There are several key ingredients to success in the hot tub business, including a stellar team, great customer service and a deep knowledge of the products you carry. Another equally important factor: The look and feel of your showroom, which plays a huge role in swaying potential customers to make a purchase.

There are several reasons why. According to a report by Market Track, the majority of U.S. shoppers prefer to buy in-store over online, especially for bigger ticket items. (When broken down by category, for example, nearly 90 percent of respondents said they would prefer to buy a car in person. Major appliances ranked 85 percent and jewelry at 71 percent.)

The same survey found that customers on average shop at three stores before making a major purchase. So when they're comparing products and retailers, the impression made by your store environment is going to factor into the decision.

As important as your showroom is to your success, most dealers admit retail design doesn't come naturally. For example, take Josh Kemerling, general manager at Georgia Spa Company. The company currently has five locations, but due to local moves, he's helped open eight showrooms in all. It was only in November, when the latest location opened in Alpharetta, Ga., that he thinks he finally achieved a retail design that works.

"It took us eight times, but we finally nailed it," he says.

So what's trending right now in spa showroom design? We spoke to two of the nation's top dealers, both of whom recently opened new showrooms, as well as a retail design expert, to learn more.

1. Earth Tones

Everyone knows there's a default color scheme for pool and spa stores: blue and white. While the colors tie thematically into your offerings, a blue and white store has an unintended side effect: It feels cold.

"There's a big risk in pool and spa stores of them being chilly, just because of the amount of white and blue that is used in our industry. They're cold colors. And so you have to think about that when you're putting stuff together," says Mario Maichel, retail marketing manager at Watkins Wellness. Maichel serves a unique role at Watkins as a liaison between the corporate marketing team and dealers who sell Watkins products. It also means he routinely travels the country to help dealers one-on-one with their marketing efforts, of which retail design is a huge part.

"The big thing I would say is we want softer tones, more earth tones, things that really warm the space," he adds.

If you're eyeing new paint colors for your showroom, go for colors like sand, hazelnut, moss and slate. When reviewing paint samples, compare them against your cabinet and shell color options to see what harmonizes. (Some manufacturers, like Hot Springs, have pre-selected color palettes for this very purpose; all you have to do is order the paint and pick it up.)

Another note on paint: Even if you have the perfect color for your showroom, paint is not a one-and-done job.

"You should paint your store at a minimum of every two years. And that's at a minimum," Maichel says. "It's the cheapest way to have the biggest impact on a physical space."


2. Breathing Room Between Floor Models

Visit a warehouse-style showroom and you'll see row after row of spas, each butting up against the next. That strategy may work for low-margin/high-volume stores, but for stores with high-end lines, it can work against you.

"If you've got them all lined up, [customers] can only get to the front. And they can't really look at them from all sides to see what that lounge looks like," Kemerling says.

You want your showroom to encourage guests to get close to the spas. This works on two levels: First, it helps your customers see the spa as less of an appliance and more as a high-end tool that will help them with their health goals. Second, and more importantly, that space encourages customers to interact with the product, which goes a long way to making a sale.

How much space do you need?

"People won't comfortably walk through a space less than four feet in width," Maichel says. "And they will barely enter anything under three feet. So if you have products that are two feet apart, like hot tubs sitting side by side, and you're expecting someone to go in and be able to look at jet configuration or seat, no way.

"I understand you can't do that with every product in your store — otherwise a 3,000-square-foot store would have 12 hot tubs on display," Maichel notes. "You have to pick and choose, but the important stuff must have comfortable access on at least three sides."

When you walk in Georgia Spa Company's new location, you'll see several tubs placed diagonally, allowing guests to get up close and see the tub from all sides. To achieve this look, the delivery team put all the floor models on rollers and turned them to different angles while Kemerling looked on up front.

"We sat there and twisted each hot tub until it was like, 'That works,'" he says. "That's how we got rid of the straight rows."

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3. A Minimalist Feel

As more retailers add screens, tablets and other high-tech gadgets to their showrooms, Don Riling, president of Seattle-based Olympic Hot Tub, is going the other way.

"I think when people are coming to look at hot tubs specifically, or anything that's health and wellness related, that we should get them focused on the product, and focused on disconnecting … I want to get them into the tub where they can escape all of that stuff that sucks us in during the day," he says.

When in the planning stages for Olympic's new flagship store, which opened in Seattle in May, Riling ensured the layout featured few distractions. There are no TVs in the Seattle location, signage is minimal and messaging is kept to a minimum. When walking into the store, guests see a large wall wrapped in a starry night sky, along with the company name, its slogan and the logos for its two main suppliers. Aside from that, it's all about product.

"All the POP stuff distracts from the actual product itself. So I try to minimize that and have it be more like an accent to the showroom rather than the dominating aspect of it," he says.

Small steps, like removing some of the extraneous promotional messaging from your store, adding space between floor models and cutting back on the product on your shelves can yield a big impact overall: a greater focus on what you want your customers to consider.

