Open House At Hot Tub Store Draws Hordes

Mike Hughes is the owner of Firemaster, a pool and spa builder and retailer in Evansville, Ind. AQUA spoke with him recently about a wildly successful sales event his company held that increased enthusiasm among salesmen in addition to reaping big revenues.

I spoke with Bob Durrua at LA Spas, and he said that at one time you guys were thinking about getting out of hot tub sales.

There was a period back in the mid 90s, and we were having some bad luck with our vendors at that time. Fortunately we ran across LA back then when Bill Holmes still owned the company. We met some good people there and felt really good about taking them on. We had good luck for several years building our business up with them, and then had some bad experiences when another company came in, copied Bill’s molds and dropped the prices. That hurt us in the Midwest. So we switched over to Hot Springs in 1998.

Then we saw our sales drop dramatically when the economy started to go south in 2007 and 2008. Our numbers drifted downward, and to help offset those lower sales we cut down our showroom space. We were doing more pool business, too, so we increased pool displays and cut back on spa displays.

At that same time, we were doing a lot of our financing with Textron, and when gas prices started going up, I thought sales would keep going down, so we cut our inventory and didn’t reorder. That worked out well because the year Textron finally pulled the plug on spa financing we sold and paid for our last unit that was on Textron at the end of the year. So we got lucky there.

So that was 2009, and we felt then that we had a need for a middle-priced value-added hot tub that would address the consumer’s desire for a well-jetted, well-pumped spa without paying the $9,000 to $12,000 range. We had a difficult time addressing that niche, and we kind of struggled through 2010 and 2011. We did dabble with another company for a period, and that just didn’t work out. We’re still Hot Springs dealers, and we still love Watkins Manufacturing — they’re a great company and they offer a lot of great products — but we were in a town competing with Master and Royal, which is a local and regional brand. It can be difficult to justify that big price difference.

We didn’t go to the home show in our town this year. It’s a long story, but we weren’t comfortable with the time and venue. So we decided to have two back-to-back open houses, and LA came out to work with us. They provided a tent, we had a salesman from out there come, as well as Brian, and we just had a huge response. In 10 days we moved 16 units, which for us is just terrific because, sadly, we had gotten to the point where we were lucky to hit 40 in a year, when at one time we did as many as 150 in a year.

Tell us what you did to prepare for the 10-day event.

We took the budget that we usually utilized for the home show and the open house and threw it all into this promotion. I did a 12-billboard, 30-day blitz where they placed them around our metropolitan area. Along with that we did a major radio campaign over a three-week period with two big events, one on April 14 and one on April 21. We had radio remotes out there all day long with three radio stations. At the end of the promotion we gave away a spa and an aboveground pool.

We had a lot of activity out front on the two Saturdays. We had the tent, two blow-up play areas for kids, another tent with cooking demonstrations, and the radio stations were also cooking and giving away food. So it really made a big visual impact on the thoroughfare out front.

We partnered with three local companies. We had a fence company out there showing their products, we had a company showcasing playsets, and we had a company that sold gas grills showcasing their products.

We also did an insert in the newspaper — two pages, full color — that went to the full circulation of about 115,000 people. So that’s how we spread our advertising dollars around.

So you guys really stuck your necks out. Were you apprehensive about the turnout?

We weren’t really nervous about the turnout on the first open house, because we had done that for many years successfully. But we didn’t know what the outcome was going to be of taking all of that home show advertising budget and throwing it into a second open house. And quite honestly, I took the 10-day period that encompassed the home show and open house last year and compared the revenue of the two open houses and revenues jumped about 90 percent. There was a lot of apprehension about the second open house, but I was really excited because it actually generated more dollars than the first one. Going into the event I would have been happy with half the revenues and half the layaways we got, so it far exceeded our expectations. And it’ll be something we definitely repeat every year.

Were these buyers people who had shopped at your store before?

They were mostly new people that we hadn’t seen before. In the last couple of years I knew that our share of the pie was diminishing. I knew that the pie was smaller, but I also knew our share was getting smaller, too. But a lot of the people who came in and bought were really sort of us recapturing some people we had lost over the last few years.

The visual impact out front, and the advertising, is what drew those people in.

Were the people that bought there to buy, or did you make some surprise sales?

Several of them were already in the market for a hot tub. They had looked at some of them already, and they weren’t long-time shoppers, which is what we’ve seen a little of in the past.

We did have some people come in that hadn’t considered getting a hot tub — they liked the idea but they weren’t out shopping. These people just happened to hear about the promotion, and they came in and bought hot tubs.

Did this whole thing rekindle your excitement about hot tub sales?

Oh, without a question. And my salesmen, they have gained a new level of excitement from this. Our sales had really flattened out in spas, so there just wasn’t that excitement level when customers came in. But now they’re fired up in a big way.

Is there anything you’ll do differently next time?

The only thing I’ll do differently next year is I’m going to add a few more vendors. We had three, and I’ve got room for five. I’m going to have them kick in a little more toward promotion, because it seems like people today would like to drive to fewer places and see more things. So if I can bring more traffic to our location by offering them more products to see it will work to everybody’s benefit. I’ll get somebody with some outdoor barns and somebody that does casual furniture.

As far as the advertising, I wouldn’t change it. When you almost double your business you have to be careful not to mess with things too much.

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

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