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Here's some good news: The hot tub industry has finally regained some of its swagger.
Gazebos provide protection and privacy in an aesthetically pleasing package. But perhaps the best benefit of gazebos — at least from a dealer's point of view — is that you can make good money selling them. They're not spa accessories that get "thrown in" with the purchase of a hot tub. In fact, the margin on some gazebos is as much as the spa it's bought to house.
However, as with any retail product, gazebos won't move if dealers don't have a plan for getting them out the door. To find out how to successfully market, merchandise and sell gazebos, AQUA spoke to a few dealers who know a thing or two about getting gazebos out of the showroom and into customer's backyards.
Get The Word Out
First, consumers need to know you carry gazebos, so including them in advertising in some meaningful way is critical. Though few dealers have the budget to advertise exclusively for gazebos, pairing them with hot tubs is usually a viable option that gets the message across.
"In our advertising, more so print than anything else, we always mention the gazebos in conjunction with the spas, because out in this neck of the woods, there's obviously a lot of competition," says Brian Roble, president of Caldera Spas & Baths in San Diego. "And so some people will buy their spa elsewhere and then decide we have a better selection of gazebos and actually purchase that item alone from us."
David Ellentuck, president of Long Island, N.Y.-based Harrow Stores, says he also favors print advertising for gazebos because they're very visual.
"Constantly we're in color ads and we're showing the color of the spa and the color of the gazebo because they look fabulous," he says.
Advertising a large selection is also a good way to edge out the competition. "In our print advertising, we may advertise four or five different packages, so people already have the mentality when they come in that we have a selection," says Jeff Knight, director of sales for Spa X-Press, a retail outlet owned by Dimension One Spas. "When you see some ads in our industry, if they do sell gazebos, they have one picture of a gazebo and 12 or 14 pictures of spas and they wonder why they don't sell any gazebos.
"In your marketing, you have to plant the seed with the consumer that you carry that product and that you merchandise that product." And whatever you do advertise, says Knight, you need to have in stock.
Beyond advertising, some dealers "plant the seed" with consumers by bringing gazebos to local home shows and county fairs. "We do the annual county fair and to that we take at least four or five gazebos," says Roble. "Over the years we've sold anywhere from 100 to 150 spas and we'll do anywhere from 10 to 25 gazebos on the premises. And then of course with that exposure, a lot of people trickle in over the next six to nine months as a result of seeing them at the fair."
Bill McSweeny, manager at Norbert Pools & Spas in Lisle, Ill., finds home shows can be great for generating leads. "We probably generate more leads than immediate sales there, but you're going to get both. And gazebos are definitely an attraction at home shows — they're prominent, large and eye-catching. They're definitely a benefit at home shows. Without a question."
Including photographs of the gazebos you carry on your Web site is yet another way to let customers see what you have to offer. Roble says his Web site is linked to Watkins Manufacturing's Web site, and he estimates the Internet brings in at least 10 percent of his store's traffic. Though Roble says he does not sell merchandise over the Internet, he's aware that many shoppers today check out the local market online before jumping in their cars, and he wants his dealership to be one of the sites they visit.
Show, Don't Tell
Naturally, a wise merchandising strategy involves displaying gazebos, but what's the best way to do this?
"Whether it's in the showroom or at a home show or fair, we don't put up one, we put up several," says Knight. "You have to market like you're in the business, and if you put up one, it's an afterthought."
Ellentuck discovered how true this is. "When I first started with Gazebo Works Too several years ago, we showed one gazebo and if it wasn't the right one, people weren't interested, and I lost the customer completely.
"What I finally realized is that they don't really take .oor space away from the spa that I'm trying to sell anyhow, and it's just added dollars to the sale. In today's marketplace, it's not unusual for me to have a $12,000 spa and gazebo sale, which is a big-ticket item for us. That's a nice sale. So because they don't take up any more space on the .oor, we've been putting more and more on." And this strategy has definitely made a difference. Ellentuck estimates that five years ago, 10 percent of his hot tub customers bought a gazebo. Now, with more gazebos on display, an impressive 35 percent of those customers purchase a gazebo. "We even have customers coming back to buy the gazebo after they've bought their spa."
Besides having a varied selection of gazebos on display, many dealers like to present the gazebo and spa as a package with one price. The message you want your sales team to convey to customers is "the more they buy, the more they're going to save," says Knight. "Allow them a position where they're going to save money, because everyone loves to do that."
