experience.”

Alaska Business Magazine July 2024 cover
In This Issue
Best of Alaska Business 2024
July 2024
Welcome to the 2024 Best of Alaska Business special section! For the ninth time we invited our readers to tell us which Alaska businesses they love the most, this year in forty-four categories. Throughout the month of March, you told us who should be featured in these pages, and we're thrilled to be able to publish the results.
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