Retailing gazebos requires them to be seen on the showroom floor

4 B 810 AqMother Nature is pretty reliable. Year in and year out, it's going to rain a lot in Washington, it's going to be hot and humid in Florida in July, and it's going to be crazy cold in Minnesota in January. So even though some seasons are milder or more intense than others, there will always be homeowners who prefer to enjoy their portable spa without feeling the -20 degree breeze biting their skin. And there will always be nosy neighbors, too, so the most common reasons for buying a gazebo - privacy and protection from the elements - still exist. And even if your gazebo sales have slowed during the recession, the economy will come back, along with the gazebo buyers. Your chances of seeing this category rebound faster improve dramatically if you display one or more gazebos.

"You need to keep one on hand," says Tim Powell, retail manager at Classic Pool & Spa in Gladstone, Ore., a Northwest Gazebos & Garden Products dealer. "Customers have got to be able to see it, and it's a good investment. It doesn't really ring true about a picture being worth a thousand words, not with a gazebo. Having a brochure is nice, but you have to have one set up on your floor."

Even though not every portable spa client is ready to buy a gazebo when they purchase their hot tub, it's important to plant the seed by showing at least one, explicitly offering them and explaining the benefits gazebos offer. "To spur gazebo sales, the No. 1 thing a dealer has to do is they have to make sure that they're offered," says John Lemon of Dolphin Pool & Supply in Tulsa, Okla. "If it's just sitting on the floor, and especially if it's in the corner of the showroom, you can't count on the consumer to look over there and acknowledge it. It needs to be brought up. If a customer is coming in mainly for a hot tub or a pool, the dealer needs to mention the gazebos and bring them into the presentation. If the customer expresses interest, then you also explain - especially to those who are looking to obtain financing anyway - how they can get a spa/gazebo or pool/gazebo package at x-amount of dollars, because people will do this like buying a car. They will buy a monthly payment they can afford, not necessarily what the total ticket is going to be."

A Nice Package

Packaging portable spas with gazebos can be a great sales tactic, if done correctly. "That seems to be what has helped us get more into the market," says Joe Corke, senior sales associate at Purewater Total Home Leisure in Ottawa, Ontario, where they sell Visscher Specialty Products gazebos. "Don't necessarily put your most expensive hot tub with your most expensive gazebo because people don't want to see a $20,000 price tag. But if you can put a good gazebo and a nice hot tub together and put a nice price on it, you generate the interest and people come in and say, 'That's beautiful. However, that's even nicer, how much more to go to that?'"

Offering a hot tub/gazebo package at home shows has also worked for Purewater. "We did extremely well at a home show a few months back, because if you put a very attractive price on a hot tub and a gazebo installed in your backyard for $12,500, people are all over that," says Corke. "Home shows work very well for us. They're a very big draw, and people do buy that day. We don't go to generate leads; we go to sell."

To offer these deals to customers, Corke negotiates ahead of time with his supplier. "We'll go out to the manufacturer and say, 'We need a week window where you're going to give us some discounts because we're going to promote you and only you and sell a lot of product.' We typically are able to get some kickbacks because we'll sell 40 or 50 hot tubs in a weekend at a home show."

An amazing performance in this economy, Corke admits. "Our sales are over double what they were at this time last year, and last year was a record start to the year for us. We were floored and still are floored by how much we're selling. Our jaws are slightly dragging across the ground wondering what is going on, but by all means, we're extremely pleased and happy and just hoping it continues. We haven't experienced a recession here in Ottawa. It hasn't hit."

Corke believes things haven't slowed much in Ottawa because it's a sheltered city. "We've got a lot of government and high tech jobs, so things that occur everywhere else don't seem to occur here as hard. We're also one of the oldest and biggest retailers in Ottawa, so we're established and a lot of people have been referred to us to purchase."

Because not everyone purchases a gazebo initially with their hot tub, Purewater encourages aftermarket gazebo sales by directing showroom traffic through the spa area where the gazebo is on display. "We have a lot of repeat customers who are always coming in the store for water testing, and we try to make it so they take the quick tour through the hot tub section and see those gazebos."

