Covering Your Assets

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Much like the tires on your vehicle, portable spa covers need to be replaced every so often. They're just not going to last forever. Whether it's simply wear and tear over time or a curious young Labrador retriever that kills a cover, this situation presents dealers with an opportunity since somewhere in the process of purchasing a new cover, most clients will be stopping into the showroom. That is, unless they buy their new cover from an Internet-based company.

Justin Wiege, manager of one of the five Spa Palaces in Denver has not found the Internet to be a significant competitor in this category yet. "The majority of my customers want somebody local that can help them figure out how to measure the cover and how to get a good fit on a replacement cover," he says. "But about once a month, a customer who comes in says he has priced out covers on the Internet and sees he can buy one for a couple hundred dollars. And, generally with those people, I bring them over to one of our covers and show them what  the quality is like and what the stitching is like. I tell them about the warranty β€” basically, give them a pitch on the cover, so they can understand the price difference. But more and more, people are shopping online for hot tub covers."

Sue Sousa, vice president of sales for Sunstar Covers, doesn't hear much from her dealers about competition from the Internet, but when she does, she reminds them that their brick-and-mortar stores are their selling tools. If customers have issues, they can stop in or call up, and any concerns can be taken care of quickly. "Whereas, if somebody buys over the Internet, that cover is being dropshipped to the their home," says Sousa. "And if they're at work and that cover is freight damaged, who is taking responsibility for that?"

Nevertheless, customers seeking the lowest-possible price may buy a cover online. To draw in the plethora of customers who still prefer to buy replacement covers with a local retailer, you'll want to give them a few reasons to buy one from you.

Make It Easy

Sell your service and convenience. When customers call Mountain Hot Tub in Bozeman, Mont., with questions about replacement covers, general manager Kelly King first assures them that "what they're experiencing is normal, that they didn't do anything wrong, and it's not just their hot tub or their brand. Spa covers last from about two to six years.

"As far as how do we get their business, when we're quoting a price on a spa cover, we let them know that delivery of the new cover and disposal of the old one is built into the price of our covers," adds King. "We'll come out and install it on their cover lifter and haul off the old cover at no additional charge. So making it easy is a big key to how we earn that business."

Spa Palace has a couple of delivery/disposal options. "If they have a truck, they usually pick up the covers themselves," Wiege says. "Since most people don't have access to a dumpster, we tell them to bring in the old cover and we'll get rid of it. We also offer delivery of the new cover and disposal of the old. It's $75, and quite a few people do have us do that. A lot of people already have a lifter installed on their spa and don't really feel comfortable with unhooking it and switching the covers out, so we'll do that at the same price."

Offer A Good Deal

To remind customers it may be time to replace an old spa cover, both King and Wiege use direct mail. "For a couple of the sales events we do each year, we'll send out either a newsletter or a direct-mail piece saying that chemicals, accessories and spa covers are on sale," says King. "I think advertising the sales event is as much the catalyst to generating the cover sale as the actual discount on the cover. It's about awareness."

Spa Palace does something similar. "We keep a customer database of everybody that shops with us, whether they bought a spa or just supplies," says Wiege. "Between our five locations, we have about 25,000 customers in the database, and twice a year we mail out a newsletter to everyone in the database. In the fall edition, we always write up a little article that talks about how your cover needs to be insulated well and in good shape to get you through the winter months and have the spa run efficiently. We also mention an offer, like a discount on both a cover and a lifter during one month that fall. Then we usually get a big rush on them."

Getting customers in the door is the key. "We've kicked around the idea of selling to our customers online, through our own company of course, and then that way they don't have to come into the store," says Wiege. "But what you lose then are the people coming in and seeing new spas that have changed over the years and seeing the other products you sell like the gazebos and grills and pool tables, so you definitely want them coming in the store. It's amazing how many people have a 10- or 15-year-old spa, and they're just in buying chemicals one day and will see a spa that catches their eye and the next thing you know, they're upgrading to a new spa."

