Millennials in Hot Water

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Erik deSonnaville can sell a hot tub in his sleep. And that's not a joke.

"I literally sold a millennial at spa at 4 o' clock in the morning," he says. "Why it was 4 o' clock in the morning, I don't know, but that's when I got a message that said, 'We talked about it. We're going to do it.' I remember getting up in the morning, looking at my phone and going, 'Cool, I sold a spa in my sleep!'"

Welcome to the millennial market. Loosely defined as those who were born between the '80s and 2000, we β€” as a 26 year old, I'm a millennial as well β€” are stereotypically known as the tech-savvy, selfie-taking, glued-to-our-phones generation. But given that there are 80 million millennials in the U.S., or a quarter of the total population, whose buying power amounts to $1.3 trillion each year, it's easy to see why businesses everywhere are clamoring to reach into the millennial wallet β€” spa retailers included.

However, as deSonnaville and other hot tub dealers have discovered, millennials do just about everything differently than past generations. If you're looking to attract the younger crowd to your showroom, here's what you should keep in mind.

They Move Faster

Erik deSonnaville, sales manager at Fiesta Pools and Spas in Tulsa, Okla., estimates about 20 percent of the company's hot tub sales go to the millennial market.

"From a sales standpoint, they're fun because they're quick," he says.

And that begins with the decision to make a purchase in the first place.

"An older couple might come in and think about it, and they might think about it for 30, 60 days β€” even six months before they purchase. A millennial is more like, 'It's on my mind, I'm thinking about doing it, I've got a bonus coming, let's buy it.' The sale cycle is much, much faster."

And once it's on their mind, a millennial wants to act quickly β€” which means hot tub dealers need to stay on their toes.

"I've found with the millennials, instantly getting back to them gives you a much, much higher closing rate," deSonnaville says.

Given the millennial market's propensity for smartphones β€” as marketing firm SDL found, millennials interact with their phone 43 times a day β€” mobile optimization is imperative. Fiesta Pools is linked with Google+, which means their page gets ranked higher in Google's search results. If a potential customer searches for, say, "hot tubs Tulsa OK," Fiesta Pools and Spas will appear with a button to call the store. From there, it's a race.

"If they're on an hour lunch, and if they click on that button at the beginning of their lunch, it's our goal to have a conversation with them in the middle of lunch," deSonnaville says.

All About the Brand

Every time Apple releases a new product, lines form around the block. Nike has more than 22 million fans on Facebook. Target keeps customers hooked with their latest designer collaborations that sell out in hours. Millennials care about the brands they support, and as such, they want to know they're buying a hot tub from a quality manufacturer.

"They're wanting something so they can say they bought an X," deSonnaville says. "They want that brand recognition to be part of what they're purchasing."

However, hot tub brand awareness among millennials (and the hot tub customer base as a whole) isn't as strong as, say, Apple. That means millennials are turning to you, the dealer, for brand-specific information.

"They're looking for the confidence of quality and the brand recognition," deSonnaville says. "They typically want reassurance that the one they're buying is still a really, really good spa."

And as a bonus: Selling a millennial on a particular brand can potentially pay dividends later on. While many believe millennials lack any kind of brand loyalty, research shows the opposite. According to a study of 1,300 millennials by online magazine Elite Daily and researcher Millennial Branding, 60 percent of respondents said they are often or always loyal to brands they currently purchase. And just about half said product quality was the most important factor when considering a purchase.

Better yet, the millennials tend to turn to each other when making purchasing decisions; they're a "pack culture," as deSonnaville says. This mindset leads to natural referrals.

"When you follow up with a millennial, you always want to ask, 'Do you have any friends I could send a quick brochure to or shoot a text to?'" he says.

Bells and Whistles

While your typical hot tub customer is likely considering a hot tub for its hydrotherapy value, younger customers are in it for a good time and creating a memorable experience.

"They're buying the stereo, the music, the fun and the atmosphere of the spa," deSonnaville says.

The stereo in particular is a must for millennial customers, along with other techy features like Wi-Fi/Bluetooth capabilities and LED lights. However, they're not typically willing to break into the high-end market to meet those needs.

"They're really looking for the experience, but they're skewing it based on the value," deSonnaville says. "In other words, they may want a brand new car, but they might not be ready to buy a brand new BMW for $80,000 β€”they'll buy a used one for $25,000 instead. They still want the brand name, they still want the fun stuff. They like their toys, that's for sure."

In general, deSonnaville finds his younger customers buy spas in the $5,000 to $7,000 price range.

No Calls, Please

According to a study by Mitek and Zogby analytics, 90 percent of millennials say their smartphone never leaves their side. Eighty percent say their phone is the first thing they reach for in the morning. So it's a bit funny that while the group has a phone in hand nearly all the time, it's relatively seldom used for that purpose.

Instead, it's all about texting.

"I'll sometimes spend an hour with a millennial shooting texts back and forth," deSonnaville says.

Why texting? It gives both sides some breathing room and feels less intrusive than a phone call. It also means the customer can pick up the conversation at any time, as deSonnaville's 4 a.m. hot tub sale shows.

"When I communicate with a millennial, it'll be more along the lines of, 'Hey this is Erik at Fiesta Pools, I see you've inquired about our spas, I'd love to help you out, I know you're super busy β€” I can do an online presentation, I can shoot you a text with some information, just tell me what's best for you. And they'll typically reply with some questions."

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

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