Coming Back 'Round For The Surround

Pdc Omni Rocks 0311As consumer confidence gradually increases, and retail sales along with it, portable spa retailers will likely see an uptick in sales in 2011. Portable spa accessories, in particular, could prove to be a helpful profit center, as many customers who bought a hot tub some time in the last couple years come back to buy the surround they wanted but decided to hold off on initially.

"In 2008 with the downturn, there was a fairly dramatic change in how consumers accessorized spas," says Timothy Martin, vice president of sales and business development at PDC Spas. "With the downturn, people still wanted spas, and there was still that demand and that desire. But they were being more conscious of the total amount they were spending, and were thinking a little further ahead, as well. So if they added on, they tended to add optional features on the spa that had to be added when the spa was manufactured. They spent their money there with the intention to add outside accessories like a surround later.

"We have been hearing this from the dealer channel, and have also seen it just in terms of our sales," adds Martin. "We have heard from our retailers that they're seeing additional aftermarket sales, and the retailers that have ultimately been the most successful through the downturn and are coming back strong now have been very good at taking advantage of that. They're cognizant that it's not just a one-time sale. They're very much looking for ongoing sales, leading into that with promotions, like offering a discount on a surround for a customer who bought a spa the year before."

Matt McMillan, director of sales and marketing at Cover Valet, also noticed a considerable dip in accessory sales during the recession, and then a definite increase in 2010. "The owner of Cover Valet, Marc Black, also owns a chain of retail stores in Southern California called California Home Spas, and they are seeing an increase in aftermarket accessory sales.

"It starts small. Customers often come in for chemicals, but then they buy a vacuum and then a set of steps, and then maybe a new cover or surround. Those sales are increasing. Those people are buying more and more each month they come in, where that just was basically stagnant for a few years."

Meeting Demand

If pent-up demand for portable spa accessories brings many clients to your store this year, there's an abundance of steps and surrounds to offer them.

Byron Originals has a new injection-molded step called the Sure Step II. "We were able to re-engineer the product so it didn't require as much material to maintain its strength, and once we reduced the amount of material, we were able to run that on a smaller-capacity machine, which requires less energy and therefore less cost to produce the step," says Marc Jensen, marketing manager for Byron Originals. "So it's sort of a green move, and at the same time, we're able to reduce our pricing to our dealers and to the customer by about 25 percent without sacrificing anything in strength and functionality."

Jensen says pricing in the step segment of the industry has been going down for years, and in many cases, the quality goes down with the price. "Our goal with this new step was to maintain the same quality and meet some of those prices."

Responding to dealers requesting a less-expensive step led Cover Valet to create its newest step, the Spa Side Step. It's a blow-molded step offered in three colors. "It's more of an entry-level step," says McMillan. "It works with round and square tubs, and it's extremely cost effective. What we've done is develop something that's durable and safe, ships inexpensively and is conscious of the bottom line because a lot of dealers end up giving the steps away with the sale."

Those dealers don't simply toss it in, though, adds McMillan. They use it as a tool to close the sale. While some may disagree with this approach, for many dealers, if including a step at no additional cost to the client means closing a portable spa sale, the transaction as a whole is still a success. "That's where this step came in," says McMillan. "When we asked our dealers what they wanted, the honest feedback we got was that they wanted a step that costs less. They said, 'I have to have it, so I want to pay as little as possible while getting a quality product.'"

Beyond The Basics

Customers looking to invest in a more-upscale step or surround may be interested in A&B Accessories redwood or Envirotech hybrid products. In response to consumer demand for lower maintenance steps and surrounds, A&B developed its hybrid line, in which A&B's Envirotech recycled plastic is used for exposed and ground-contact surfaces and pre-finished redwood is used for structural support. "The hybrid products are 85 percent Envirotech and 15 percent redwood," says John Olson, owner of A&B Accessories.

Both the redwood and the hybrid surrounds, which are typically a combination of storage benches, tables and steps, come in eight basic layouts, though almost every surround A&B makes is customized in some way, says Olson. "We can build them to fit any manufacturer's make and model."

Olson says the Envirotech hybrid products become more popular every year. They're now, in fact, outselling A&B's redwood steps and surrounds, despite their higher cost. "They're easy to maintain and very durable," says Olson. "The Envirotech comes with a 50-year warranty not to fade or deteriorate, and in many cases, it will outlast the spa skirting. Plus the color match with the skirting is perfect. Our 12 Envirotech colors are specifically designed for the Watkins group of portable spas, and then we also have D1 and Jacuzzi and Sundance colors."

Aside from the growing appeal of A&B's hybrid steps and surrounds, Olson also noticed another trend in step sales in 2010: an increased demand for three-tier steps. While he's not exactly sure what to attribute this increased demand to, Olson theorizes it may have to do with baby boomers wanting an extra step to make getting in and out of their hot tubs even easier.

"We saw a 35 percent increase in demand for three-tier steps," says Olson. "I do believe that dealers who display three-tier steps will definitely sell them. It's something to consider. We know that for our dealers who do, the three-tier step is a frequent re-order. And they order in significant quantities."

The Natural Look

Surrounds have always been a way to enhance the spa user's experience and create a more enjoyable backyard setting. To further help portable spas integrate with their environment, PDC Spas introduced its Omni Rock step, storage and planter units at the end of 2009. Says Martin, "The Omni Rocks were designed to mimic what real rock looks and feels like."

"When people see these in a showroom, they say, 'Oh my gosh, these are gorgeous,'" adds Martin. "They really do look like real rocks, and they make the spa look that much more luxurious, that much more a part of the landscape, rather than just a cube sitting in the middle of the backyard. People really like that. People like the ability to customize their backyard experience, and make it look like an oasis, rather than just plunking a spa down in the backyard."

The five Omni Rock pieces are made of a proprietary composite material, backed with fiberglass. "The rock surface goes through the entire piece," notes Martin. "So if you chip a piece out, it looks like you chipped a piece of rock out, versus finding foam underneath. We wanted to offer very high-quality, attractive pieces that look like rocks."

Customers who only want a basic step will not be drawn to the Omni Rocks, but Martin says they have found that many are willing to pay to upgrade.

Perhaps in 2011, even more will be ready to loosen the purse strings and upgrade their step or complete their spa setting with a full surround.

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

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