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It’s no secret that the hot tub industry has been collectively tentative in promoting, marketing and selling the amazing benefits of hot water therapy and immersion. In this special feature, AQUA offers insights aimed at helping dealers approach the magnificent benefits encompassed by the products they sell.

When it comes to marketing product benefits, hot tub ownership encompasses a mighty tandem – namely luxury and health.

Under each of those headings, hot tub dealers can easily access information on numerous topics ripe for promotion and client discussion. Of the two, luxury is by far the most widely used. Reason being a majority of buyers come to showrooms with visions of “the good life” foremost in their minds.

By contrast, industry professionals are often less comfortable selling the health benefits of hot tubs. Reasons oft-cited for the disconnect on the health benefits front include:

• Discomfort thinking about and/or discussing health issues.

• A general lack of understanding, both on the part of the industry and the public, about the extent of the health benefits and the supportive research.

• American culture, which, unlike those in places such as Japan and Northern Europe, does not have a tradition of bathing for health purposes.

• Concerns about the negative effects of immersion in chemically treated water and risks of waterborne disease in hot tubs that are not properly maintained.

As a result, selling health benefits requires a concerted effort in order to clear these common hurdles. The good news is that while the general public is not yet aware of how hot tub ownership may help improve health, this gives retailers an invaluable opportunity to educate and excite potential customers.

The path to selling hot water health benefits can be viewed in two parts. First, sales staff must become educated about the specific benefits and have a working knowledge of the science behind them. Second, armed with that information, specific marketing and sales measures must be implemented.

Let’s take a look at the elements of a successful health-benefits marketing campaign:

A Knowledgeable Sales Staff: It’s imperative to have the facts down cold. This information is everywhere — the Internet and world of social media are chock full of instantly accessible discussions and research across a range of hydrotherapy health topics.

So vast is this ocean of information you can easily develop employee manuals or training sessions that arm your sales people with talking points about treating arthritis, insomnia, muscle and joint pain, stress, diabetes and other lesser-known topics, such as mitigating symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.

Sales people who are armed with a secure understanding of this information not only become more conversant on these topics, they often draw inspiration from knowing the product they are selling offers such powerful benefits. This level of expertise empowers the salesperson to assume the role of a trusted adviser; someone clients can turn to as part of their efforts to overcome troubling and sometimes debilitating ailments.

There’s also a cautionary tale here. As mentioned above, health benefits are not on the minds of many potential buyers and simply inserting unsolicited health-related information into the conversation can be ineffective and possibly offensive.

That means salespeople should be on the lookout for opportunities to talk about health when talking to buyers. When a client opens the door for discussion of the physical effects of hot tub use, the sales person can then offer informed insight into exactly how hot tubs provide relief and healing. If the client responds favorably to that information, your firm can then follow up with either printed or digital collateral material.

Use Available Data: Every hot tub dealer should have, in some form or another, a collection of articles, blogs and research papers on the subject. Organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation; the National Swimming Pool Foundation; the U.S. National Library of Medicine; the Center for Disease Control; Hot Water & Healthy Living by J. B. Smith, Ed. D., Indiana University of Pennsylvania; and countless others, provide volumes of information.

In addition to educating your staff, these resources are available for anyone to turn into printed handouts that can be used as sales collateral or as links and pages to populate your company website and social media pages.

Email newsletters or bulletins are also extremely effective, especially when staying in touch with existing clients, who will inevitably represent a large percentage of sales as repeat buyers. Routine targeted email campaigns are a wonderful way to remind hot tub owners of health benefits and also drive online traffic to your website.

And don’t forget about traditional media. Although print and radio advertising requires a larger budget, targeted advertising with a health-conscious message remains an effective way to reach and motivate potential buyers. Also, public relations campaigns targeting local media sources can also be effective, especially so if the content you provide includes human-interest elements.

Success Stories: Nothing conveys the importance of hydrotherapy health benefits more effectively than real-life experiences. If, for example, you conduct an email campaign, invite clients to reply with their stories and testimony. When current customers come into your store for additional purchases or service advice, ask them how they’re enjoying the water. You’ll inevitably hear accounts of how hot tubs have not only provided enjoyment but valuable therapeutic benefits. Whenever possible, pass these stories on.

Healthcare Outreach: Common sense would seem to suggest that working with local physicians, clinics, chiropractors and physical therapists among others should be an effective strategy. Unfortunately, for all of the reliable science now available, many doctors and other healthcare providers remain hesitant to tout hot water therapy as a therapeutic tool. That doesn’t mean you should give up on the idea of reaching out to the medical community because there are progressive-thinking professionals out there who have embraced the concept.

Be Responsive: Depending on your market and the prevailing demographics of your clients, these types of strategies will play out in different ways. Marketing and selling the health benefits of hot tubs will likely mean trying different approaches. There’s no one-size fits all formula.

If, for example, you’re located in a market with large numbers of retirees who might not be as internet savvy as younger consumers, more traditional methods such as using printed material or traditional advertising might prove more effective. In the same light, topics such as arthritis or diabetes relief may find the most traction with older clients.

