WAVES' Publisher Talks About The Indian Hot Tub Industry

Christopher Castillo is president of Media One Group, publisher of WAVES magazine and one of the organizers of India's WAVES Expo, which held its first show this year. AQUA reached him recently and talked about India's booming middle class and the potential he and his business partners see for the emerging world power.

How did you get involved in the Indian hot tub industry?

My business partner and I are both American, and after 2007 or 2008, when the economy was going down, we started looking outside the economy to help expand our pool heater business. So my business partner, Sonny Sharma, who is the CEO of the company, is of Indian heritage. He said to me, "Listen, let's go over there and see what we can do." So we went over to India and started meeting up with people in the pool industry, and spent a couple of years learning where the industry was. One thing we learned is there was no industry magazine and no trade show, and the industry was really asking for it, so we decided to start WAVES.

That's taken up all our time, so we stopped the pool supply business we were doing and now we focus strictly on WAVES.

Can you talk about the hot tub market in India?

The industry is in its infancy, but the expo and the magazine arose from the industry's demand for them. Overall the construction industry in India is really booming, so based off that luxury products — everything from cars to TVs and hot tubs — are starting to become popular in India.

The hot tub industry there is probably about 10 years old, and over the last five years it's really started to pick up. International players are starting to set up dealers and distributors all over the country, and we've been looking at growth of about 30 percent over the last few years. That's what manufacturers are telling us, but they're secretive about that among themselves and don't want to let the other companies know how many containers they're doing. It's kind of an Indian mentality.

You were in Las Vegas at the IPSPE show last November. Did you talk to some companies who've been dealing in India at that show?

I talked to Arctic Spas and Artesian there, and they're starting to set up distribution in India. Their expectation right now, since this is relatively new, is modest. The Indians are the ones who came and contacted them, so it's not like they sought out the Indian market. But they jumped in with both feet, and they're starting to sell over there. Obviously they're still focused on the American market, and they told me it's really difficult to look into new markets given how tough things are in America. So the growth will really be derived from the Indians pushing the market.

Some other companies have gone in there and set up retail shops, but these are more Australian and European companies. Spa France, for example, has opened up a few retail shops, and there's a Malaysian company that has opened up three or four spa retail shops. It's good for the market.

What is the typical buyer you're targeting in India?

I would say it's the upper middle class to high-class people we're going for. Right now India has 300 million people that fall into the middle class, which is astonishing. That's the entire population of the United States. So there's a large population of potential buyers in India. Pretty much everybody understands what the product is. There they call it a "Jacuzzi," but they definitely know what it is.

Also, the construction industry is really booming in India. Developers are buying land and just putting in like 100 or 200 villas and high-rises, and since the competition is so fierce, some of them will go ahead and purchase 50 or 100 spas or swim spas, put them in there, then advertise that they'll give those things away with a home purchase.

Right now the manufacturers are selling B to B, but also B to C, at equal levels.

What was your feedback after the first WAVES show?

The exhibitors were really excited. It was the first-ever niche show for our industry. Typically exhibitors and attendees of this show had to participate in big architectural or construction shows. They were shaking our hands afterward and saying, "Thank you! Now our industry is becoming united." And they'll be able to grow as an industry with educational seminars. All the exhibitors, especially the hot tub ones, got a lot of leads, and the majority came back and said they actually sold some spas right off the floor, too. So all those things are really positive.

There were tubs displayed, and some had models running. There was a swim spa with a swimmer demonstrating.

After the feedback, we booked the show for another year. We booked three times the space as we're expecting 300 percent growth for next year.

You mentioned there were some spa-only retail outlets. Where else would they be sold?

Bathroom companies are starting to sell spas, and those companies have retail outlets all over India. So I would say it's not as much of a backyard business with the hot tub and barbecue, and that it's more in the area of "bathing wellness," with hot tubs and saunas and those types of things.

What about marketing? Are there cultural differences that hot tub marketers will have to contend with?

I would say no. Typically you think of India as a conservative country, and it is. But at the same time there's an open and free economy, and you can advertise to the market any way you want. If you look in our magazine you'll see some advertisements that are exactly the same advertisements that they're using in other publications across the world, except with Indian addresses on them. So you can market the exact same way. And marketing is pretty much in English, too. I would say almost all the upper middle and upper class people speak English very fluently.

So I'd urge manufacturers to take a look at the Indian market. It's a rapidly growing industry, and country. In 10 or 20 years it's going to be a major superpower. Australia is doing an amazing job in the pool industry with setting up distributors, as are a lot of European companies. I would say to Americans: don't be afraid to look into it, and I hope you're able to see the opportunities that European, Australian and Chinese companies have already set up. India is not what you think. It's really starting to mature.

It's a price-conscious market, so I see portable spas as a good option. It's much cheaper than building a swimming pool. Prefabricated pools, too. Those two products represent good opportunities in India.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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