Spa Enclosure A Key Component In Today's Better Backyards

Eric Herman Headshot
photo of gazebo

The relationship between spas and the structures that surround them dates back to ancient societies. Today spa enclosures remain a key component in providing customers with comfort, privacy and at-home luxury. When coupled with gazebos and other non-aquatic shade structures, which also provide many of the same benefits outside the water, the market for shade and privacy represents an enduring opportunity for both retailers and manufacturers.

These structures play versatile and often key roles in the design and function of outdoor environments. They can be used for shelter from the sun or rain, gathering places for parties, and private settings for relaxation, hydro-therapy or intimacy.

For all of their usefulness and potential architectural beauty, however, these backyard edifices are often an afterthought for many clients and industry professionals — unless you're in the business of selling them. For many companies committed to these attractive structures, gazebos and spa enclosures remain a steady source of revenue.

Out Of The Doldrums

As one might expect, when the economy was stronger and homeowners were investing more in backyard upgrades, sales of outdoor structures were predictably strong, right along with swimming pools, in-ground and portable spas, outdoor kitchens, and just about every other conceivable outdoor amenity.

What might come as a surprise to some is how through the past recession, sales of pre-manufactured gazebos and spa structures have kept pace.

"When people are trying to create a certain type of environment, it still presents an opportunity to sell gazebos or spa enclosures," says Randy Smith, president of Spa, Hearth and Home (Mapleshade, N.J.) "Obviously in the last couple of years they haven't sold as well as they have in the past, but overall, sales of outdoor structures have remained active."

Although Smith's firm does sell gazebos used for patio settings that don't include spas, the good news for the hotwater industry is that the vast majority of clients, he says, are looking to incorporate them with spas. "These structures go hand-in-hand with spas, always have," he says. "So about 80 percent of our gazebo sales are in conjunction with a spa package.

"But that's not everyone," he adds. "Gazebos that don't enclose a spa can provide a great way to create a destination in the yard and create a place for people to gather at parties or for kids to play in the shade. And they will often be sold with outdoor tables and chairs."

According to factory representative, Glen Olsin of Diamonte Spas (Arroyo Grande, Calif.) by far the most important priority for a majority of clients is privacy. "Most people enjoy their spas more when they feel they're in a private setting," he says. "So often these days, you have small yards with two-story houses right next to each other. It's more comfortable when you know that no one is able to see you when you're in the water."

Smith agrees: "Privacy is probably the most important reason people buy enclosures," he says. "but many are also interested in shelter from the elements. That might not be such a big issue in warmer climates, but here in New Jersey and other places where it gets extremely cold in the winter, an enclosure gives you the opportunity to enjoy your spa for a greater part of the year.

"On the other hand," he adds, "during the warmer months, there are people who want the feeling of being outdoors and inside an enclosure. In those situations, we can set up enclosures with screens that can be opened and enable the customer to enjoy the air and daylight."

A Wide Range

The benefits of an enclosure sometimes become apparent to homeowners once they've purchased a spa and realize ways they would enjoy the water more if they had a structure: "About 15 percent of our customers come back and purchase an enclosure as an aftermarket item," says Olin. "In addition to privacy and comfort, some people see it as a way to protect their investments because the structure protects the spa from the elements, particularly the damaging effects of the sun.

"So what you have is a situation," he adds, "where the additional investment adds comfort and enjoyment and makes sense from a financial standpoint."

One of the great advantages of selling enclosures is that they offer a measure of luxury for customers across a broad range of income levels. "It's really a mix," says Olin, "it's tough categorize our customers because the benefits appeal such a wide range of people."

"We put gazebos and enclosures in a variety of settings," concurs Smith. "But you do have be somewhat careful about it. In New Jersey we have a lot of setback codes and regulations, so they do often require a fair amount of space, especially if they're considered a permanent structure."

Another advantage is that selling enclosures, with spas or without, opens up the market to customers who are involved in overall home improvement projects. "Although the majority of our sales are direct to the customer," says Smith, "we do get involved in situations where we're working with a landscaper or even a pool builder.

"Because our products are pre-manufactured," he adds, "our role in those situations is to let the client know what's available and see if we can find a good fit for their overall environment. Obviously there are people involved with doing custom work, but we've found that the manufacturer options will be suitable for a majority of customers."

One of the big advantages working with pre-manufactured products is that the installations costs are relatively low. "Typically, installation is relatively simple and accounts for only about 20 percent of the cost," says Smith. "I think manufacturers in general have done a good job creating structures that go together easily."

In terms of making the initial sale, the range of products on the market provide sets of options that help retailers meet clients needs, and online sales and marketing have also helped. "But there's no substitute for having the customers come into the show room, or possibly visit us at a home and garden show and see the product in person," Smith says. "That's how most of our sales happen, because they can easily visualize how the structure will look and how they'll be able to use and enjoy it."

New Approaches

For the manufacturers' part, according to Olin, they are constantly working to identify and provide features that meet the range of customer priorities. Beyond basic utility of enclosures, according to Olin, manufacturers are concerned with offering stylistic and architectural statements.

"We sell an eight-by-twelve Japanese-style "Shogi" glass house that's become extremely popular," he says. "It provides the privacy and shelter, but also has a beautiful architectural design that makes a statement and serves as more of a visual destination.

"We're always making adjustments to designs, but we also find that there are some things that remain popular over the years," he adds. "Redwood, for example, is still the most popular material. Customers love the look and it's also extremely durable. We'll likely always be selling the traditional redwood gazebo."

Because backyards are now seen as extensions of the homes where outdoor cooking and dining have grown in popularity, the enclosure has also come along with that trend, serving now as a social hub. "A majority of sales include a bar and bar stools," confirms Olin. "People enjoy having the option of socializing in or out of the water."

As for what's next on the enclosure front. According to Olin in part that could be determined by trends in spas themselves. "Right now," he says, "swim spas are the hottest thing on the market. And we've found it's a whole different set of customers, obviously those who are interested in fitness."

And that, he says, will likely have an impact on enclosures. "They have to be bigger because of the size of the swim spas, which means the enclosures become a sort of modern bath house for fitness."

Naturally, professionals such as Smith and Olin are waiting with everyone else for the economy to improve so that sales across the boards will improve. For now, it seems enclosures have played an important role in keeping customers coming in the door and leaving satisfied.

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

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