Beautiful Or Bust

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Everybody has a favorite place to shop. Maybe your favorite store has a product you really like β€” that special fishing lure you can't find anywhere else. Or maybe your favorite store has particularly friendly and knowledgeable salespeople. For many shoppers, their favorite store not only has products they want and helpful salespeople, it also looks fabulous. Stores like Niketown and Gap don't offer the lowest prices on footwear and jeans, but they are attractively merchandised and so people simply enjoy being there and buying there. Furthermore, a well-designed, impeccably clean showroom can be the difference between stagnant and strong sales.

"A good remodel can generate as much as 15 to 20 percent annual growth increases, so at the bottom line that can be pretty healthy," says Jeff Grant, president of Trio Display, a retail design firm in San Diego.

As a result, more and more portable spa retailers are designing or remodeling their showrooms to look more upscale, which also makes sense given the price points of the luxury products they sell.

"The demographic that's buying hot tubs is typically the demographic that's used to shopping in some pretty nice stores," says Dix Henneke, marketing manager for Caldera Spas. "So I think if you can show that type of consumer buying hot tubs the respect they deserve by presenting the product in a clean, professional way, that goes a long way to helping the dealer make the sale."

What, then, can you do to present your spas in a professional and appealing manner. The following profiles of three portable spa dealers who recently set up or remodeled their showrooms help illustrate your options.

Texas Hot Tubs

Houston, Texas After building custom pools for 20 years, Gregg Moon, owner of Texas Hot Tubs in Houston, ventured into the portable spa market. For his showroom, Moon said he wanted to do something "totally different. I wanted to think outside the box and do something I knew nobody else had around the area."

Moon's outside-the-box designing not only helped him create a great looking showroom, it also helped him win the Caldera Spas Showroom of the Year award for 2004.

Says Moon, "I have been to showrooms that are very sterile: tile floors, bright lights, and have seen the same spas I have and they don't look half as good as they do in my showroom. It's because of the presentation β€” it makes them look elegant. The way I have my track lighting shining down on the spas really puts the spotlight on the spas themselves."

And lighting, according to Grant, will have more of an impact on your store than any single design element. "For ambient lighting I like to use high-grade fluorescent bay lights, which is what you'll see in high-end apparel stores," says Grant. "These fluorescent lights are color-corrected so they provide better color rendition. Then, for display lighting, to punch things up, it's best to use track lighting. I like to put up a lot of track because track is cheap and then when things get moved around on the floor, you can move lights around as you need to."

In addition to highlighting the spas with track lighting, Moon painted the walls in soft earth tones so they don't pull attention away from the tubs. "Those colors also give the space a little more of a backyard-setting feeling," says Tommy Kowalik, sales manager at Texas Hot Tubs. "And so you can more easily visualize the spa in your own yard versus standing in a stark, white store with bright lights everywhere. It's kind of hard to get that visualization going there."

Moon also incorporated a mood room/wet-test area to help customers get a sense of what a spa would be like in their own yard. He felt it was very important to have this space, "if for no other reason than to let people know the proof is in the pudding. We're willing to have spas in our mood room for you to try out and show you how good ours are compared to everybody else's."

Henneke is also a proponent of mood rooms. "Let's face it, not a very large percentage of hot tub shoppers will actually get into a filled spa, unfortunately," he says. "So the next best thing is to of course get them to sit in the dry models, and then if you can take them to a room that can be made totally dark, so that when they turn the lights down in the room and turn the lights up in the water and there's a beautiful waterfall going into the spa and the stereo is on β€” that just evokes the kind of emotion that we want to pull out."

Moon wants his clients to be relaxed not only in the mood room, but also out on his floor, and that's another reason he decorated with more subdued colors. In addition, so that clients don't feel intimidated when it comes time to close the sale, there is no official closing room. Instead, Kowalik says they often use a small picnic table out on the floor. "It's kept clean β€” there's not paperwork everywhere," he says. "We have a clipboard with our sales agreement on it and we sit down with them and the brochures and we just talk to them. We use a lot of the sales approaches we learned through Watkins, which really help."

When it came to placing the 21 spas on his floor, Moon set them at an angle to one another and installed a 4-foot-wide path of stamped-concrete overlay that meanders through the showroom.

