Strategies to boost spa cover sales

While new spa sales have become more challenging, customers still need to maintain their existing equipment, an imperative that pulls them through a retailer's doors in search of chemicals and filter elements on a regular basis.

Among these maintenance necessities are spa covers, which need to be replaced every few years - indeed, many of your current clients will purchase one in the next few months. There are a few things you can do to better your chances they'll buy from your dealership and buy now, rather than waiting until their cover is so waterlogged it takes a couple of defensive tackles and a linebacker to hoist it back on top of their tub.

Whole New Ballgame

Changes in the economy have affected consumer spending, and this has made the job a little tougher.

Sales is a whole different thing now," says Malina Anderson, president of Blackthorne Pools & Spas in Salinas, Calif. "It seems that everything is different compared to last year. It's kind of a feeling, like everything is harder to sell, no matter what it is. Whether it's a bottle of chlorine or a cover or a hot tub, people are just a little bit tighter with their money when they come in."

This year has been OK, says Linda Wallace, co-owner of Ultra Modern Pool & Patio in Wichita, Kan., "but we've worked really, really, really hard. It didn't just happen. We have diligently followed up every lead we get. People right now are looking for value. If you don't have something that offers value, they're just not going to buy."

Even though selling has been more challenging, both Blackthorne and Ultra Modern are making sales. Anderson's value minded customers have responded well to the type of stimulus that pushes customers, already considering a purchase, off the fence.

"In January, we offered a successful promotion: with any new spa cover purchase, we'll deliver it for free and remove the old cover," she says. "That's the first time we've ever offered that; we usually charge $45 to deliver the new cover and dispose of the old one. January is typically not a big month for selling spa covers, but I think we sold 12 of them.

"We sell a lot of replacement covers," she adds, "but with the economy, people are putting it off. I have people calling me asking, 'When is your next sale on spa covers?' because they'll wait two months if they know they can save a few dollars."

Suggestive Selling

When they do come in to purchase the cover, Anderson and her crew are ready. "I've been talking to my salespeople about how they can't just be clerks now. If someone comes in looking for a spa cover, they can't just sell them a spa cover. They also need to ask if they'd like some cover conditioner or if they need new filters go along with their cover."

You can get other departments of your dealership involved in this, too. "People are still getting their spas fixed," notes Anderson. "In general, service hasn't gone down. We probably do more service calls in a day than we see customers in the retail store, and so that's a place people in the industry don't tap into enough for sales. My service coordinator does all the scheduling, and she's now charged with selling customers something they may not think they need when they call for service. But we'll deliver chemicals at a service call for no charge, so they might as well take advantage of that."

Cape Cod Aquatics in Harwich, Mass., has also tapped into its service department to boost sales. "We're in a seasonal area, and a lot of our customers winterize their hot tubs because they close up their whole house," says Michelle Treese, who owns the dealership along with her husband, Jim Treese. "So when Jim winterizes the hot tubs, he makes a note about what may need replacing, and that could be a cover or other components. So then when they call up for a spring opening, we'll offer a discount if they order a cover and then we'll deliver it for free when we do the opening. If it's not in combination with a service call, we normally charge to deliver the cover."

To further facilitate spa cover sales, Treese says Cape Cod Aquatics has measurements for every hot tub it services on file. "So when they call and say, 'My cover is getting really heavy; I think I'm going to need a new one. How much do they cost?' We tell them what we charge, let them know we already have their measurements here and can place an order immediately."

Treese says Cape Cod Aquatics has lost some spa cover business to online retailers, but because she has the hot tub measurements on hand, she has gained cover business from service clients who didn't purchase a hot tub at her dealership.

Why Go Brick And Mortar

Competition from Internet retailers, particularly for this segment of the industry, is not new. But considering most consumers are looking to save a few dollars in every part of their budget this year, AQUA asked retailers if they felt competition with the Internet for spa cover sales has intensified recently.

"The thing about the Internet," says Treese, "is that the consumers don't completely know what they're getting. We want to make sure they get the best cover possible because we don't want them coming back in a year saying, 'This cover fell apart on us.' So we always want to sell them a good-quality cover, whereas if they go on the Internet, they can find a cover for less than what we sell it for by probably $100 to $200, but the quality is questionable and then of course they never factor in shipping until they order it.

"When we order the covers, we try to bundle them in orders of at least three, and then we pay one shipping price, so that cuts our costs. But it requires the customer to wait some. We tell them if you want to pay shipping, we can order it right away, or if you wait for another couple customers to order, we won't charge you for shipping."

Treese notes that customers don't usually have to wait too long to take advantage of the free shipping. "During the in-season, I'd say they could wait anywhere from a week to a month to get the cover."

Wallace stresses the opportunity of explaining the value of a cover from Ultra Modern Pool & Patio. "Normally if they're $200 less online," she says, "there is some sort of difference. It could be the thickness of the foam, it could be the encasement, it could be that they don't have the same quality vapor barriers, or it may not be the same density of foam. But it is normally not the same cover for less."

John Mosher, former owner of Central Iowa Pool & Spa in Des Moines, Iowa, points out that spa covers have a tendency to come in damaged. "They're not the easiest things to ship. So that's a big gotcha." And online shoppers who receive a damaged cover may have difficulty proving they received it in its less-than-perfect condition, and then rectifying the situation and getting a new cover potentially becomes expensive and stressful.

Normally, Central Iowa does charge to deliver a spa cover, but Mosher says if the customer is leaning toward buying off the Internet, he'll offer to deliver the cover for free to win the sale.

In The Store

Many cover customers will be stopping in to your store to either order or pick up their covers, and, again, that's an opportunity to see if they need anything else for their backyard.

If a customer doesn't have a cover lift bar, for instance, Treese always points out that it can extend the life of a cover. "We've found that people who use cover lift bars and maintain their water chemistry properly have covers that last at least five years," she says.

Covers in good shape are also more energy efficient. They keep the heat in better and will save your clients money. Make sure they know that.

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