Bells And Whistles On A Budget

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A couple walks into your pool and spa store one afternoon pondering the possibility of purchasing a hot tub. Although the spa with the stereo, television, DVD player and all the perks piques their interest, the fully-loaded hot tub just doesn't fit their budget, like a lot of consumers, they want all the extras that make their purchase seem more of a luxury. Should you try to up sell them out of their price range. Or should you talk them into a basic, unadorned model. The best option is a compromise. By offering customers with more-modest budgets a hot tub with lower-priced accessories like aromatherapy and lighting, you can make a sale that pleases the customers and makes a profit.

"We look at [accessory items] as a very important support and aspect of our retailer's businesses," says Jerry Pasley, vice president of sales for Sundance Spas. "It's the key to our dealers' survival. Beyond spa sales is getting those after-the-sale-type of sales. It's incremental business."

AQUA spoke with several industry professionals and asked the following questions: What are some of the lower-priced accessories available today. How should retailers sell them — as a package or a la carte. And where do you see the accessory business heading in the future.

Setting The Mood

Steps, cover lifters, spa covers and ozone generators are still the most popular accessories sold, but what else is available that can create a peaceful and unique environment for homeowners on a budget.

Aromatherapy items may be a good choice for those spa owners who can't afford expensive accessories or upgrades, but would like to create an ambiance.

"There have been some health benefits attributed to aromatherapy," says Jim McClure, president of Coast Spas. "Certain aromas trigger different sensory points and can cause a calming reaction, which when combined with hydrotherapy really puts a body at ease."

Many manufacturers offer the option of including an aromatherapy device in the spa, which retails for approximately $150. Coast Spas offers a canister that is located in the air chamber of the spas' jets. Aromatherapy pellets are placed in the canister, and when spa jets are turned on, air is pushed through the plumbing. That air then releases the pellets, captures the scents of the pellets and distributes it through the jets into the hot tub.

If spa owners don't want to pay for having an aromatherapy device manufactured into the hot tub, Scott Freyler of Spring Spas says retail businesses offer various liquid or crystal fragrances that can be poured into the water.

However, Bob Hallum, CEO and founder of Dimension One Spas, says many of his customers and dealers aren't requesting aromatherapy for two reasons: the liquid and crystal products clog filters and are hard to clean up, and the devices sometimes don't produce enough of an aroma.

Another option for budget-conscious consumers is LED or fiber-optic lighting, both of which can also be retrofitted into older hot tubs.

"In the last few years, we've seen an awful lot of different manufacturers outside the hot tub industry bring out new and better LED systems," Hallum says. Accessory manufacturers in the industry began incorporating this technology into LED lighting systems for pools and spas, Hallum continues, which gives dealers and consumers more options for using them.

More manufacturers are putting LED lighting in some of their hot tubs because they say it delivers brighter and cleaner colors and can be more cost- and energy-efficient than fiber optics. "LED lighting allows you to run shorter lengths of fiber-optic cable, so you basically create satellite locations," says Maurizio Vozza, national sales manager for Emerald Spa Corp. "Instead of running long lengths of fiber-optic cable from one side to the other, you're running shorter lengths, which is cutting the cost down."

LED lighting can also be used by itself in the light-lens area, Vozza says. "That's nice because it's a very cost-effective way to add something very fun to your spa." The LED lighting is typically a cluster light that simply replaces the original, clear 12-volt bulb that comes standard in most hot tubs.

Electronically programmed LED lighting offers a variety of colors as well as a couple of color patterns, says Gary Curren, sales manager for Vita International. "It can either strobe or fade from color to color."

Curren also says his company uses LED lighting because it's programmable and has a life span of approximately 100,000 hours, "so they virtually never burn out."

McClure agrees that LED lighting has become more popular in the past several years, but says his company still sells a lot of fiber-optic lighting as well.

"With fiber optics you can have light in the jets, you can light the perimeter, or both," he says.

Vozza concurs. "I feel strongly about fiber-optic lighting," he says. "It does a great job creating the mood. Today's fiber-optic systems have up to eight colors on the color wheel, so you can pick a color that sets the mood, and it tends to enhance that mood."

To make fiber-optic lighting work, a fiber-optic strand is placed from a light box to the hot tub jets. A benefit of this, McClure says, is that fiber optics feature only one point of light at the spa's surface and light is transmitted through the fiber-optic cable. "So there's never a chance of a bulb burning out that has to be replaced at the surface," he says. "If a bulb has an issue, you just replace it in the equipment department."

However, Pasley warns, retailers should be careful not to use too many fiber-optic strands in one project. "It can almost become a circus environment if you allow it to, which we don't want," he says.

Freyler says fiber-optic lighting is more expensive to purchase and install and he finds the illuminators are fairly prone to failure. "LED lights will produce more illumination and do it at a fraction of the cost," he says. "And then you're not going to have to be worrying about replacing the bulbs with the frequency that you would with fiber optics."