How the spas are arranged is a critical component because, says Grant, "You want to create an atmosphere that has some intimacy in what is often a big, open space." If you've got a lot of space to work with, Grant suggests vignettes for each spa surrounded by portable drywall panels, which can be repainted every few months to change the look of the showroom. If you have limited space to work with, Grant suggests doing what Moon did β€” angling the spas so that they're not just lined up against the wall, "to create an area where people can feel like they're not in a warehouse."

Also with a smaller store, "graphics become all important," says Grant. "Throughout the store and/or by individual spas, you've got to have graphics that illustrate the lifestyle you're selling." These graphics can be hung from the ceiling, put on the wall or displayed through a stand. To differentiate your store, Grant encourages retailers to use coordinating graphics beyond or instead of what the vendor may supply. "Hire a graphic designer and create a killer graphics program of your own," says Grant.

Spa & Sauna

Reno, Nev.

For 12 years Scott Clark sold portable spas in a couple of different retail stores in the San Francisco Bay area before opening his current store, Spa & Sauna, in Reno, Nev., last year.

When setting up Spa & Sauna, Clark had a lot of choices to make since the 3,600 square feet of warehouse space was a blank slate. "So my wife and I started going around to different furniture stores and other retailers and we looked at the floors and the walls and the lights. We checked out what they were doing, took some of the ideas we thought worked, threw out the ideas we didn't think worked, and came up with the look."

The look, which Clark semi-jokingly called "modern warehouse chic," includes warm colors on the walls, a dark ceiling and a dark floor. "We had carpet and tile in our old showroom, which we were perpetually ruining, dragging hot tubs around, water overflowing when people tried them out," says Clark. "My wife really liked the acid etching on concrete floors, where they stain the concrete, which seemed to be the popular thing in a lot of the stores we went to. But because this warehouse was once a transmission shop, we were told unless we can get all that old grease out of the floor, the stain wouldn't burn in properly. So we went with an epoxy β€” basically they painted the floor and then they walked around and threw brown, red, gray and black confetti flakes on it and that darkened up the floor to almost a burnt-orange look."

Grant is a big fan of acid-washed concrete floors. "When you acid wash the concrete, you get a real deep, rich, almost oceanic sort of look, like you're looking into pools of water. It creates a great look."

For his walls, Clark found inspiration in other retail stores. "A lot of the upscale furniture shops now do a lot of burnt oranges, and so we went a little darker than that with our maroon and then they also use a lot of tans and beiges and we went just a little bit brighter than that with the sun yellow. Everything from 10 feet up, including the ceiling, is black.

"We also do saunas," says Clark, "so a lot of our wall is covered almost up to the black part at 10 feet, and so that really softens it up having our natural wood saunas. It just came out nice.

I've never had so many compliments on a location as we do at the one we're in now."

Clark also angles his tubs on display.

"We try to break it up, as opposed to just lining them up straight along the wall, which to me just looks bad. We also try to break them up with our signage and plants so each one has its own identity and space, but at the same time we have a whole lot of flexibility to move them around."

Flexibility is critical since Spa & Sauna has quite a bit to move. "We have out as many as 26 spas and seven saunas, but it doesn't look or feel crowded. One of the reasons we try to fit so many spas into our space here is I've found here and elsewhere that the more spas we display, the more spas we sell. When you have that many spas on display, people don't feel like they need to go and shop anywhere else. They've pretty much seen all the combinations, sizes and colors that they need to. If you only have six spas on display, people feel like they need to go see some more."

Once clients are ready to buy, Clark wants the closing to be a comfortable experience. "In our last store, we had a closing office and I must say, people get intimidated when they're in that darn thing. So we have a patio set sitting back in a quiet spot and we walk around the showroom and lead right to it. When it's real busy we'll use a couple gazebos with the bars and stools. When it's busy, it's actually easier to sell because when people see other people buying stuff, it just makes it that much easier for them to think: They're doing it, I guess we can do it, too. So having all those separate, private offices like a car dealership just wasn't us β€” we're the antipressure store."

