Montville - For more than three decades, Ronnie Brauman has been holding court at Treat's Pools & Spas, ready to chat with customers about everything from the benefits of above-ground vs. in-ground pools to the state of the economy.
And, no matter what the conversation, chances are that Brauman ended up with a sale.
"I'm the Spa King," Brauman laughed. "I still come in seven days a week, and I love it."
Now nearing 80, Brauman has retained a resonant laugh, a raconteur's memory and his enthusiasm for the pool and spa business even as he has turned over day-to-day control of Treat's to daughter Stacy Gould and a team that includes Steve Pack, Evan Wynn, Bob Crowel and Stacy's husband, John Gould.
Brauman was born to sell, cutting his teeth in the home-improvement industry during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he'd knock on doors and talk housewives into product demonstrations.
He's been working, by his recollection, since the age of 8, but he fears that effort and dedication might not matter as much any more. He's not sure that a new generation could start with $250 in their pockets and wind up rich.
"This is the sadness of my life," he said. "The America I grew up with is gone."
A native of Waterbury, Brauman bought the pool-supply store from his friend Charlie Treat nearly 35 years ago. The store first opened off Avery Road in Uncasville in 1964, and Brauman didn't alter the name because he found Treat "a good Yankee name."
Brauman credits the longevity of Treat's on his customer-friendly approach. He stays open year round and maintains a significant staff even during the low season, he said, because his customer base of about 6,000 has come to rely on him.
"We have the most important thing of all - a reputation, and a good one," Brauman said. "We take care of people."
Brauman said customers come from a 50-mile radius, as far away as Madison, Danielson and Westerly.
They come mostly for the service - Treat's, for instance, will repair spa motors rather than force customers to shell out for a new one. The store also can repair broken pipes, filter motors, pool stairs, heaters and punctured pool liners, among other items.
"My guys can fix everything," Brauman said. "We're here if you need us."
Treat's also sells pool toys, chemicals and filters, doing big business with the local casinos and hotels, he said. He tests water for free and maintains a trained staff that stands ready for house calls, doing 80 percent of his business in the four warmest months of the year.
Brauman still installs new pools, but with construction projects way down in the region after a long real-estate recession, business is nearly at a standstill.
Brauman tends to focus on above-ground pools, which he sees as a better buy than in-ground pools. Above-ground pools can run $4,000 to $6,000, he said, while in-ground construction is much more expensive - on the order of six times the price.
Brauman said the key to staying in business as long as he has is never showing indifference and selling people only what they truly need. He motivates buyers by presenting the facts while ticking off a checklist of things to sell: himself, his company, a reason to buy now and, finally, the product.
"If you do the first three, the fourth falls into place," he said.
He may be turning over the day-to-day operations of Treat's to others, including a son-in-law and former son-in-law, but Brauman is still there to sell. "I'm too fat to run, I'm too old to fight, and I'm here seven days a week. I have nowhere to hide," he laughed.
"I want this store to go on forever."