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When it comes to swim spas, there’s no one-size-fits-all sales strategy. While some retailers will display a model or two in the corner of their store, others make them the entire focus of their business; while some retailers report modest growth last year, others say their sales are skyrocketing.
We spoke to three different swim spa retailers, each with a different business strategy, and asked them about their swim spa sales.
While swim spas are merely a facet to a larger business plan for many retailers, Joseph Stone, owner of Swim Fitness, flipped the formula.
“The way I see it, I’m a swim spa retailer who also sells hot tubs,” Stone says. “The difference is, everyone else is a hot tub store trying to sell swim spas. And you cannot approach a swim spa market like a hot tub market.
“It’s an apple and an orange, they just happen to be under the same roof.”
Based in Northern California, Swim Fitness has showrooms in Manteca and Sacramento with four to five models on each floor. Last year, Stone’s swim spa sales were up by 300 percent. While an improved economy definitely doesn’t hurt, Stone also has a fairly aggressive marketing campaign to draw people to the store.
“My single largest capital expenditure in my business is marketing and promotion. So I do spent a lot of money raising the awareness level and putting this product in the minds of prospects out there. Along with a bigger, more expensive gadget, so goes my marketing budget.”
Stone estimates his swim spa marketing budget falls in the low to mid-teens, large compared to the typical hot tub retailer. Swim Fitness’ exposure is broad, and includes TV, radio, magazines and social media; while some promotion is done in collaboration with Master Spas, Stone says he does much of it himself.
In addition to traditional marketing channels, Stone targets local customers by sponsoring high school swim teams and clubs. With state budget cuts impacting swim teams, Stone not only sees it as a good deed, but also as a tried-and-true way of getting new customers in his stores.
“You get the kids excited and soon mom and dad hear all about it. I chuckle because it really works,” he says.
But marketing is only the beginning. Compared to the hot tub industry, Stone describes the swim spa industry as a “relationship business” with deals commonly taking months to solidify.
“The gestation for somebody to make the decision can be, on the short side, 60 days. On the long side, I’ve got deals that last a year in consideration. It’s not just, ‘buy this thing and park it on your patio.’”
That courtship begins on the showroom floor with careful explanations and demonstrations. Stone says most customers don’t have a full understanding of what a swim spa is until they see one in person, so his stores feature both wet and dry units for customers to examine and try for themselves.
When a customer does make a commitment to a swim spa, Stone takes the relationship to the next level with a “white-glove presentation.”
“When a customer buys a swim spa, I normally make a personal visit. I do an entire orientation, an entire walkthrough, and I hand the keys over to them, so to speak. There is a major formal presentation at delivery on site with the homeowner, and that takes time. You have to be willing to invest that amount of time.”
With customers in California, Las Vegas, Phoenix and even Hawaii, Stone is literally prepared to go the extra mile (or hundred miles) to impress a customer.
“I don’t know another dealer who will do that,” he says.
For Melinda Dalacas, sales and marketing manager at Arizona-based Southwest Spas, hot tubs are her focus — they consist of 95 percent of her sales while swim spas take five percent. And she’s pretty honest about the state of her swim spa sales:
“Sales have been slow,” she says, “A little better than 2011, but not anything drastic.”
While the uptick in sales is modest — especially when compared to the pre-recession era in which she sold a swim spa each week — Dalacas notes a couple trends among the customers who do go home with a swim spa. First, the convenience and easy upkeep of a swim spa makes it an attractive option to customers who spend their winters in the Southwest.
“It’s a key point for me because you can’t just walk away from a swimming pool; you have to have constant maintenance. And on a swim spa, it’s so easy to just drain it and close it down. I’d say 90 percent of my customers are snowbirds.”
Having such a niche encouraged Dalacas to offer special services just for them.
“We have a service where we’ll drain it, get it summer-ized for them and then we winterize when they’re ready to come back so they can just get in.”
Being snowbirds, Dalacas’ customers are consistently older, which matches the swim spa’s demographic.
“The age group for swim spas used to be between 50 and 80, and now I’ve seen a drastic change where it’s 65 to 80. People in their 40’s or 50’s are not buying swim spas — it’s all the elderly.”
And it’s the older generation that is most interested in the swim spa because, as Dalacas says, “they need it the most.”
“The first question I ask customers is, ‘What would you like the swim spa to do for you?’ And it’s the same thing every time: ‘I have arthritis,’ ‘I need to exercise,’ ‘I’m overweight.’”
A certified aquatic fitness specialist, Dalacas closes more sales by sharing the latest research in aquatic therapy and putting it in perspective for the customer.
“You have to work hard to let them know, ‘Hey, what’s your health worth?’ That’s the bottom line. ‘Is your health worth X amount of dollars to live longer and have a healthier, more pain- free life?’ And if you convince them that, that’s the key.”
Don McIver, national sales manager for L.A. Spas, has been in the industry for 35 years. In his role with L.A. Spas, he travels to 25 to 30 events a year, including home shows, fairs and expos, selling both hot tubs and swim spas. While hot tubs are the mainstay of the business — McIver estimates hot tubs account for about 90 percent of sales — he says swim spas are chipping away at that dominance.
“It seems every year, an increasingly bigger and bigger percentage of our sales have become swim spas,” McIver says. He estimates that swim spa sales initially started off at 2 to 3 percent, but have since grown to 10 percent, a shift he attributes to an improved economy and wider product selection.
“We’ve actually been backed up in orders; a lot of people are interested in our smaller versions because they seem to fit just about anywhere,” he says.
With a greater range of products, McIver sees a greater variety of customers as well. In addition to fitness-minded people who use the swim spa exclusively for exercise, McIver says he sees a lot of families interested as well.
“We have the families who want a bigger spa. Maybe they don’t care so much about strenuous exercise, but they want some fun. They can swim a little, splash and float and use it like a pool, but also have the availability of exercising and a couple of spa seats they can sit and relax in.
“And then we have the family who wants the all-in-one vessel. They can exercise fully, swim and do all the things they can in a swimming pool with the attachment of a hot tub at the end so they can just step over the barrier and soak in the hot tub. They can have the best of both worlds.”
But another reason why customers are turning to swim spas instead of swimming pools or hot tubs: it’s a compromise product.
“Swimming pools can get expensive, and in some places, you never get the value back out of your swimming pool for what you put into it. A swim spa is something they can use at a very affordable rate, and at the same time, if they do decide to move, the swim spa can go with them to their next house.”
Swim spas and hot tubs are close cousins in the industry, and the sales process is similar as well, McIver says.
“For me personally, as far as selling a swim spa goes, if you have the right customer and they’re looking for something we have to sell, I don’t think there’s as much of a difference in selling a spa or a swim spa. It’s just finding the right thing for the right customer.”
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