Q&A with hot tub professionals

Welcome to AQUA's newest column, "Hot Tub Monthly," which will feature the voices of industry insiders focusing on the hot tub business. Each month a new panel of manufacturing executives will connect with the industry and answer questions affecting business today.

4 Z 509 Aq 4 Y 509 Aq 5 A 509 Aq 5 B 509 Aq
Jim Sueppel
Eastern United States
sales manager
Jacuzzi Hot Tubs
Bill Yonke
Western United States
sales manager
Jacuzzi Hot Tubs
Larry Richards
vice president
Clearwater Spas
Timothy A. Martin
vice president of sales and business development
PDC Spas

1. In light of the current economy, do you have any strategies your dealers can use to increase their sales?

J.S.: In this economy, it's all about empowering our dealers with a flexible set of tools they can use and adapt for their local market. The most- successful retailers are chasing sales, not waiting for them to arrive on their doorstep.

L.R.: Clearwater Spas dealers are provided many strategies, marketing materials, special promotions and merchandising sales materials to help sell our full line of portable hot tubs. They are also provided with digital files and advertising samples for them to use - free of charge. Clearwater Spas' Web site provides consumers with product information, a dealer locator and generates sales leads to specific dealer locations. The Clearwater Spas corporate brand advertising program has been growing worldwide in print, broadcast, outdoor and Web 2.0 platforms.

(Richards goes on to recommend stressing green technology as a way to win customers. - ed.)

Clearwater Spas is strongly committed to protecting the health of our environment and manufacturing energy efficient hot tubs that help to conserve our natural resources. Our E-Smart technology symbol stands for energy efficiencies, engineering and environment. These are areas we pay special attention and focus our manufacturing mission on being responsible to our environment. Our spas are compliant with the California Energy Commission's stringent Title 20 for energy consumption.

T.M.: There are several strategies that are helping our most-successful retailers maintain and grow sales. First, a strong marketing program intertwined with promotions continues to be an effective way of generating more business, and we've improved our retailer support programs to assist with that. Consumers may be taking much longer to make a decision, but they are buying. We're telling our retailers to aggressively grow and manage their lead database - every person that comes through the door, calls on the phone, has done business in the past, is a prospect. Keep calling, keep marketing and eventually many of those prospects are turning into sales. Going hand in hand with that effort is maintaining a well-trained, professional service department. The best retailers know that every service call is a sales call, and an excellent service department is not only a major key competitive differentiator, it's a profit center.

2. This economy is keeping spa dealers awake at night. What are you doing about that?

B.Y.: We see a variety of tools working. Our custom lead-management system software and national marketing promotions are two examples of ways we are working with our family of dealers to create sales opportunities.

L.R.: We provide our dealers with affordable spa choices. Dealers have been excited about our growing value spa line, the XS Series - as many of their customers have less discretionary income for luxury purchases. During these tough economic times, Clearwater Spas provides a price range to fit every customer's budget without sacrificing the quality engineering that goes into every one of our hot tubs. This has helped many dealers stay in business, by providing affordable spas for everyone.

T.M.: The single biggest concern that keeps our retailers awake at night is getting prospective customers in the door, and closing them once they get there. To help with that, we've doubled our co-op advertising incentive to our retailers. This is allowing our retailers to continue and expand their marketing efforts, with our assistance, and draw more prospects into their stores. We're also continuing our outstanding event program that supports our retailers holding special events - truckload sales, start-of-the-season events, etc. We provide our retailers with product and sales support for their events at little cost or product investment to them, and we're seeing a good deal of success with that program. We've also introduced several new and unique models in the last months - keeping with our strategy of providing more great products that the consumer isn't going to see anywhere else. All this is helping our retailers get customers in, give them a great deal, and not lose a sale to a competitor down the street simply on price.

3. Can you point out any examples of dealers who are doing well, in spite of the general weakness in the market? What are they doing differently?

J.S.: One size does not fit all and adaptability is important. Individuals have different talents in a variety of areas. Our regional sales managers play a vital role in supporting dealers one-on-one. We view our sales team as business consultants that provide guidance and support to dealers on a range of issues. Our philosophy is to sit down with our customers, in partnership, to help them grow their business. It's all about the personal touch.

L.R.: We have noticed that our successful Clearwater Spas dealers implement marketing and advertising opportunities that build and support our brand. By taking advantage of Clearwater Spas marketing, advertising, merchandising and promotional programs, many dealers have continued to prosper. Here are a couple of examples:

a) Spas & Pools of Virginia has implemented Clearwater Spas merchandising and point-of-sale materials into a beautiful store re-set. In addition, they are taking full advantage of implementing branded images into their advertising campaigns. They also added a more expansive line of Clearwater Spas throughout their showrooms. As a result, they have experienced an immediate increase in their store traffic and sales.

b) Northwest Hot Tubs, Yorkville, Ill., does not hard sell and encourages their customers to do research and shop around before making a decision - and nine times out of 10 they purchase a Clearwater Spa because of the quality, features and the buying experience. Doing business in a small town, they have found success advertising in the smaller local papers rather than the large papers. They have not had success with radio advertising. In addition, word of mouth and referrals have been very valuable to their success. Clearwater Spas' energy-efficient spas and their compliance with California Energy Commission have won over many spas sales as well. Having a kid-friendly store with comfortable seating, games and even a Play Station helps the parents stay in the store longer during the sales process.

T.M.: Even in this economy, we're seeing strong retailers able to do well. The single common denominator is action. They're not sitting in their stores waiting for the customers to come to them. They're advertising, they're running promotions, they're staying in front of their markets. They're maintaining the highest professional sales and service standards so consumers know they're "in the game" and not just another "here today, gone tomorrow hot tub guy." Today's economy is a major challenge, and the best retailers know that as long as they stay focused and professional, they'll outlast their competition and emerge stronger.

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