"The showroom should reflect what we're hoping they're going to do in their backyard every night. And I hope that that doesn't mean they're going to be sitting in the hot tub looking at their iPad. I'd rather they be looking at the stars! Or disconnecting, or reconnecting with themselves or somebody else that might be in the tub with them. So I just want the showroom to reflect that and for that to be the feel they get when they walk in here," Riling says.


4. Mixed Materials

The days of all-carpet showrooms are no more. Today's retailers are taking chances by blending materials for a greater visual and sensory impact.
When developing his new showroom, for example, Kemerling's new landlord had a couple demands, including earth tones and rock accent walls. (She also agreed to foot the bill for the upgrades, making it easy for Kemerling to go along with the plan.)

An architect was called in, and four rock walls in a blend of darker tones were installed, one behind the cash wrap and three others to serve as accent walls throughout the store. The accent walls work to break up the monotony of the wall color and add a luxe touch; only after they were installed did Kemerling realize their potential as focal points for displays.

When Endless Spas came out with a new swim spa, for example, it happened to fit perfectly in front of a 20-foot-long rock wall in the store. Kemerling's team moved it into position, added an Endless sign to the wall and placed uplights at each end of the spa. Altogether, it's a powerful display.

"That right there is probably the biggest eye catcher. When people walk by that store, they look in there and see that huge rock wall, the huge E2000 dual temp Endless with the big logo right behind it," Kemerling says.

When touring the space that would ultimately become Olympic's new Seattle store, Riling noticed the all-concrete, high-gloss floors. Instead of covering them up with carpet, he took advantage by blending it with carpeted areas.

"I asked the contractors to put a matte finish on that concrete and left it as a natural pathway though most of the showroom," he says. "It creates kind of a natural path through the showroom; it guides people around to look at the whole array of product we've got on display."


5. Less Product on the Shelves

The purpose for creating a boutique look isn't just for the pleasant environment — it enhances the perceived value of the products you carry. With that in mind, it's important to take a look at your water care section and do two things: Stock less product and add space on the shelves. Michael notes he tends to have the same conversation with dealers he meets on the road:

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"'Why do you have so much on display?'

"'Well, we're busy. We can't be restocking it all the time.'"

"'So…we have two months worth on display at a time? Could we go for a week? How about three days?'" he says. "We want it to be enough without blowing people away. We want to set ourselves apart from big box stores and give someone that touch and feel."


6. Powerful Mood Rooms

If you think the mood room only exists for test soaks, you're sorely underestimating them. Maichel knows firsthand — before joining the corporate team at Watkins Wellness, he worked the sales floor at two dealerships. During his tenure at Mountain Hot Tub in Bozeman, Mont., he took the co-lead on revamping the mood room, painting it a dusty purple tone, similar to the sky just after sunset, and added fiber-optic lighting and spotlights to the ceiling. (That mood room, depicted in the upper right, has since been updated.) In essence, he was creating a stage for a play.

The lights were controlled via remote with a two-minute dimmer, which Maichel could quietly use to his advantage when talking to customers:

"I could walk in and hit a button in my pocket to start the lights. Then I would tell a story: 'Imagine walking into your backyard and the sun's going down, and you see your hot tub there, hot, ready and inviting you … and you look up and the stars are twinkling … and you sit back in your hot tub and you know that you're happy and you did the right thing.'

"People would go, 'Ok, let's write it up.' I printed money in that room!"

7. High-End Restrooms

The most commonly overlooked part of a pool and spa showroom is arguably the restroom. And that's a big mistake, especially for businesses that sell luxury goods. When you're selling big-ticket items, you want every corner of your showroom to speak the same message: It's worth spending your money with us.

Riling's past experience includes time at Nordstrom and Disney — places with impeccable customer ambience throughout — so when designing his new showroom, he made sure the design of the restroom was considered as much as the showroom floor.

"When I worked for those companies, I learned that the entire customer experience should reflect what you want people to feel. Your customer's experience does not end at the bathroom door," he says.

Olympic's new restroom features floor and wall tile, a bench for changing — a great idea for a showroom with a mood room — a hand drier in lieu of paper towel and a modern sink. All together, the restroom is itself a high-end experience. 


It's the Little Things

You don't need to completely overhaul your showroom to make a noticeable impression to your customers — it's the little things that often have a big impact.

If you want to spruce up your store, run through this list and take a look at your store with a critical eye. There's likely a place or two that could use some work.

1. Parking Lot: Are the lines weathered or hard to see? Repaint them. Have potholes? Fix them.

2. Exterior Landscaping: Is the mulch looking fresh? Are planters clean, and plants well maintained?

3. Windows: Are the windows clean? (If you have part-time staffers, this is an easy thing to add to their to-do list.) If window clings are faded from the sun, replace.

4. Décor: One of Mario's pet peeves: discordant décor. If you have tropical art on the walls, don't place a vase of carnations nearby — do sunglasses, a lei or summery drink glassware. Your décor should send a singular message.

5. Lighting: Is your lighting uniform? All wattage should be the same, as well as color tone.

6. Clutter: Do you have boxes from the latest UPS shipment sitting out? They should be taken care of immediately.

7. Shelving: When was the last time your shelves got a good dusting?


Cailley Hammel is Managing Editor of AQUA Magazine.