Aromatherapy, LED lighting and fiber-optic lighting are all low-budget accessories that nearly every homeowner looking to purchase a spa can afford. However, retailers might also want to look into providing hot tubs that include standard water features.

"I think there is a lot of interest in spas with water features," McClure says. "People are moving their living area to the backyard. The hot tub becomes more of a focal point. Now, even if you're not using the tub to sit in for therapy, you can actually use it as a water feature in your backyard or water garden. It's a great entertainment place when you're having a party or just relaxing. It extends the life and usage of the hot tub."

Hallum concurs: "I think you're going to see water features explode. I think you're seeing just the tip of the water feature right now."

Although they can't be retrofitted into hot tubs, many water features come standard on hot tubs at various price points, allowing more and more homeowners to purchase them. And many manufacturers are trying to incorporate water features so they can provide more than one therapy for the tub user. For instance, Emerald Spas includes water features that can be used with the spa jets off and as a neck and shoulder massage.

"It doesn't cost any more to put a water feature in or a minor amount of lighting," says Hallum. "The benefit is it's going to relax you, it's going to be a focal point for your backyard, it doesn't cost much and it's something to talk about."

Selling Accessories

So you've got the potential hot tub buyers interested in several inexpensive accessories and excited about the environment these products are going to create in their backyard. But how do you sell the products to them. Retailers have two options: they can sell them separately or packaged with the hot tub.

Although selling the spa is Freyler's top priority, he says his retail store concentrates on selling accessories either immediately after the sale or "we rely on the fact that we've built such goodwill and customer loyalty in the way that we sold them the spa that they're going to come back to us to purchase the chemicals, and that's when we'll sell them the accessories."

However, each spa that the retail store sells is packaged with a cover-lift mechanism, steps, a spa cover and start-up chemicals. Anything else, he says, customers have to buy separately.

Shiva Noble, executive vice president of Cal Spas, also recommends packaging items together in the initial sale. "What our retailers do is create a package price," she says. "For instance, 'If you want to buy all these features individually it's this much, but if you buy all three of them, it's this much.'

Pasley believes this is pretty common practice, although he says he sees packaging happen more at home shows and fairs and used as a closing tool. In the showroom environment, he believes some retailers might still use the a la carte practice. "I would say a la carte is probably more common in a lot of cases," he says. "They get the consumer to decide on the spa and then they suggest that they buy steps, cover lifters, those type of things to increase the experience the homeowner is going to have with the spa."

Curren agrees with the practice of selling each product individually. "By breaking it down and making the options and accessories available a la carte, you can take a base spa and either sell it as an inexpensive model or dress it up and have it compete with higher-end models," he says. "It does allow the consumer to pick and choose the additional features that they like while watching their budget."

Future Outlook

From lighting and water features to high-end DVD and television screens and everything in between, which way do spa manufacturers and retailers see the accessory market heading.

"In the next five years in the portable spa industry I think we're going to have a real shake-out in terms of the number of manufacturers out there," says Freyler. "I've probably said this for the last 10 years now, but what are they going to come up with next. And at what point is the consumer going to stop paying for the extras that we're putting on spas.

"Five years from now, I think we're going to be concerned with trying to find a motor that consumes less energy than trying to find a motor that will drive a bigger impeller so we can push more water so we can put more jets in the hot tub," he says.

On the other hand, many manufacturers see accessories becoming even more popular in the future and see some of them being added as a standard on hot tubs rather than an optional accessory.

Vozza points out that consumers must like accessories, because they are buying them. "I think it probably has drawn more potential customers to the industry," he says.

"Years ago ozone was very unique to a hot tub," says Hallum. "Not many people had it. Now I would say 50 percent of the manufacturers and probably 80 percent of the top five manufacturers have ozone standard across the board. Technology allows those things to cost less. As demand grows, volume increases, and when volume increases, the price comes down."

Pasley agrees, saying he sees ozone becoming standard equipment because the industry is finding ways to deliver ozone that's effective and lasts longer.

"I think LED lighting is probably going to be a standard. I think cover lifters could become a standard," he continues. "From there, stereos are going to continue to increase in terms of market percentage and shares, so someday they could be standard like on a car."

Hot tubs could follow the same trend as automobiles and houses have in the past. They may become available with more standard accessories so they're easier for consumers to operate, and therefore more enjoyable and less time consuming.

"We're not looking for gimmicks," McClure says. "We're looking for things that enhance the experience and make people want to use their hot tubs more, so they're able to get more of the effects of the hydrotherapy. So if you can take a hot tub and have light therapy through fiber optics or LED lighting, you can have soothing music, you have your hydrotherapy and possibly even aromatherapy — you're giving people every chance to hit all the senses for relaxation."

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