In 1998, Earl & Joyce Michels went looking for a gazebo for the patio behind their home in Marshall, IL. They soon found that there was no one selling pre-built gazebos in the area and that contractors were not interested in building them due to their intricacies and relatively small profit margin. They also found that mail-order kits were cost-prohibitive. In his search, Earl did get a tip about a small company in southern Indiana that built gazebos and outdoor furniture.
Earl contacted the company and was told that they did not sell directly to the public and that their nearest dealer was in Evansville, IN. At the time, Earl was a 20 year veteran of the insurance industry, but saw a small opportunity for entrepreneurship. He did not own a business but he did live on a busy, lake-traffic road. He suggested to the manufacturer that since there was no dealer in his area, that they sell him one gazebo for his backyard and another for display. They agreed. So, with a display in the front yard and $1,000 in a business checking account, Backyard Leisure was born.
Earl continued with his full-time insurance career and sold gazebos and outdoor furniture mostly by in-home appointment. In 2000, in order to get his products in front of a larger audience, Earl began to look for display space in nearby Terre Haute, IN where he worked. He soon leased a small strip of grass near Honey Creek Mall which he passed every day on the way to his office. On this lot, Backyard Leisure displayed a couple of gazebos, some outdoor furniture and a sign with a toll-free number. The number of appointments grew and the display caught the attention of a representative from a spa manufacturer.
The spa rep contacted Earl and asked if he had ever considered selling hot tubs, saying that he thought it would fit in well with what Backyard Leisure was already doing. Around that time, in 2003, Earl noticed that there was no activity at the next lot down from his current display. When he contacted the owner of the property he found that the previous tenant had declared bankruptcy and that the property was available for lease. It wasn’t much, but there was an office and a two-car garage. Earl hired a friend to man the office and turned the garage into a make-shift showroom displaying four hot tubs.
In 2004, Earl resigned from the insurance industry and went full-time in the home resort business. Though it wasn’t easy, by providing good value and exceptional customer service, Backyard Leisure continued to grow. While Earl was a trained salesperson, a small business owner finds himself wearing many hats. He performed his own service calls for some time. In 2005, he hired Justin Wyrick to take over the service department. While it would have been cheaper to farm the service work out, Earl felt it was important to keep it in-house where he could control the quality. With factory training and years in the field, Justin has become one of the area’s most knowledgeable spa service technicians.
In 2006, Earl began to seriously seek out a larger showroom. He first looked at properties on US 41, Terre Haute’s main thoroughfare, but soon found that the lease rates were very high. Around the same time, he decided to get some towels embroidered with the Backyard Leisure logo. As it happened, there was an embroidery shop next door to Backyard Leisure’s office. Upon introducing himself to the owner of the shop, she said that she had been wanting to meet him because she knew one of his hot tub customer’s that spoke well of Backyard Leisure. As they were talking, Earl mentioned that he was looking for a larger space. She told him that she was moving to her own building and that this building would be available.
As Earl met with the landlords, all of the pieces fell into place. The building was right next door to his current location, offered over 3,000 square feet of showroom and two acres of outdoor space, and the lease was quite reasonable compared to what he had seen on 41. It was a big step, but Earl took the leap and Backyard Leisure moved to its current location at 295 W. Honey Creek Dr. in the spring of 2007.
With the new space, Backyard Leisure was able to grow and expand its product line to accommodate customer requests for new home resort products, both indoors and out. In addition to the area’s largest selection of hot tubs, over the next few years Backyard Leisure added gas and electric fireplaces, playsets and put two swim spas on display.
In August of 2007, after working in sales on weekends, Earl’s son Josh was hired as a full time salesperson. Josh is very knowledgeable about all of Backyard Leisure’s products and the home resort industry as a whole. He enjoys answering questions and helping customers to find the products that best suit their needs and budget.
Having established itself as the Wabash Valley’s premier home resort store, Backyard Leisure is eager and able to serve you in whatever you want your home to become. Browse our website and contact us today to get started. Backyard Leisure is all about “turning your home into a personal resort.”