Roble says the following strategy works well at his store: "We'll take one of the larger enclosed gazebos that's $9,000 retail and we'll put a $3,000 spa in it and we'll say, 'You can have this $12,000 package for $10,000 or you can substitute any spa and get a $2,000 credit toward it.' And they always upgrade the spa because it's the people with money. So most of them will take a $5,000 to $8,000 spa and now we have a $12,000 to $15,000 sale because they're getting the $2,000 markdown, but we can afford a $2,000 markdown. There's enough room in the higher-priced spas and gazebos to take that kind of a markdown and still make terrific money."
Not only can displaying the spa and gazebo as a package boost profits, it's also important for customers to see a setting they can envision in their own yard. "What you really have to do when you're selling gazebos is present the lifestyle," says Knight. "You have to paint the picture of how they're going to use it in their own backyard. The only way you can do that is to have an actual spa inside a gazebo, running with water in it, so they can visualize it. It's one thing to tell someone something, it's another thing to show it to them."
Ellentuck shows his customers colorcoordinated packages. "I concentrate on getting the color of the gazebo wood to match the outside cabinet of the spa, so it's not a mismatch. I don't want you to get a cedar cabinet with a redwood gazebo. It wouldn't look good." Because the gray driftwood look is very popular in the Northeast, says Ellentuck, he has special-ordered gray-stained redwood gazebos to pair with gray-sided spas. "My sales are almost 40 percent gray. The look is very beachy, very New England and we sell a lot of it."
Ellentuck also displays one large enclosed gazebo, which shows his customers everything that's available. "Gazebo Works Too calls it their concept gazebo. It's a 10-by-14 gazebo and every option they make is shown on it." The gazebo features a bay window, a built-in bench, sliding doors, regular doors, a copper roof and an alcove big enough to fit a hot tub off the 140-square-foot main room. "It gives people a lot of ideas about what they can do and how they can set up their backyards."
All the dealers AQUA spoke with said they offer packages at various price points and make it easy for customers to mix and match spas and gazebos to meet their needs and budgets. They all decorate the displays attractively, as well. McSweeny stresses keeping the displays uncluttered. "You don't want the thing all dusty and piled up with junk. Things like that can tend to be a collector. So when you have a gazebo in your showroom, it can be a closing area with regard to selling a gazebo and a spa, but what we avoid is letting it collect literature and sales manuals. You want to have a clean, attractive display."
Eye-catching outdoor displays can draw in clients as well. "We've got a fairly large outdoor area right by a freeway," says Knight, "and the nice thing with gazebos outside is that people see them as they drive by. They're tall, they're buildings. So people understand that A, you have them and B, that they're gorgeous, and so they bring people in the store."
Talk Benefits, Not Features
Once customers walk through your door, moving those gazebos is now up to the sales staff. Since each customer is different, each sales approach should be a little different. But, in general, it's a good idea to discuss benefits, instead of features.
Dark Plexiglas is a feature that creates privacy, but discussing how dark windows will block a neighbor's view will make gazebos sound more attractive. Likewise, snow-load figures and ease of maintenance will widen more eyes than a description of the steel alloys used in many gazebo roofs.
"The thing that's come out recently from Sylvan Settings is their Plastique finish, which they say the customer doesn't have to restain for five years," says Roble. "So here in Southern California where people move every five years, we tell them, 'Look, if you get lucky, you won't ever have to stain your wooden gazebo because you're going to sell your house before it needs more stain.' They kind of chuckle and then say, 'You're right.' The benefit is less maintenance for the customer."
Plastic gazebos also require a limited amount of maintenance and therefore may appeal to clients with busy lifestyles.
Privacy is another benefit to highlight. Says Ellentuck, "Up here in New York, we have relatively small properties and maybe they don't want their neighbor looking in on them when they're in their spa."
Gazebos also help create "a complete setting," says Ellentuck. "Gazebos are wooden, they're real pretty and they make the spa look like a real part of the backyard, rather than just a spa put down someplace."
Another key to successful gazebo sales, says Knight, is the sales staff should present a gazebo every time they present a spa.
And keep in mind that customers may be interested in a gazebo even if they're not getting a spa. "We have people coming in looking for gazebos for a myriad of reasons," says Knight. "Some people want to have a barbecue in them. Some people just want to put a patio set in them. We've sold a lot of the Visscher pine units for sauna rooms. We've sold them for art studios. We've sold them for offices, where people want to have an office outside the house because they don't have enough room."
Whatever types of gazebos you choose to carry, keep these strategies and approaches in mind. Gazebos may not sell themselves, but they're a beautiful addition to any yard, so most homeowners will be tempted. Help them give in to temptation.
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