King and his staff have benefited from this phenomenon quite a few times, as well. "A customer shopping for a new spa cover is one of the top reasons we will take somebody's spa in on trade when they come in to get a cover. We'll say tongue-in-cheek, 'You know, if you trade your spa in for a new one, it comes with a free cover.' And when they're looking at a $400 to $600 investment in their old, used spa, sometimes they just chuckle, and you sell them a cover and that's that. And sometimes they get serious and ask about the trade-in program, and we end up getting a spa sale out of it. Our salespeople are very tuned in to reading people and their reaction to the statement: 'New spas come with free covers.' Any time you can get clients in the store, there's a benefit to that."

Something Different

When looking to replace their worn, waterlogged spa cover, some clients will be content with a new OEM cover. In fact, this may be a selling point. "We're going OEM on the replacement covers," says King, a Hot Spring dealer. "So we're assured it will be a perfect fit every time, with out clients having to go out and measure or produce any information."

If an OEM cover is not an option or if clients want something sturdier or different than their previous cover, consider the following options:

β€’ The Atlas cover from Sunstar may look quite similar to the cover they got with the tub since Sunstar supplies covers to 11 hot tub makers. However, the Atlas is a bit more durable than what comes with most hot tubs. It has a 2-pound foam core, and a 5-to-4-inch taper, so it will hold up to 1,000 pounds of static weight, says Sousa. "It's great for snow loads," she says. "It's great for people who have two homes β€” they can be gone all winter and that cover is going to hold up for them."

β€’ Be-Lite's CMT spa covers have an aluminum top and bottom that are laminated directly to the foam core, a ring of aluminum all the way around the outer edge, and an aluminum bar and hinge down the center. "They're extremely durable," says Ben Gargle, president of Be-Lite. "These covers can survive snow loads, kids and dogs, and they can do it day in and day out for the next 20 years."

Some builders, like Barrington Pools in Barrington, Ill., like the BeLite covers so much, that's about all they install on their custom spas, unless they're too big. "Then we'll try to get an automatic cover on those," says Terry Doan, cover specialist with Barrington Pools.

β€’ Rayner Covering Systems recently introduced spa covers capped with Sunbrella fabric instead of the traditional vinyl. "It feels like cotton, but it's a very durable acrylic material," says Jason Walker, owner of Walker Pool & Spa in Marlborough, Mass. "It's not going to fade like cotton or vinyl, and the selection of patterns is so vast β€” it's like picking out wallpaper. There are hundreds of patterns and tons of colors to  choose from. I actually got one for my own hot tub, and I've sold about a half a dozen of them. They look awesome."

β€’ Earlier this year Pool Cover Specialists released the EZ Top, an insulated, automatic spa cover with a hard top. "The cover is fiberglass poured with foam with reinforced steel rods running down every slat," says Vinnie Franco, consultant to Pool Cover Specialists. "The cover itself is 500 pounds, and it's got 2,000-pounds weight capability."

If it's next to an in-ground spa, the cover comes out of a recessed cavity, and if it's adjacent to a portable spa, the cover rolls out of a stand-up bar. "With our patented, red-carpet material, we have heat retention now up to 75 percent because that material also works as a gasket," says Franco. "At this point, we have the capability of going 8 feet wide by 8 feet long, and we're working on making them larger."

Showing Off

Cover lifters have become virtually standard features of portable spas. King says more than 75 percent of the portable spas Mountain Hot Tub sells go out the door with a lifter. "We're very proactive about selling them upfront," he says. "We tell them the spa is easier to use with a lifter, and they'll use it more often. It's that simple."

Wiege estimates that more than 50 percent of his customers buy a lifter when they buy their spas.

So, undoubtedly, you carry a few different lifts. But what you may not already be doing is turning lift customers into replacement cover customers. King finds many clients who call up asking about lifts are often in need of a new cover, as well. "We ask, 'Why do you need a lifter.' It's because their spa cover is too heavy, and then we explain to them what they really need first is a new spa cover, and then they've already sold themselves on a cover lifter."

For those clients who don't buy a lifter initially with their hot tubs, when they stop in to get a new cover, King says he simply demonstrates lifters, and shows how easy it is to open a cover with a lifter. "That usually piques their interest in them."

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