Cultivate Replacement Spa Cover Sales With Superior Service

photo of spa showroom with pool covers
photo courtesy Andy Rusk

Most people shopping for a hot tub, pool table or pool prefer to see and sometimes try out these high-ticket items before investing. This is not always the case when it comes to replacement covers for portable spas. An increasing number of consumers look online, take a few measurements and then order online.

"A lot of people who are trying to save money will go to the Internet for their next cover," says Michelle Treese, who co-owns Cape Cod Aquatics in Harwich, Mass., with her husband, Jim Treese. "And sometimes they get lucky and get a deal and it works out, but other times it's damaged upon delivery or it doesn't fit right. One of the biggest advantages to buying with us is they can come back to us if there are any problems."

Quality customer service can be a huge advantage for brick-and-mortar dealers looking to retain cover customers. "The biggest thing is that there's not support for people," says Troy Derheim, owner of Tubs of Fun in Fargo, N.D. "The Internet retailers want to sell it and wash their hands of it. When there's an issue, they try to brush the customer off, and I'm not saying all companies are like that, but that's what I've seen."

Derheim has on occasion had clients come to him with inappropriately fitting covers they bought from an online retailer, and instead of turning them away, he sees a chance to help a customer. "In this situation, a lot of response I see from retailers is: tough luck, it's your fault. It amazes me that retailers do that because here's a huge opportunity for you. When the customer has an issue, bite the bullet, help them out and get things turned around."

Derheim cites a situation where a customer purchased what ended up being an ill-fitting $350 cover from an online retailer, and the retailer would not refund him his money or replace it with a cover that fit. The customer came to Derheim, who traded the client a $550 cover for the ill-fitting cover. The customer paid the difference and Derheim resold the barely used cover. "I maybe lost $50 off my margin in the deal, but I've gained the confidence of that customer, who has remained a loyal customer even since — he won't go anywhere else."

Stress Free

If clients come to you before purchasing replacement covers, in addition to mentioning how covers are frequently damaged in delivery and that providing correct measurements can be trickier than it seems, dealers can also point out how they can make this a hassle- and headache-free process by taking the measurements, doing the ordering and delivering a cover in good shape.

"You have to pay a little bit more when you buy from us, but guess what, if it doesn't fit, I'm eatin' it, not you," says Mr. Treese. "If they go online and get the wrong size, the online retailer is not taking it back.

"If the consumer is just trying to save money, I can't compete with them on that level," adds Mr. Treese. "But they're going to pay in the end because the 1-pound density cover they get will not last as long as what I order. When we special order covers, we get them double wrapped with 2-pound density foam cores. I sell a cover that will last longer than most."

To clients choosing between an online retailer and the local store, Mr. Derheim also points out the differences in quality between various covers. "You can pay anywhere from $350 to $1,000 for a cover and people are amazed that there's that much difference," he says. "Then I explain the differences to them, and tell them there are different densities of foam, and there are differences in the stitching and the grades of vinyl. And it's like anything in life: you get what you pay for.

"I can't go as low as the Internet retailer because they don't have a store, but I say to them, 'For $50 more, if you're willing to go with me, I'll take $15 off and make sure the process is headache-free for you. If there's a problem, we deal with it and you don't have to. A lot of customers are willing to spend $30 to $75 more to not have the headache. We don't necessarily want the customer that wants the cheapest thing out there anyway."

Typically, the amount of money consumers save buying a cover online is not very significant, either. "It's usually around $100 to $150, which is not a big savings, especially when you look at the quality of a lot of the covers ordered online. I've seen some real junk," says Andy Rusk, owner of Hanson HotSpring Spas in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"Something else we've heard a lot about," says Mr. Rusk, "is when people order a cover on the Internet and the freight companies are handling just a single cover, it's not very well packed and they end up coming in broken."

Ms. Treese mentions to clients how this can happen with covers, and that if clients go through her dealership, they'll never have to deal with a damaged cover at their doorstep. "We're here at the store to receive the covers so we can inspect them when they're dropped off, and can just refuse any on the spot if they're damaged."

While On The Job

photo of spa showroom
Hanson HotSpring Spas in Colorado Springs, Colo. (above), like other brick-and-mortar-based portable spa dealers, wins replacement cover sales by making the process headache and hassle free for clients. (photo courtesy Andy Rusk)

Yet another advantage dealers with service departments have over Internet-based retailers is that dealers' service professionals can see when a cover will soon need replacing and can take a proactive approach.

"My guys definitely take a feel on the cover for the weight and also the condition," says Mr. Rusk. "That's one of the ways we plant a seed, if you will, and talk to them about the advantages of new covers. We tell them a cover in good condition helps keep your water clean because if you have a cover that is shot, say the hinge is bad on it where it folds over or it's broken, then you end up getting debris in the tub, and if it's totally waterlogged, you can start getting mold in the cover, which will then drop down into the tub, creating chemical balance problems and sanitation problems. Plus, it's much easier when you're not fighting with a cover that weights 500 pounds."

When his service techs suggest a new cover, as an incentive for clients to act now rather than later, Rusk says his guys offer to deliver the cover for free and waive the regular $75 delivery fee.

Mr. Treese will also waive the delivery fee for customers who purchase their cover to be delivered with their spring opening. "A lot of times we'll winterize the tub and notice they need a new cover," says Ms. Treese. "So we'll recommend a new cover on the bill, and when they call us in the spring to open the tub, they sometimes then order the cover, and we bring it out for free at the opening. That's convenience."

Running a cover sale a couple of times a year has worked well for Mr. Derheim. "Two or three times a year, we drop the price 10 to 15 percent, and order in bulk, which saves us huge amounts on shipping. When I order a truckload of covers as opposed to four, I get deep discounts, yet I still make my same margin, plus the customers save money, so everybody is happy. Before ordering, we'll set up a service guy to go out one day and do six or seven measurements for free."

Having cover measurements on-hand can make the process simpler and easier for customers, too. "We take what I call a fingerprint of the hot tub prior to our first service call," says Mr. Treese. "We write down all the information on the hot tub: serial numbers, pump size, voltage and the dimensions of the cover, so that when they need a new cover, a lot of times they go with us because they don't want to take the risk of messing up their measurements."

Pick Up The Phone

A follow-up program Mr. Derheim implemented over the last year is helping to cultivate replacement cover sales, as well. "We're working with a company called Aquatic Services, and we're keeping in touch with our customers over the course of the next one to five years. It's a quick follow-up. The company calls the customers to make sure their needs are being met and also to see if they have any questions or concerns, and if they'd be willing to give a testimonial.

"What has happened with that is No. 1, we're finding out about problems before they're even an issue. It's a test program that has worked out great. We're really retaining our customers. In fact, we've dropped 70 percent of our advertising and rely largely on word of mouth now because it has worked out so well in the last year."

Mr. Derheim anticipates retaining 85 to 90 percent of customers for replacement cover sales and other return sales as a result of this follow-up program.

Clients are going to need replacement covers, so this is a great opportunity to be proactive and keep lines of communication open with them. With a little luck, it will lead to even bigger sales. Says Mr. Derheim, "The follow-up calls have made a huge difference with extra sales we didn't expect. For example, sometimes people will tell you their brother is thinking of buying a spa, give him a call and here's his number. If your salespeople are sitting on their duffs, they should be on the phone."

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

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