Clark's relaxed approach seems to be working. "Our closing ratio is higher at this store than any place I've ever worked, whether it be for somebody else or myself, so something is working. Part of it is a comfort level. People feel comfortable doing business with us and some of that is our charming personalities, but some of it is the fact that it's a nice, warm, inviting place to shop."

Clark's improved closing ratio is even more impressive given his competition. "There are 15 stores in town, so it just blows me away."

Clearwater Spas

Newcastle, Del.

A few years ago before he moved his dealership to Newcastle, Del., in 2005, Don Adams, owner of Clearwater Spas, hired a retail consultant to help remodel his showroom. So when he moved, he didn't change the look and feel of the showroom too much. Adams also had a custom-made, zigzagging light fixture that matched the blues, magenta and purple in his previous showroom, "so we stuck with our color scheme from before."

But Adams did do one thing quite different at the new showroom. "We went all out with our customer bath. We did a cathedral ceiling, and we tiled the floors and tiled one of the walls in a fish theme. When you walk in, the lights come on automatically, and that was all geared to test-soakers. If people test soaked and they changed, we wanted to make a good impression. And it works out real well. It's a real fancy bathroom."

But in setting up the 2,600-squarefoot showroom, Adams decided against having a specific wet test room. "Some of these spas to us may not be complicated, but some customers who test soak alone may not be sure how to set them up. They could easily not have something set up right. I remember losing a deal one time because when I followed up they said the jets on our tubs were too strong. And I kick myself because our jets aren't too strong. They can be too strong, but they can be adjusted to anywhere you want and if you don't know that, if that's what you leave the test soak thinking, I think you don't get the full experience."

Adams also chose not to have a power aisle. "It's too restrictive for the size we have, so we have mostly carpet and then some tile that looks just like water by the custom counter and one of the entrances. And there really isn't a predictable flow. We usually greet people, try to assess what their needs are and help them understand how spas work. We have a technical wall we take them to and try to explain how a spa is built and what things to look for, and then we move on to models that would meet their needs."

Like both Moon and Clark, Adams does not have a traditional closing room. "I think customers get more uncomfortable the more closed in you get. I do," he says. "Our closing area is only bordered by a couple grid walls with some informative posters on them and we hang a basket on there, too, to show what our start-up chemical kit is. And all our credibility stuff, all the awards we've gotten, is right behind the desk in there. It's in a corner of the showroom, but it's very open."

Adams usually has 16 to 18 models on display, and "we have gotten accustomed to showing our best models wet and dry. To allow customers to sit in a dry model and see how it fits and how you can use it and then go stand next to it and see how it works, I think that's a big advantage for us. We could have another line here altogether if we didn't feel strongly about showing one model twice a lot of the time."

Displaying one brand also means Adam's signage matches up quite nicely. "Our manufacturer has just changed their entire POP so we'll change over to that soon. It'll be stands of acrylic that are pretty classy looking, big posters and banners. It just ties the whole program together and makes you look more professional."

Help On The Way

If you don't want to tackle designing and outfitting a showroom on your own, you have options. First, your supplier may have a wealth of advice and services. They've done the research and they know what's going to look good with their products. And often, the design process is quite flexible. Henneke says the services Caldera offers are not mandated. "When we design a showroom for a dealer, we get their input and make modifications per their input. Beyond that, we have negotiated special pricing on the stuff we thought was best for dealers to use. In some cases, it's more than a 50 percent savings over what the dealer could get on their own."

Sundance Spas and Jacuzzi Hot Tubs also offer comprehensive merchandising programs that include preplanned showroom packages with standardized retail elements with defined specifications for everything from paint, carpet and lighting to graphics, fixtures and point-of-purchase materials.

"According to the Point of Purchase Advertising Institute, more than 74 percent of consumers make their brand decision at the store," says Myra Nawabi, the retail environment designer at Sundance and Jacuzzi. "For that reason, we invest significant time and energy into working with our dealers to ensure that their showroom environments are professional, comfortable and engaging."

Another route is to hire a retail merchandising consultant who can help you design or freshen up your showroom. This may not be inexpensive, but, says Henneke, "With so many good products out there these days, sales really is more a battle of perceptions than it is products." So in a competitive market where you need to differentiate your dealership, a beautiful showroom is a must.

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