Going With The Flow

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Once used mainly for rehab, swim spas are no longer just for the training room. They've joined spas and in-ground swimming pools as a viable option for families seeking fun in their backyards.

As customers become more aware of swim spas, they will become an easier sell. But for now, retailers say that in-store displays, educated sales staffs and directed advertising help spread the message of the swim spas' myriad benefits.

"This year, I can't believe we're selling as many as we are," says John Ioppini, president of Leisure Time Family Fun Center, Atascadero, Calif. The store is selling about one a month, and Ioppini has a goal to sell 15 this year. The store has been carrying Dimension One swim spas for two years to complement its other hot tubs from the same manufacturer. "I was first concerned about the price," Ioppini says. "But compared with other brands, it's a good value for the price."


Growth Manufacturers say the swim spa market currently is concentrated along both coasts, "but that's picking up as we speak," says Bob Markiton, president of Sunbelt Spas, Houston.

Graeme Thomson, general manager at manufacturer Hydropool Industries, Mississauga, Ontario, says the market is "Everybody — young families all the way up to the elderly." The three key market areas are those who swim for fitness, those who use swim spas for therapy and those who want to have fun with friends and family. And as lot sizes get smaller, more families are opting for swim spas over in-ground pools to retain a little green space for a garden, a sandbox for the kids or a little patch of grass, Thomson says.

After doubling sales each of the past four years, Thomson anticipates at least a 25 percent increase in swim spa sales this year.

"It just keeps on growing," Carl R. Meyer of Rio SwimSpas says of the category. The Brownsville, Texasbased manufacturer offers 13 models for residential use, with water depths ranging from 3- to 4--feet. The company also builds deeper physical therapy swim spas, as well as a commercial line aimed at fitness centers.

"Space is one consideration for swim spas," says Meyer. "People go for them because they can swim; the spa is an added benefit." Other benefits include less water to heat and keep properly sanitized, easy installation and lower operating costs compared with a pool.

Although it would be a large undertaking, most swim spas are portable, a key factor that influences sales, says Markiton. Last year, Sunbelt sold 200 swim spas; this year Markiton predicts the company will sell double that.

"People buy them because they want to exercise," he ays, "but there's so much more you can do with it. I've never swam in mine, but I've had a lot of spa parties."

Curt Prystupa, president of Sun Fiberglass Products, Brooksville, Fla., says therapy is the motivating factor for people who buy his company's swim spas. "The No. 1 market is for those who have therapeutic needs," Prystupa says. "Someone's had a stroke, a hip or knee replacement and wants to rehab as opposed to exercise."

The company offers residential models up to 17 feet with a fitness package that includes fitness jets and hydrotherapy jets. The company also makes a 15-by-35-foot model with swim jets. "With a swim spa, you can swim until you can't swim anymore," says Prystupa. "You can get a good workout and not go anywhere."

American doctors prescribe vertical water exercise to six million people a year, says Jeff Knight, director of sales for aquatic fitness systems at Dimension One Spas, Vista, Calif.

He says swim spas are used 20 per

www.aquamagazine.com SEPTEMBER 2003 AQUA 43 swim spas Swim spa users can swim upstream for health.

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cent of the time for swimming and the rest of the time for such vertical water exercises as walking, jogging or aquatic fitness.

The picture of the typical swim spa buyer has been undergoing a metamorphosis, from older buyers who wanted the unit for therapy to younger couples, with or without children, who want to get exercise and have fun in the backyard.

Dimension One has been in the category for two years, adding swim spas to its lineup. "For us, the growth has been phenomenal," Knight says. "If it's not the best growth category for us, it's the second best. People feel very comfortable buying a swim spa from us because they know our spas."

Displays Are Key To Sales In the first five months of this year, Master Spas of Wisconsin has sold 15 swim spas, says owner Craig Hueffner, who's known in his Waukesha, Wis., market as "Spa Man." "We're the only store in our market selling swim spas," he says.

