The Hot Tub Rental: A Hot Item

Cailley Hammel Headshot

Not everyone's willing to drop $10,000 on a hot tub. At least, not at first. If only there was a way to coax people into the idea by testing the waters, so to speak β€” to ease them into the idea the same way they'd ease into a hot tub's soothing warmth.

Turns out, there is β€” the hot tub rental.

For dealers, the hot tub rental offers several attractive benefits: it gets new people in the store, it creates a new revenue stream, it opens the door to larger purchases and it works as a handy tool for free promotion.

To learn more hot tub rental programs, we chatted with a couple dealers about the two main ways rentals help their businesses: revenue and promotion.

REVENUE

Clarence Bergen and his wife, Twyla, entered the business in the easiest way possible: by buying their own hot tub. As they learned the inner-workings of spa packs and became more skilled in troubleshooting and repairs, neighbors sought them out for help with their own tubs. (The Bergens reside in Steinbach, a small community in Manitoba, and the nearest hot tub service pros are found about an hour away.)

Before long, the couple noticed the community-wide interest in hot tubs, and that led to an experiment.

"We got a used tub and put it onto a trailer for rent," Bergen says. "And then we did two, and then we did three. And out of that we realized people were buying spas after renting them for a little while."

In 2006, the Bergens decided to open a dealership in Steinbach: Urban Life. And as they quickly discovered, rentals did indeed lead to sales in their store.

"We found over 25 percent of our customers that have rented tubs have purchased tubs, usually within three years," Bergen says. "It goes up to 35 percent after four or five years. Rental customers end up buying spas if you provide them a good quality rental."

Bachmann Pools and Spas in Madison, Wis., has offered rentals for its entire 30-year history. "We get a lot of sales off it," says Co-owner Kiya Bachmann. An impressive 42 percent of those who rent end up making a purchase within 60 days, she says.

The Logistics: Bergen says he typically has three hot tubs available to rent year round and ups that to six for popular occasions such as Christmas, New Years and the Super Bowl. He uses recent trade-ins or floor models for rental units. When he's ready to retire the units from rental service, he offers them to customers to purchase at a discount.

"We can say, 'This one's been rented out, here's another $150 off if you take this exact one,'" he says. "It's a good excuse to keep your floor models current."

Bergen's rental spas are either electric or propane; propane models are more expensive to rent, but heat up quickly allow greater freedom of location β€” some people will even take an Urban Life rental tub to the campground. However, if customers lack the space to accommodate a propane model, the electric models simply plug into a standard 110v outlet. Another bonus with propane models is they can be delivered with water, while their electric counterparts must be filled on-site.

The Strategy: Simply offering hot tub rentals isn't usually enough to generate a sale. For Bergen, getting a hot tub in someone's backyard is just the first step.

"If it's a nice [backyard] setting, you can start to read when people are more serious about having a hot tub and if they're capable of buying a hot tub," Bergen says. In such cases, he'll ask to take a few photos of the backyard.

Back at the office, he pulls up Google Drive. Bergen uses it to keep track of his hot tub renters β€” contact info, the reason for which they made the rental, etc. β€” and store the photos he took in their yards.

Urban Life offers a deal: Anyone who rents a spa and makes a purchase within a year can take half the cost of the rental and apply it to the cost of a new tub. (Bachmann offers a similar deal β€” customers can take the full cost of the rental off the price of a new tub purchased within 60 days.) With the help of Google Calendar, Bergen sets up an alert to call that customer near the end of the one-year offer period to remind them of the offer.

"We say, 'Hey, your $150 credit is expiring soon, if you're thinking about a new hot tub, this is the time to capitalize on it,'" Bergen says. "It gives them that refresher. 'Hey, we had a really good time with that party, it was our anniversary, it was really romantic in our backyard soaking in a hot tub.'"

If they sound interested, that's where the photos come back into play.

"With the photos, we've even got a good idea of where to talk about installing the hot tub," he says. "So we can say, 'Oh, you've got that great pergola, did you want to put the hot tub under there?' And they go, 'How did you know that?'"

Domino Effect: That strategy sounds easy, but it comes down to one idea: the power of a good first impression. As Bergen says, hot tub rentals offer a low-pressure way to introduce yourself and your products to a customer.

"If you're in their backyard the first time, the odds are if you did a good job, you're gong to get back into their backyard the second and third time. I could list a load of customers where our initial meeting was a hot tub rental for a party, and then a year later, we're selling them a hot tub. And a year later we're building them a swimming pool. And a year later, we're selling them a barbeque. It's a very good 'in' and a very good chance to make a first impression."

But sometimes, other factors intervene.

"If the weather wasn't the right experience for the rental, sometimes we found that those people bought a hot tub, but it wasn't necessarily from us," Bergen says. "There's a lot of things people are sensitive to, and that just makes it part of the game."

Whether or not hot tub renters make a future purchase, Bergen says the rental service is definitely worthwhile.

"The cost of the hot tub, really, wholesale to us, is $20. You're really talking very little depreciation. My one rental that was seven years old, it must have been rented out 300 times for $300 bucks a weekend. It's very profitable. So you're really talking whatever amount of minutes it takes you to deliver the tub, a little bit of chemical and a little bit of depreciation."

