Swim spa sales reliant upon an active showroom

5 A 610 AqIn the fall of 2008, John Trzcinka, president of Aquatic Fitness Concepts, San Diego, took a chance and opened a business solely dedicated to the sale of swim spas. "People were thinking we were crazy for starting a business during the start of the recession," remembers Trzcinka, "But it was the best time for me because my competition wasn't spending any money to advertise. We had money to spend, and we spent it."

Trzcinka's survival in that first year may seem like a fluke, given the nation's - not to mention California's - ecomony, but success remains his, and he and other swim spa dealers throughout the country continue to promote a niche market that keeps doors revolving with customers.

The "Not-So-Secret" Secret

First impressions are lasting ones, and when customers walk into a retail store looking to find a swim spa, there had better be one (or two or three or four) there.

"I believe so strongly you can't just say that you sell swim spas and sell out of a brochure or only have one on display in a showroom full of hot tubs," says Trzcinka. "You have to make it look like this is what you do, this is who you are."

Because Aquatic Fitness Concepts is strictly a swim spa retailer, it's logical to have a fully equipped showroom. (Just for the record, Trzcinka keeps four swim spas on display, two wet, two dry.) But for the retailers that specialize in other categories, what constitutes the perfect showroom layout?

Peter von Hopffgarten, owner of the Pool and Spa Depot in Nashville, Tenn., displays two swim spas - one dry so people can understand the mechanics of it all and a wet one nestled inside an enclosed mahogany gazebo so potential buyers can truly get a feel for what the whole experience is like.

"I think, like anything else, if you don't show it in your showroom, then what does that tell your customers?" asks von Hopffgarten. "How do you believe in your product if you don't even have one on your showroom floor? You have to be really passionate about a product. You can't be passionate about a product if you aren't willing to display it.

"If you display the product and people see it as a real, viable tangible product line then I think they're given the impression that this is something that we sell a lot of even if we don't. Seeing two on display, they are convinced of the point that this is a viable category."

Both Trzcinka and von Hopffgarten agree that to be successful in selling swim spas, you have to offer not only a variety of models but provide an outlet for customers to get the answers they need to understand the benefits of a swim spa - or, as von Hopffgarten adamantly refers to it, an "underwater fitness system."

When In Use

As the only retailer in Nashville that carries swim spas, von Hopffgarten is already ahead of the game. Potential customers, armed with knowledge gained from the Internet, visit the showroom wanting to get a more hands-on experience with swim spas.

While von Hopffgarten, Trzcinka and Jeff Leggett, owner of Quality Swim Spas of Spokane, Wash., all say that the Internet is a very valuable tool for educating clients about the health benefits of swim spas, it isn't until they visit a showroom that they really see just how beneficial a swim spa is.

"There's a lot of technical stuff [involved with swim spas]," says Leggett, "and people want to know about the equipment."

All three dealers rely on either aquatic trainers or diehard customers to serve as an unofficial sales force.

Leggett hosts a variety of parking lot events where he displays two swim spas outside complete with swim coaches. "We schedule different times for people who have never had the opportunity to use one, and that way they can try it out and make sure it's their perfect fit."

Trzcinka relies on the help of 25 certified aquatic fitness trainers from local clubs like the YMCA to teach clients about the units. And once the deal is closed, he includes a six-week in-home training package for new owners.

Perhaps von Hopffgarten's approach is most novel in that he doesn't rely on any professional, he turns to the people who know the product best - the customers themselves. He "struck a deal" with one of his very first customers, whom he's dubbed "an absolute swim spa fanatic," to come in four or five times a year and spend the whole weekend suited up exercising in the swim spa.

"When you've got one of your own customers using the product, talking to new customers how about great it is, there's no greater sales tool than that. She has sold more swim spas for us than any salesperson we've ever had because she's talking truly from experience. She's so passionate about the product that her story's believable because it's true. The customers see right through it, and they love it."

Product Endorsement

Each dealer could not stress enough the role passion plays in being a successful swim spa dealer. Leggett jumped into the swim spa business in 1997, and he's evolved just as much as the design of the product has.

"I think the reason I sell so many is because I've personally owned seven of them over the years. I really strongly believe it's my passion for them and my belief in them which is why we move so many out of the store," Leggett says.

Selling swim spas requires commitment, says Trzcinka, and that means more than having a token unit on display in the back of the store.

"A swim spa dealer should not have any expectations of being any more successful at selling swim spas with one unit on display than a hot tub dealer with one hot tub on the showroom floor," says Trzcinka.

"The investment is really the floor space and the inventory," adds von Hopffgarten. "If you try to sell it the same way you try to sell a hot tub, you'll fail. Swim spas need to be sold differently."

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

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