Selling spa chemicals in today's market

Chemicals are a necessary part of spa ownership, so while hot tub sales have seen a decline over the past few years, chemical sales remain strong. But just like any other business that made it through the perils of '09, spa retailers have made adjustments and plan to market their products more efficiently in the new year. A few tweaks in the ordering process, new marketing tactics and simple customer service have left some spa retailers confident in a successful 2010.

Order Up

Fff 210 AqJoseph Musnicki, president of Ocean Spray Pools & Spas in West Hampton Beach, N.Y., decided this year was the perfect time to try something different when ordering his chemicals for the year, taking a gamble he hopes will pay off.

"We are direct buyers, and we buy chemicals by the trailer load," says Musnicki. "Typically, we'll make 70 percent of our purchases before the year starts."

At this time last year, Musnicki says he had purchased two trailer loads of chemicals, stocking up the warehouse with the intention of offering customers discounts and selling out of his inventory by August. But this year he decided to make a smaller purchase up front and plans to restock early in the spring, banking on bustling business and saving a few dollars in a large, up-front transaction.

Kiya Bachmann, co-owner of Bachmann Pools and Spas, Madison, Wis., also adjusted to her buying patterns, but not for the same reasons as Musnicki. Bachmann's recent acquisition of a local competitor has given the company a larger customer base and more buying power.

"We actually buy better now because we have combined the two companies," says Bachmann. "When we have more buying power, we have more discounts we can give to our customers. Our chemical business grows every year. Especially in the summertime, more people are using their homes, pools and spas."

Like Bachmann, Bullfrog Spas of Ogden (Utah), is in a period of growth, so its chemical purchases have increased, as well.

"The early-buy terms are huge," says Shawn Maynard, co-owner, "so, yeah, I bought tons and tons and tons. Our forecasts are already being exceeded. I have to place another order. It's super!"

Marketing Madness

Once the shelves are stocked, it's time to get the chemicals out the door. Tried and true marketing methods continue to work to move spa chemicals, but that doesn't mean retail owners aren't looking into new methods to get more inventory in customer's hands and more money into the cash register.

"Obviously the instinct for most people is to kind of lay back right now," says Connie Holl, sales manager at Bachmann. "They know the economy is tight, and they don't put as much into the marketing. But I don't think that this is truly the time to sit back and hope [customers] come in and see us.

"We want to make sure we are always out there, actively staying in front of them, giving them presence and the comfort and the confidence that we are here and are going to take care of them. We are making the right decisions on our end to make sure that we have good buys for them."

In addition to relying on traditional marketing, Maynard also executes a separate three-point strategy to sell spa chemicals.

First, and most important, he points out, is that when the initial spa sale takes place, the company includes a tote bag full of a year's supply of chemicals. "The strategy there is when they start to run out of one part of that chemical system, they'll still be so invested with the rest of it that they'll be disinclined to go to my competition because they'll be committed to the system I set them up on," says Maynard. "So when they start to run out, they feel like they need to come to me for more of the same."

Secondly, Maynard advises all delivery personnel to try and sell the same tote at the time of delivery. And if that doesn't work, Maynard maintains an e-mail list that is updated bi-monthly, "to stay in touch with current customers so they remember that we are the place where they get their chemicals." Maynard also relies on off-site promotions to solicit more chemical customers.

Manufacturers are also doing their part, says Holl.

"What our [spa chemical] manufacturers are doing is making sure that they keep us educated and up to date on everything that's going on product-wise.

"We do carry a better-quality product when it comes to chemicals because it's important."

BioGuard recently went through an entire redesign process, reworking packaging and labeling, says Bachmann, making it more appealing and easier to understand each specific chemical's purpose and how much is needed.

Manufacturers are also offering retailers more POP displays and in-store materials to ramp up sales, says Musnicki. "It begs the question that when someone is in the store and they see a POP piece, are they going to understand what they are looking at or what they are reading? But they do ask the question, 'Can you tell me more about this product?' and that's where the counter people come in and they can describe what it is."

All of this one-on-one interaction falls to the wayside when customers seek a less-expensive alternative elsewhere - a constant struggle in the world of chemical retailing.

Stiffen The Competition

Prices may be a bit more affordable for customers via the Web or a big store, but the quality, customer service and follow-up are nearly non-existent, and that's what local retailers can sell to the customer.

"Make the customer need you," says Max West, vice president of Eastgate Pools & Spas in Cincinnati. "Let's face it, if they go to K-Mart or Wal-Mart they usually can't get anybody to help them, much less get someone that knows anything about the product.

"Our usefulness lies in our expertise and in our product that is different. Nothing really new here - just good, old-fashioned knowledge and customer service."

"Occasionally," says Maynard, "I'll have one of my good customers come in and say, 'You know, I can get this for 10 percent less over the Internet.' And that's true. But does the Internet test your water and give you advice? And when the water's foamy, does it tell you what to do?"

The bottom line, West adds, is that you want to make the customer come back again and again.

"You can't be an afterthought and continue to be successful. You need to be in their minds and integral in their overall spa experience. When they are sitting in their hot tub, I want them thinking of us, not a chain store."

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

Making The Transition

Acquiring a business may mean a change of brands

When Bachmann Pool & Spa, Madison, Wis., acquired a local competitor late last year decisions needed to be made regarding which line of chemicals the retailer would take on. The businesses carried different lines, and with two customer bases, it was important to figure out a way to keep the acquired retailer's customers happy, as well as Bachmann's.

"We took a hard look at the lines we were carrying for both companies," says Connie Holl, sales manager. "What we decided to do going forward was to look at everything and as long as we could carry the same quality of chemicals, whichever company was going to make sure we got our best value that we could pass on to our customers, that's what we stayed with.

"We made a conscious decision to make sure we were making the best decision for both sets of client bases."

- J.D.

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