PROMOTION

Hot tub rentals are more than a way to make money β€” they're a tool for community outreach, a way to spread the message of the hot tub experience. For example, Urban Life participates in the Polar Bear Dare event, which raises money for children from low-income families who want to participate in sports. The event includes an icy dip in a frozen lake, after which participants make a dash to the Urban Life rental tub waiting nearby to warm them up again.

"It's promotions like that where people are just in awe that you can have a hot tub on the ice, where they wouldn't expect it," Bergen says. "It's a neat way to gain exposure that you wouldn't be able to get by just putting a new hot tub out there for sale on the ice."

Urban Life is now a staple at Polar Bear Dare events, but that's only the beginning. Bergen also takes a tub to other events, like golf tournaments, hockey games (at which the tub sits rink side for some soaking and sports watching) and fishing events. Because Urban Life is part of a small community, Bergen says hot tub rentals offer the company a way to participate in local events in a low-cost way. For example, gift certificates for rentals make great prizes in charity raffles.

"We use those things for community awareness and support, especially when it would maybe be more costly to provide support by writing checks versus giving up a little of our time and providing a rental," Bergen says.

Rentals also make a great bargaining chip when working with the media.

"Our local radio station is often looking for prizes, but because we're not a big city, giving away a hot tub as a prize in trade for advertising doesn't work well for us," Bergen says. "But we're able to offer our hot tub rentals as prizes for them, so they'll give away a rental a week for a lot of the summer in trade for advertising."

Thinking Local: Given her business's location in a Big 10 college town, Bachmann takes advantage of crowd-gathering events such as Badger football games, which bring more than 100,000 fans to central Madison, to promote her rental tubs. In particular, she'll arrange a deal with one of her radio partners stationed in the heart of game day mania and set up a hot tub for everyone to see.

"We'll set one up right in front of Camp Randall," she says. "It has a big banner that says, 'Rent me.' It's actually a good conversation piece, you know, especially with the students."

And as a result, Bachmann finds the phone rings with calls from college kids who pool their funds together for a Badger bash in a hot tub.

Yet Bachmann says you don't need a major occasion to promote hot tub rentals. When the mood strikes, she'll pack up a hot tub and just drive it where the people are.

"We'll take a flatbed trailer, put a spa on it, and put a couple mannequin dolls in it with bikinis on and just drive around," she says. "Usually we do it at the farmer's market. Anything there's something big going on, that's where I go."

How's that for easy, free promotion?

Go Social: All of Bergen's rental tubs have signs affixed on them, an important detail for a number of reasons. First, it lets people know that Bill down the street didn't buy a new hot tub β€” and if curious neighbors are interested in a rental themselves, the contact info is right on the tub.

Which leads to an interesting social media strategy: Anyone who rents a hot tub is likely to take some photos of it and post them to Facebook β€” and usually, they're going to get some of the signage in the shot, too.

"They go through Facebook like wildfire," Bergen says. "You often get a call later on. 'Yeah, we were at this party that had a hot tub rental, and they got it from you guys, and we were wondering how much that costs,'" Bergen says.

Even the trailer is affixed with a sign reading, "Rent some fun tonight," to spark an idea in people's minds.

LAST WORDS: While the hot tub rental has a lot of upsides, there are also some things to be aware of. In particular, Bergen has one piece of advice: "Don't rent junk."

"It doesn't need to be a new tub β€” a lot of renters don't care what type of a tub it is. But on the same note, when it's older, or has poor filtration and the water goes bad, you don't get another customer out of it," he says.

You should also expect to be on call when you have rental tubs out, Bergen says, making it an even better idea to rent high-quality tubs that are less likely to fail.

"It's likely going to let you sleep through more nights," he says.

When asked the definitive question β€” if they think hot tub rentals are worth the time and effort β€” both Bergan and Bachmann say yes.

"It's in demand," Bachmann says. "Even if people really want a hot tub, but they don't know if they could even afford to have the cost of one, it's a great way to try it."

Who Knew?

While hot tub rentals are popular for major holidays and sporting events, Bergan says he gets a lot of interest in rentals for family reunions β€” and Bachmann says churches rent them for baptisms.

 

Rentals and Social Media

Hot tub rentals are a great way to grow your social media presence and your reach among new customers. Here's two examples:

1. Photo Contest

Clarence Bergen ran a contest for those who had rented a tub from Urban Life. They uploaded a photo of the hot tub at their event and tagged the company in the post. Whichever photo got the most likes in a certain timeframe won a free weekend rental.

2. Random Raffles

Kiya Bachmann says she'll occasionally do Facebook contests with hot tub rentals as prizes. It's super simple: She'll randomly pick a fan of the company page and give them a hot tub rental. Anyone who is a fan of the page is eligible to win, which makes it a great way to boost your page's fan count. Bachmann says she'll use a similar approach when hosting pool schools: Anyone who attends will be entered to win a hot tub rental in a drawing.

 

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

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