Succeed In Spa Sales By Doing What Costco Can't Do

photo of Costco shopping carts
photo courtesy Flickr | Jonathan Dueck

The dedicated, brick-and-mortar spa retailer faces tough adversaries in warehouse stores and internet sites, both of which offer low prices for equipment and chemicals. That's no secret. What is less commonly known are the ways today's successful spa retailers take advantage of the cut-rate competition's weaknesses to remain competitive and keep selling spas in a recession. From "mood rooms" and "wet tests" to slushies and soirees with live music, spa retailers are getting ahead with outstanding service, education and personal interaction.

Sell Trials

Allowing potential spa buyers to "try before you buy" is a service Costco can't match and a major competitive advantage for traditional spa retailers. Big box stores tend to place a hot tub in the middle of the warehouse with a price tag. There is no information about the cost of chemicals, how to run the spa or anyone to answer questions.

Successful spa retailers offer the exact opposite of that sales model to help customers choose a spa.

Spring Dance Hot Tubs, for instance, a retailer with three stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, invites its customers to enjoy mood rooms, complete with ambiance lighting, music and fully functional spas, says Rebekah Decker, marketing manager.

"Couples come with their bathing suits and towels," she says. "We even encourage them to bring a bottle of wine. We want them to get a real understanding of what it will be like to own a spa. It's very important that customers find a spa that is right for them — that the jets hit in the right place, that the water isn't too high. Sometimes shorter women have water up to their noses in certain spas where the seats are really low. Over 80 percent of our spa sales come from clients who try the spa in our mood rooms."

Norm Coburn at New England Spas in Massachusetts agrees. "We offer wet tests in our showrooms. Our clients repeatedly tell us that these 'try before you buy' tests are what make them decide to buy a spa from us. You wouldn't buy a car without a test drive. We feel the same about spas. New England Spas has three retail showrooms in Massachusetts where we offer 'wet test' and 'sweat tests' for our line of saunas."

Sell Chemical Systems

photo of Norm Coburn of New England Spas
"Our clients repeatedly tell us that 'Try before you buy' tests are what make them decide to buy a spa from us." — Norm Coburn, New England Spas, Natick, Mass.

The chemistry of owning a spa can be a serious objection for a potential spa owner, but that amounts to another opportunity to provide what the big box can't.

Alice Cunningham of Olympic Hot Tubs, with five locations in the greater Seattle region, offers a more attractive sanitizing solution than you'll find at Sam's Club. Cunningham has chosen all-natural, green water sanitation systems that are simple to use and provide odor-free, clean water for customers.

"No one is interested in soaking in a bath of smelly chemicals," she says. "We keep seven different tubs fully operational in each of our locations, all full of water, heated and treated with our green water care products. People comment on the fact that our showrooms do not smell the way other showrooms do — nor are they as noisy.

"We explain that our choice of products as well as our line of low-noise spas make a huge difference in creating a more enjoyable spa experience," Cunningham says, her choice to offer SilkBalance is all about making owning a spa simple and enjoyable. "When we explain that customers can enjoy continuous crystal clear water without testing, measuring or mixing, without odors or harsh chemicals and that there is no dry, itchy skin — you can see the sigh of relief on the faces of customers."

Decker agrees with the principle. She sells the ACE salt water sanitizing system — a spa system that works like the popular pool version. She, too, encourages people to sit in the tub, smell and feel the difference in their skin after soaking in a tub that is using the ACE salt water system. "It's an easy-to-use system, which is what customers want. Offering a simple, unique chemistry system for the spa water makes selling a spa much easier. Customers really need education and want a complete package — not just a spa that later requires they pick a water sanitation system."

Sell Service

Good service is a third major point of differentiation for spa retailers, and one that every store manager must optimize.

"Our staff receives lot of training on our spa products and chemicals. They really work as a team and strive to give a lot of individual attention to each customer," says Coburn. "We also have a terrific software program that allows us to input extensive notes — allowing us to pick up with customers where we left off — so the customer doesn't feel like they need to repeat their needs. We offer water testing seven days a week with a popular Slushy machine where customers grab a drink while waiting for their test results.

"Water testing is a great place to learn more about your customer's needs and find ways to help them out and build more loyalty. Our service techs all have two-way radios with laptops and wireless air cards. Every time we make a service call, we log the results, create an invoice and email it directly to the customer before we leave their driveway. We find customers really appreciate this efficiency and personal service."

"Another valuable service, and one that is often overlooked when a customer considers purchasing a spa, is determining where the spa should be placed in the customer's home. We always do a site survey/backyard evaluation to determine the best location for a spa — for service access, privacy and the electrical hook-up. And we even provide a platform base as an alternative to pouring a cement base. Customers really appreciate this attention to detail and options for alternatives.

"The price tag on the spa at a big box store might be very attractive, but they always neglect to tell you that the price either doesn't include delivery, or if it does include delivery, it's a delivery on the curb. New England Spas delivers the spa and places it exactly where the client wants it. We do all our own deliveries ourselves so our own staff is present in case there are additional questions, concerns or changes that need to be made."

photo of New England Spas showroom
One of three New England Spas showrooms, where Norm Coburn offers wet tests for his spas and sweat tests for his saunas to compete successfully against big box retailers.

Sell To Existing Customers

Often, success against the big box is a matter of taking advantage of every opportunity. For instance, being an established business with a large database of customers has really helped Spring Dance Hot Tubs in the recession, Decker says.

"We do a lot of marketing to our current customers for new business," she says. "We use software that houses all our sales and service information in one place, allowing us to really drill down to communicate with our customers. It's easy to know who hasn't purchased chemicals lately, who hasn't had a service call or who has an older model spa. Once we know the target audience, we use direct mail, regular emailing and social media to reach out and bring these people back into our stores to sell to them."

Norm Coburn from New England Spas uses the same tack. "We have been in business for 32 years and have thousands of existing customers," he says. "We really keep close ties with our customer base and have many customers on their second spa purchase and some even on their third spa purchase. We even offer trade-ins and sell refurbished spas — as we believe in recycling. And we offer an aggressive referral program that brings new customers in from our existing database.

"As our customers age, their spa needs change as well. We see a trend in our customers as they look to relieve arthritis, back pain, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. We even keep current medical data on file for customer education."

Cunningham keeps in close touch with customers with a very successful blog she has been writing for the last three years. "One day I just started with the idea of the 'hot tub epiphany.' I hoped that readers would go from 'ahh' — the sound one makes when sinking into the hot swirling waters — to 'ahah!' — the sound that escapes when a new idea strikes. I'm all about inspiration!

"I wanted my blog to be an exploration of the hot tub lifestyle as well as a revelation of all of the many health benefits. With over 34 years in the hot tub business I have found it to be an excellent way to stay connected to hot tub owners. I post something short three times a week as a quick way to update and transmit information such as health studies and product updates."

Of course, alongside the power of the social media, there's no substitute for good old-fashioned face-to-face socializing for building a connection to customers. Spring Dance Hot Tubs' most successful and popular means of reaching customers and selling spas is its annual "Customer Appreciation Night," says Decker.

"This is a big soiree with live music, food, beer and wine," she says. "Our customers really look forward to the event. There is always a half-hour wait just to get in! We offer great specials and many people buy their chemicals for the year right there. Plus we have the opportunity to show them the latest products and help them with questions and concerns they might be having with their spas."

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

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