Lift Off

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Selling a spa involves much more than just, well, selling a spa. There are all sorts of accessories available today, two of which have become near necessities rather than luxuries β€” the spa cover and cover lift. Most dealers include a spa cover as part of the sale, but what of the cover lift. As the Baby Boomers age and spas are marketed to that demographic for their beneficial health properties, including a cover lift as part of the sale can be a good idea. Alternatively, selling the lift in the aftermarket is also appealing. Which route you should take as a dealer depends on whom you talk to.

What's Great About Lifts?

According to both manufacturers and dealers, cover lifts offer users two great advantages: ease of use for the spa and an extended life for the cover. "I honestly believe the biggest hassle they have is with the cover, and a cover lifter takes the hassle out of a cover," says Deb Olson, director of sales and marketing for Leisure Concepts. "It allows the consumer to use their whole spa, not just flip up half the cover, but remove the whole thing. Here they just bought a $5,000 or $10,000 spa and because the cover is such a pain they only flip over half and sit in half their spa. I mean, why'd they buy the whole thing. It really eliminates the hassle and it extends the longevity of the cover."

Covers also tend to get more unwieldy as time goes by. "I've heard of situations where people have not had lifters, and their covers got so heavy where they would go out to get in their spa and they wouldn't get in because they decided they didn't want to mess with their cover," says Brian Quint, president of Aqua Quip, with eight retail locations in the Seattle area. "What a shame that they're not using this product that they've invested in, that we want to obviously see them use, because it's too difficult to use. The lifter just takes that whole issue away."

The cover lift also keeps the cover from being abused by the kids or chewed up by the family dog as it lays in a corner of the deck. "If they don't have a lifter, what they do is they flip the cover back and then they flip it off and then they might drag it across their deck and then lean it against their house," says Quint. "I know how my kids would treat the cover if they didn't have a lifter β€” it'd get dropped. I guarantee you that it lasts longer because I have a lifter."

Selling As A Package

There are two ways to go when selling a cover lift, either including it as part of the initial purchase, or selling it as an aftermarket accessory. Rick Rowland, owner of Champagne Spas in San Diego, includes the lifter as part of the initial sale of the spa. "We throw them in with the deal β€” everybody does, so we kind of have to follow suit," he says. "I've been here for 11 years, and from the very start, we pretty much gave them away with spas. The only people that don't use them are the ones that don't have room for them or they're in the ground and they just won't work."

Some manufacturers agree with Rowland that including the lift in the initial sale is the way to go. "Strong dealers will sell the lifter as a part of the spa sale," says Melinda Herber, aftermarket manager for Sundance Spas. "Selling the lift as a package ensures the total backyard experience for the consumer and eliminates any surprise at the weight of the cover."

When spa dealers buy the spas from the manufacturer, they automatically buy the cover as well, according to Olson, and in the last three years she's noticed that most dealers include the lift, too. "So either they buy their cover lift from their manufacturer or they buy their cover lift from a company like ours that sells a full line of spa accessories," she says. "It's true that most dealers will not sell a spa without a cover, but the majority of dealers are not selling a spa without a cover lift, either."

Selling Separately

In contrast, Quint does not include the lifter as part of the initial sale, but rather uses the opportunity to sell it as an additional item.

"A big part of our business, an equal part of our business as the sale of hot tubs in dollars, is the sale of aftermarket products to spa and swimming pool owners," he says. "So we sell a lot of lifters, both with our new spa sales as well as in the aftermarket, to people that either have hot tubs and don't have lifters, or people that are buying a new cover that need a new lifter. About 70 percent of spas go out with lifters, so more often than not."

Though Quint knows that many dealers do include the lift at the time of purchase, in his market, it's not necessary to do so.

"Quite honestly, there's no reason to throw it in," he says. "It's an opportunity to sell the customer an item that's another $200 or $300. It's like buying a car and not always throwing in the floor mats. Most dealers won't throw in the upgraded floor mats, so I guess that's an analogy. There's no reason to do that β€” We try to sell them lifters, we try to sell them steps, we try to sell them a spa umbrella."

Jess Tudor, design engineer for Coverplay, agrees that selling cover lifts separately gives the dealer a chance to make an up sell, and a more expensive product may be more in line with what the customer wants. "More than half of the covers that are being sold with spas in America today do not include cover lifts for whatever reason," he says. "With the advent of a less-expensive cover lift, certainly there are packages being put together by shrewd spa salesmen that incorporate the lift mechanism, but it isn't always in favor with the consumer. What we see, from our Web site, is that the consumer is willing to pay considerably more for a nicer product than what the dealers give them credit for in their showrooms."

If a dealer is going to sell the lifting mechanism separately, he or she must treat the product as more than an afterthought. "Most of the dealership network out there doesn't believe in the cover and the cover lift specifically enough to even show it," says Tudor. "It is a cumbersome piece, and it's not as attractive as acrylic, so when the consumer walks in to look at a spa for sale, he typically is enamored with the acrylic and the sparkling escutcheons on the jets, as opposed to the reality of this being covered 90 percent of the time, and the cover being an element that they would have to deal with. The consumer is better served if they know what it is that they have to deal with, and they're able to pick a cover lift that they would be happy with as well."

Baby Boomers

As the Baby Boomer demographic creeps toward retirement, spas are being marketed to them more and more as a health purchase.

Opinions differed, once again, on whether or not marketing the lift as a convenience product specifically for the Boomers is a good idea. "Absolutely, with the Baby Boomer population aging, we are finding that spas are also being used for therapeutic reasons," says Herber. "This group of buyers can most benefit from the lifting assistance provided by these products."

Quint, though he doesn't market lifts specifically to that group, thinks that the convenience of the product will definitely appeal to older customers. He says, "For example, my mother, who's 80, she doesn't have a hot tub in her home anymore, but there were times when she could only flip the cover open halfway and use that end of the spa because she couldn't lift the whole thing off the spa. And so a lifter now would give her the opportunity, and this is obviously well beyond a Baby Boomer."

On the flip side, both Olson and Tudor think a lift is a good sell regardless of the age of the user. "I believe that even if you're a 30-year-old healthy woman, like myself, a cover is awkward, it's heavy, it gets full of water, and regardless of your age, you need something to aid in opening a cover," says Olson. "A cover dry and brand new is hard enough, but you put it on a hot tub for a year, it gets water in it, and it begins to get heavy over time. You need an apparatus like a cover lifter to help you, regardless of your age."

Tudor agrees that lifts may appeal to older consumers, but says the appeal of the spa is universal. "I don't know why everyone is waiting till retirement to enjoy hydrotherapy, but Baby Boomers are certainly going to have more spendable cash when they retire, and I think that the spas might become a little more elaborate or even larger, and certainly with more amenities, if you will," says Tudor.

Regardless of the terms of the sale, everyone agreed that selling cover lifts gave them a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, as well as a nice profit. "You're doing your customer a service when you're selling them a lifter, you really are," says Quint. "It's not just that you've sold them something, you've sold them something that is going to enhance the usability of that spa, and that's ultimately what we want to see them do."

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