Splash around: During a recent tour of Master Spas’ manufacturing facility, Olympian Michael Phelps warmly greeted the workers on the production line. Phelps also attended dealer meetings and energized the retailers.
Master Spas Splash around: During a recent tour of Master Spas’ manufacturing facility, Olympian Michael Phelps warmly greeted the workers on the production line. Phelps also attended dealer meetings and energized the retailers.

Swim-spa manufacturers are banking on high-profile athletes to increase recognition of the category.

At least two such producers are trying the strategy. While one swim spa maker renewed its contract with an elite athlete, another manufacturer forged a partnership as it released its first swim-spa model.

Michael Phelps’ recent legal trouble has had no impact on his contract with Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Master Spas Inc.

The high-end acrylic spa manufacturer has partnered with Phelps since 2010, and renewed the agreement in 2014.

“I really believe we’ll have a relationship with Michael and his coach, Bob Bowman, after I’m retired,” said Bob Lauter, CEO of Master Spas. “This is a long-term, very integrated partnership.”

On the other hand, Marquis Spas continues to roll out its Aquatic Training Vessels, formally introduced last November, and is partnering with Dave Scott, six-time Ironman World Champion and first inductee into the Ironman Hall of Fame. In addition to increasing the product’s sports cachet, Scott was enlisted to create training vignettes that allow users to maximize the benefits of both the product and Scott’s coaching experience.

“His clientele is everyone from the most elite athletes on Earth ... down to everyday citizens who are trying to incorporate swimming, running and biking into their fitness regimens for one reason or another,” said Jim Johnston, vice president of marketing for the Independence, Ore.-based manufacturer.

Having a face on the product wasn’t the motivation for either manufacturer, though.

“I believe that having an athlete that is integrated to the brand and can legitimately speak to training in the product [works],” Lauter said. “It’s not like we put [Phelps’] name on the product and he never saw it again, and never used it again.”

Marquis chose Scott in part to weigh in on product features and performance from the development side of the business.

“He helped us with some of the initial features that we currently have, but we are deep into discussions about the next generation of new products,” Johnston said. Scott provided input about types of water flow and affirmed the company’s desire for a 4-foot water level.
The ability to affect product design served as part of the impetus to sign for Scott. “I wanted the opportunity ... to work with Marquis, to have them sit down at the table and listen to my input from a health/athletic standpoint. They’ve met me with open arms, ... so that’s been a good thing.”

The relationship between Master Spas and Phelps also has yielded expert input that led to product changes.

“When we started the conversation with Michael, his coach and Michael said, ‘We need you to put whatever your best unit is at our facility and let us live with it for a few months and see what we think,’” Lauter said. “At the end of a couple of months, they came back and said, ‘We love it, but it’s not deep enough, it’s not long enough and it’s not fast enough.’”

That input led to design changes — a 60-inch depth and a faster wave propulsion system, the Wave XP Pro.

But more than anything, these agreements raise the category’s profile and increase sales across the board.

“We knew going in that all the boats were going to rise when the tide rose,” Lauter said. “We did this at a time when the industry was bad — the economy was bad — but [we did it] because we believed in the partnership.”