Sell spa covers with a direct mail campaign

4 K 808 AqWhen spa sales slow, as they have recently, dealers tend to look to past customers to make up some of the difference. One common strategy is to increase sales of replacement covers and lifters, and an excellent way to do that is through direct mail.

The keys to a good direct mail campaign, whether it's for spa covers or anything else, are focus, message and repetition, according to John Schulte, president and chairman of the Minneapolis-based National Mail Order Association, which represents marketing companies nationwide.

Schulte, who's sold everything from wedding dresses to backyard decks using direct mail, says all those elements work together in a successful campaign, starting with the list of recipients.

"You always want to make sure that you've got a database going for each customer," he says. "And you want to make sure that database keeps the date of purchase.

"You say, 'OK, this hot tub cover is going to be really messed up after however many years, on average.' You should be able to separate that out and say, 'I want every hot tub customer, that's three years old, or five years old, and target your mailing in that way."

Laurie Batter, president of Batter-Up! Productions and a marketing professional in the spa and pool business for over 25 years, agrees that all good campaigns start with good lists, but adds that there are still many dealers out there that don't do the upfront work necessary to generate those lists.

"Believe it or not, some people still have their databases in shoe boxes," she says. "I recommend above all that the dealers keep good databases, and that includes keeping track of when customers buy new spa covers. You don't want to keep marketing to the customers who've already replaced them."

Olympic Hot Tub Company, an AQUA 100 Hall of Fame company in Seattle, keeps a good database and puts it to use in selling replacement covers and lifters.

"I'd love to tell you we do something revolutionary, but I confess we do not," says Don Riling, sales manager. "We normally have a promotion on covers and cover lifters in each of our Splash! newsletters, which we send out to nearly 17,000 customers we've sold to. We send that to our customers three times a year, and we normally enjoy a good bump in business during those times.

"In addition to that, we also send anniversary postcards to our customers on the anniversary of their tub purchase. We send them one every year for 10 years. Each year the special is different, depending on how long they've had their tub. We try to anticipate what they should be needing, or what we think they should be getting to keep them happy. At year four we offer them a 20 percent discount on a new cover and free removal of their old cover."

These customer contacts do more than just bump up sales, however. They're a chance to make contact with old customers and let them know you're there for anything they may need to keep their hot tubs looking and working their best, which can ultimately lead to sales beyond the cover and lifter.

"When you're sending out a promo on a cover, you should also offer other specials on the same card," Batter says. "Cover lifters, chemicals, other accessories. You should even consider offering a trade-in or trade-up to a new hot tub model. Because at some point people will say to themselves, 'This cover is going to cost me $300 or $400. Maybe I'm ready for a new hot tub.'"

Sending A Message

One of the most common marketing mistakes retailers make is sending mail pieces without strong messages. If you want recipients to buy replacement covers, you've got to instill some urgency in the message.

"You always have to tell people what you want them to do, and that's what we call a call to action," Schulte says. "Most people use some kind of discount to convey some sense of immediacy. It could be 10 days to act, or $50 off with this postcard, good until September 2008. Maybe it's a Spring Kickoff theme: 'Make sure your cover doesn't look shoddy for your next big party.'"

That's a strategy Batter has found works, too.

"My experience is that you need some kind of a discount," she explains. "I don't recommend putting a price on it, though. But be sure the expiration date is no more than four weeks; three weeks is the best.

"And you should make them bring in the card, or at least mention the card, so you can measure the response."

It's this ability to measure response that Schulte says is one of the best reasons to use direct mail. If a piece works, it works. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and you can try something else.

"After you give it a good try, you move on and think of other ideas," he says. "But at least you're getting into their minds. They know they can just hop down to your store and pick up a cover, and who knows what else they may decide on once they get there? They may be ready for a whole new hot tub."

Try, Try Again

Dealers are sometimes reluctant to send too many mail pieces to customers, afraid fatigue will set in if they contact them too often. This fear is unfounded, say Schulte.

"People talk about that with e-mail, too," he explains. "They'll say, 'How many times should I e-mail a customer? Because I don't want them to drop off; I don't want them to unsubscribe.' What I have discovered is that the people who get angry aren't going to buy from you anyway. The biggest mistake people make is that they don't contact their past customers enough.

"It starts from the very beginning. Somebody makes a purchase and they should be sent a thank-you card right away. That's the very first piece of direct mail every company should be sending out. I don't care what they buy. They should be getting a note that says, 'Thanks for stopping in. We really appreciate your business.'

"Think about it: How many times have you bought something for a couple of hundred bucks and you never hear a word from them again? You've really got to stand out to get people thinking about you all the time.

"I talk to people and use the term 'advertising campaign.' A campaign doesn't mean one time; it means a constant effort. You just don't know when they're going to make that purchasing decision, and you want to keep reminding them that you're there."

Count Olympic among the companies that knows the importance of repetition with direct mail campaigns. Riling says he's getting ready to send another piece to past customers to boost cover and lifter sales.

"We're going to target customers who have had their tubs for five years that may not have used that anniversary card at year four," he explains. "We're going to send a postcard to those customers and give them another opportunity to buy a cover, and time it so it's not when their Splash! newsletter will be hitting their mailbox.

"Even with as much business as our newsletter generates, we know some customers never open it, while they will flip over a postcard and read the back of it if it's sent at a different time. We hope to generate some new business that way."

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