Showing gazebos on your floor is like having a billboard, says John Castro, general manager at Staten Island Pool & Spa in Staten Island, N.Y. "If you're driving along and see an advertisement, that doesn't mean you're going to stop your car and go buy something," says Castro. "It means you saw the ad, and it's in your brain somewhere, and then one day when you decide you want a gazebo, you remember the sign and know where to find one."

Going Big

Like so many products in the pool and spa industry, what's popular with gazebos varies by region. At Classic Pool & Spa, Powell says the bigger gazebos have been selling the best. Powell admits these are not inexpensive, "but it's a lot cheaper than building a room, and you've got a lot fewer building hassles. We can put one of these up in a day, whereas if you're constructing a building with sliding doors, they're very expensive, so this is a fraction of the cost.

"With the larger gazebos, you get a nice, big space that will hold your spa and furniture and stereo and maybe a bar - all that could go into it. When you look at the cost of adding on a room, you're looking at $20,000 to $30,000, whereas this is $12,000. There's not much to compare."

Corke says many of his Purewater clients have also been opting for the larger gazebos. "It seems the mentality right now is if I'm going to put one in, why wouldn't I just spend a little bit more and get the larger unit, and use it a bit more - not just for the tub, but for other things, as well. These larger gazebos are like a full addition to the home to a certain degree: outside living, but completely sheltered from the elements."

At Staten Island Pool & Spa, Castro says the 10-by-10 A & B Accessories gazebos he sells are the most popular. "This is New York City, so the yards here are not really that big."

All the dealers AQUA spoke with for this article also noted that clients occasionally purchase gazebos with no intention of putting a spa inside. "I'd say probably as much as 30 percent are being used as outdoor rooms and pavilions and don't even have a spa in them," says A & B Accessories owner John Olson. "It's a place to read the paper and have a cup of coffee in more temperate climates, especially the south. Some people even put infrared heaters in them, some people put lights in them and perhaps a refrigerator. You start moving into 14-by-14 gazebo - it's a man cave."

As the economy gradually recovers, so will hot tub and gazebo sales. To capture these opportunities, you'll want to be ready, set with a full lineup of spas, gazebos and accessories to see your sales go up.

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

On Display

4 C 810 AqWhether you're considering integrating gazebos into your product mix or already have one on your floor, knowing how other dealers dress up their gazebos can offer ideas for sprucing up your own display. After all, customers will not bother to browse if the floor looks the same every time they come in to get their water tested.

"We've always got it set up like it could look in your backyard, with the spa inside the gazebo and plants to accessorize. I've even got a bar attachment with table settings that sits on the side, so people can envision it in their yard with that. And it's very well lit. Lighting is important because a gazebo sitting there in the dark is not going to sell anything. We have lighting around the side and inside the gazebo."
- Tim Powell, retail manager at Classic Pool -Spa in Gladstone, Ore.

"We have two gazebos on display. We have a big, fully enclosed 11-by-14 Whistler and an 8-by-8 open air with a bar. We'd probably sell next to none if we didn't show it. People want to see and touch before they buy. We typically will set up the gazebos with a tub inside and if there's room, we try to set the mood by hanging Purewater bathrobes on towel trees, and putting in a small bistro-style table and chairs and sometimes even setting up a small beverage fridge."
- Joe Corke, senior sales associate at Purewater Total Home Leisure in Ottawa, Ontario

"We try to use real and artificial plantings around the gazebo. In addition, we are big on lighting; every display including gazebos gets flood and spot lighting."
- Joe Musnicki, owner of Ocean Spray Hot tubs -Saunas, Westhampton Beach, N.Y.

"We put a spa inside, and we accessorize it, perhaps with a towel tree and towels. Also, customers today are all into the colored lights, so we put some blue and maybe some lavender lighting in the gazebo to catch their eye. We're hoping they can visualize this in their backyard."
- John Lemon, Dolphin Pools in Tulsa, Okla.

"We have lighting over the top of the gazebo that shows through the skylight, and we also have a spa with a multi-colored lighting package in the gazebo. So we're lighting the gazebo with the spa more or less. The spa in the gazebo is empty, and it has LED lighting all around and in the jets, so there are a ton or lights, probably 50 different lights in this spa and when you light it up, it looks nice. We also show it with the bar kit and the stools. We show it the way most people want it."
- John Castro, general manager at Staten Island Pool -Spa, Staten Island, N.Y.

-J.D.

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