The store has only been selling swim spas since December, but the units made a big splash at recent home shows and fairs, where the company generates 90 percent of its AQUA SEPTEMBER 2003 www.aquamagazine.com 44 swim spas Although it's a piece of exercise and conditioning equipment, a swim spa doesn't have to look like it belongs in the gym. Here creative water features and tile treatments make this swim spa an aesthetic asset.

Flagstone decking and attractive plant materials can create a quiet corner for recreation or relaxation.

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AQUA SEPTEMBER 2003 www.aquamagazine.com 46 swim spas ALPS Spas ALPS Spas introduces the 8 x 14-foot Swim Spa. Spa comes equipped with two 175 GPM swim jets and two 90 GPM lower swim jets, 23 total spa jets, 24hour commercial ozone, three fourcolor fiber optic lights, 5.5/11kW, and four 5.0 56 frame pumps, ALPS says.

Portable case is now in a new wood look, with a plastic skirt and a solid pressure-treated bottom.

Circle 275 Cal Spas Offering the best of both worlds, the Olympian has both exercise and spa zones in one versatile model. There's plenty of room to practice favorite strokes while swimming against the current at a controlled pace. The luxury of a lap pool is now available at a fraction of the cost, according to Cal Spas. After a workout, swimmers can wade over to the spa zone to relax and soothe fatigued muscles.

Circle 276 Product Focus: Swim Spas While many consumers are not yet familiar with swim spas, once they discover the versatile swimming and soaking vessels, they won't have any trouble finding the perfect unit to meet their needs. Swim spas are available in all sorts of configurations, sizes, materials and colors.

Following is a sampling of the many swims spa lines available.

P product business. At a show, one shell is on display and a second is filled with water and swimmers demonstrating its use. Master Spas of Wisconsin maintains an above-ground swim spa outside its store.

"We sell above-ground pools and refer in-ground pools to another contractor," Hueffner says. "I think we make more money off a swim spa than the pool guy does on ingrounds."

Damon Fletcher, owner of Elite Spas Northwest, Woodinville, Wash., says that half of the Rio SwimSpas the store sells wind up in indoor applications. He also says 75 percent are for existing homes and the remainder are sold as part of a new home.

Shepnell Pool & Spa Co. has been in the swim spa business for about a year, stocking units from Dimension One. The company sold two swim spas in April, "and we have some really great leads right now," says partner Barry Sheppard.

The company demonstrated at a recent fair, setting up the spa with decking all around it. "We were so inundated with people, we had to shut the booth down at one point," Sheppard says. "We didn't anticipate that type of demand."

Buyers in his market are looking for alternatives to pools; the swim spa fits the bill for less money, Sheppard says.

Even when Leisure Time Family Fun Center doesn't have a swim spa on display, a video loop runs in the store to remind shoppers that the store indeed is in the category. "We generally try to have a display model, but we keep selling it," Ioppini says.

What's the key to success.

"Marketing is the biggest thing," Ioppini says. "We advertise the heck out of it."

Manufacturers are getting into that game, too. Hydropool Aquatrainer advertises in national consumer publications such as Pool & Spa Living and Architectural Digest, as well as airline magazines. The company also encourages its dealers to send direct mail pieces to families with certain incomes or property values in their market areas.

"People contact us all the time saying they saw us in a magazine," Thomson says. "It benefits local dealers to team up with us."

Dimension One advertises in the in-flight magazines of Delta and United airlines, Knight says.

"At the local level, dealers can advertise in local magazines — home improvement or affluent homes or whatever –— aimed at a higher demographic," Knight says.

He also applauds those dealers who load up a swim spa for the local home show: "It's always a show-stopper when you bring one of those in."

According to manufacturers and retailers, the best is yet to come for those in the swim spa business.

"As baby boomers get more gray hair, the need for swim spas will be greater," says Prystupa. "We get a lot of interest in them."

Grayson Walker is an Atlanta-based writer.

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