By contrast, if your customer base is populated by a majority of young professionals, then an online presence and social media messaging focused on stress relief or help fighting insomnia may very likely be more effective.

A REGISTRY OF BENEFITS

Anti-Stress: According to the book Hot Water & Healthy Living by J. B. Smith, Ed.D, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, our bodies secrete hormones that cause muscles to relax after stress has passed. By contrast, there is also evidence that warm water immersion reduces the hormones that have been associated with stress.

According to Jack Raglin, Ph.D., Indiana University, Indiana, taking time for a soak also separates us from the sources of stress that cause anxiety. Many people report an energizing effect that can last about four hours. And, in his recent research reported at the fifth World Aquatic Health Conference, October 2008, Bruce Becker, M.D., Washington State University, states, “We found that, with 25 minutes of soaking in a 102 degree hot tub, the autonomic nervous system alters during warm water immersion, producing changes that are parallel to those seen during relaxation and accompanying a reduction in anxiety.”

Dr. Becker suggests that with relaxation, warm water immersion may well have a positive effect on working memory and performance of cognitive tasks, including problem solving.

Restful Sleep: Relaxing in a hot tub can help ease your body into deeper sleep. According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 132 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders more than one night a week. This number is on the rise. Sleep researchers believe that many cases of insomnia can be traced to hectic, stressful lifestyles lived by basically healthy people.

Studies suggest that immersion in warm water (such as in a hot tub, which has a constant temperature) before bedtime can ease the transition into a deeper, more restful sleep. This may be due to a temperature shift, since the body’s core internal thermostat drops after leaving the water, which signals the body that it’s time to sleep.

One study by E. J. Sung and Y. Tochihara in 2000 (referenced in Hot Water & Healthy Living) looked at the positive sleep benefits of soaking in warm water in the evening during winter. The sleep improvement may also be related to hot water’s relaxing properties — the buoyancy of water reduces body weight by approximately 90 percent, relieving pressure on joints and muscles, creating the sensation of weightlessness. The hot, swirling water leaves you feeling both mentally and emotionally relaxed.

Healing Effects: It’s a long-established medical fact that improved circulation promotes healing, and there’s no question that hydrotherapy in warm water increases circulation. As the blood supply to muscles increases, more nutrients become available to help cells and tissues regenerate, and speed up healing. This healing effect is aided by the buoyancy of water, which reduces weight bearing on joints due to gravity.

ARTHRITIS relief: Approximately 43 million people in the United States suffer from some form of arthritis pain. The good news for those affected is that there are safe and effective ways to both minimize the discomfort and prevent further damage. According to a publication from The Arthritis Foundation, Spas, Pools, and Arthritis, “Regular sessions in your hot tub help keep joints moving. This restores and preserves strength and flexibility, and also protects your joints from further damage. Exercise can also improve a person’s coordination, endurance, and ability to perform daily tasks, and can lead to an enhanced sense of self-esteem and accomplishment.”

Whether you have arthritis; fibromyalgia; knee, hip or other joint pain and stiffness; a sports-related injury or strain; or just overdid it on the tennis court; hydrotherapy is a common form of natural treatment.

DIABETIC therapy: Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine give new hope to the millions who suffer from diabetes. “Hot tub therapy” helped a group of Type 2 diabetics reduce their blood sugar levels and improve sleep patterns. Hot tub soaking was judged beneficial because physical exercise is recommended for patients with Type 2 diabetes, and partial immersion in a hot tub simulates these beneficial effects of exercise.

Another independent study done by Dr. Philip L. Hooper at the McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colorado offered more impressive evidence. Patients’ average blood sugar levels were reduced by an average of 13 percent. Hooper also explained that one of the subjects was able to reduce his daily dose of insulin by 18 percent after only ten days of the study.

In reference to these findings, Dr. Hooper and others state that hot tubs are especially helpful for patients who are unable to exercise, and recommends that hot tub treatments should be included as regular therapy for patients with diabetes.

HEART HEALTHY: Research led by Dr. Thomas G. Allison of the Mayo Clinic, discussed in an article titled “Mayo Clinic OK’s Spas for Heart Patients,” indicates that hot tubs and spas may not present as much of a risk to heart patients as previously thought. The report stated that relaxing in a spa might actually be less stressful to your heart than working out on an exercise bicycle. Soaking in a hot tub increases the heart rate while lowering blood pressure, instead of raising it as other forms of exercise do.

In fact, as Dr. Becker stated in his report, “The effects of aquatic immersion are profound, and impact virtually every body system. Warm water immersion protects the heart from rhythm disturbances and improves the efficiency of the heart muscle.”

Dr. Becker concluded: “There may indeed be magic in the water.”

Note: When discussing possible health benefits of hydrotherapy with hot tub clients, always recommend consultation with a doctor, especially for clients with serious ailments such as diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular conditions.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail eric@aquamagazine.com.

Eric Herman is Senior Editor of AQUA Magazine.