Master Spas

People buy spas for a variety of reasons. Maybe they like to entertain, and the spa will be the centerpiece of their backyard. Perhaps a customer is athletic and seeking the hydrotherapy benefits following his or her workouts.

No matter the reason behind the purchase, accessories heighten the enjoyment of spa owners. Some products are so necessary to spa enjoyment that retailers bundle them together for the initial sale to best serve the consumer. Others are extra purchases that add a little dash of fun.

“If you’re going to be in the spa business, you need to carry the accessories,” says Terry Brown, part of the family that runs Buddy’s Pool & Spas in suburban Baltimore. “It’s difficult to just have a hot tub in the showroom without accessorizing it, creating that appeal.”

Customers aren’t just purchasing a form of water; they’re buying an experience.

The necessary

Not all spa accessories are created equally. One customer might feel a game is an absolute buy for enjoying their spa, while another just wants the water tested and to purchase chemicals.

But for all customers, covering the top of their spa when it’s not in use is a must.

Covers and lifts come standard in the package deal when a customer buys a spa at B&B Pool and Spa Center in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.

“First of all, there’s a safety issue,” General Manager Russ Michel says of including the covers. “You don’t want critters or small children falling into an unattended body of water.”

Owners also should think of the economics: They’re paying to heat the spa and, without a cover, not only will that money be wasted paying for that energy, but the water also will evaporate, creating the need to add more, balance the water again and reheat the spa before being able to use it.

Plus, covering up keeps the spa ready to easily be enjoyed.

“We’re up here in the Northeast,” Michel explains. “Each tree does its little springtime dance shedding pollen, pollinosis, acorns, seeds. You’d have a real interesting soup on your hands if you didn’t keep it covered.”

Safety is one of the main features for the custom-made covers from Be-Lite Aluminum Spa Covers, based in Fairfield, Calif. The core is compressed Styrofoam heat-sealed between aluminum. Because it’s constructed differently than the ones with a foam core covered with vinyl, the surface never punctures and the cover doesn’t take on additional weight as it ages, say company officials.

“They’re meant to last a lifetime or outlive the spa, typically,” explains Cheryl Maclennan, sales and marketing manager.

With the unusual winter now in the past, spa owners in regions such as the Northeast might be thinking about how their covers withstood the multiple polar vortexes hitting the country. Be-Lite owners, though, would have found that it was easy to shovel the snow off and keep enjoying their spa because the covers were designed to hold snow loads.

“They hold a minimum weight of 275 pounds in a square foot,” Maclennan explains. The covers also weigh about the same as a new vinyl cover, and can be used with a lift.

Like B&B, Doug’s Pool and Spa packages a cover and lift with new spa purchases. The Springfield, Mo., retailer categorizes those items as ones that spa owners need to get the most enjoyment out of their purchase.

“It definitely raises the margins for us,” says owner Phil Stengel of including a lift as part of the package. “It’s something that people — after they see it work — they’ll buy it. Our display hot tubs all have them on in the store.”

While some wouldn’t categorize the cover lift as a “must have” item for a new spa owner, it considerably cuts down on the hassle of opening the spa for the owner, and for those customers who are smaller or have children, a cover lift helps all members of the family access the spa.

“It’s a convenience,” says Warren Stefferson, director of marketing for lift manufacturer SPAccessories in Tucson, Ariz. “As the spa gets older, the cover gets a little heavier and the lift becomes even more important.”

The company makes seven different cover lifts. Its Cover Max and Cover Classic are the most popular models, and the others have more specialty applications, such as the Cover Roller, which is popular for swim spa owners because it makes it easier to get the large cover off.

And depending on the demographic, steps are considered a must-purchase item. The spa’s more enjoyable when it’s more accessible.

At Buddy’s, recognizing the importance of steps means the customer isn’t surprised later when they first go to use their spa.

“When we sell a hot tub, we typically will include not only the hot tub itself, but we’ll put together a bundle, which will include some of the accessories as well as a local delivery package,” says Brown. “The accessories will vary periodically, … but typically it’ll include the cover, the cover lifter, a set of steps and sometimes a spare filter or something similar.”

Bundles of needed accessories also can drive retailer sales. For example, retailers will sell packages of cover lifts, steps, umbrellas and hand rails in different combinations.

“For example, if you’re selling a new, $8,000 spa, and the customer sees the price tag of the cover lifter — and I’m using round numbers — is $200, and the steps are $60, and that the umbrella is $400, and they can know that it should cost that much if it was sold separately, but yet that dealer is including that or giving them a package deal,” says Matt McMillan, director of sales and marketing with Cover Valet, based in Long Beach, Calif. “It’s something simple, but it really works.”

The fun

Owning a spa isn’t a necessity. While they are great products, a consumer doesn’t have to have one — they want to have one.

And after the purchase, they realize that a few more purchases could make their spa experience even better.

“Once they have their spa, they may do a little more shopping afterwards when they find out what their needs are,” Brown says. “So it’s always good to have some accessories in the store that you can display.”

A popular draw for spa owners are the scents that heighten the spa experience without costing too much or causing maintenance.

One leading line of salt-based aromatherapy scents, Spazazz, started because President Angie Pettro owned a hot tub with her husband and was interested herself in flowers and other fragrances.

Now, more than 20 years later, the company has multiple lines of product to cater to different customer bases. There’s the Escape line, which gives users a day spa feel with pampering scents. For entertaining, the Set the Mood line lets users create various effects with drink-themed aromatherapy soaks, such as Romance (strawberries and champagne) and Happy Hour (margarita). For those who’ve bought their spas for the hydrotherapy aspects, the Rx Therapy line has added vitamins and natural healing agents to the salt base.

“The retail stores that have been with us from the beginning, often they’ll give away a jar with every hot tub [purchase],” Pettro explains. “Because what they’ve found is that if they get them started from the beginning, they are life-long customers.”

B&B sells scent cartridges that fit into a designated spot built into the Sundance Spas sold in the store.

“The sense of smell is very evocative,” Michel says. “If you go into a [day] spa, it always has a certain kind of aroma.”

Capturing and recalling that type of experience at home is one way that retailers can help hot tub owners enhance their soak session in their own backyard.

Often, the customers at Buddy’s will add a scent purchase to their chemical order when they pop in for their monthly water test. Having a dedicated display by the water test counter means that people will start opening the jars and smelling the scents for something to do while they’re waiting for their results.

“Because it is an impulse purchase, it does tend to be a bit of a price sensitive area,” Brown says. “Some of the fragrances are a bit more expensive, and we try to carry the ones that are going to be under a $20 purchase in the store.”

Creating the same ambiance in the store that a spa owner would enjoy with their own tub also helps add to the scent sales.

“We’ll put a little in our hot tub periodically in the store, just so the store will smell like cherry or pina colada or something like that, and I think people are the same way,” Stengel says. “A lot of them just like that smell.”

Scents aren’t the only spa item people come back to purchase after a few soaks in their tubs, though. Items that add to the enjoyment of the function tend to be quite popular.

“Some of the popular items after the sale have been a floating drink table that you can put in the spa,” Brown says. “Or floating game boards that are designed specifically for use in a pool or a hot tub, and those are usually good after the sale.”

Spa pillows or booster seats for customers who are shorter also are popular items that add to the owners’ enjoyment of their purchase.

All the retailers say that spa accessories sales are a small percentage of their stores’ gross sales, but they view the items as a fundamental product category to stock on shelves.

“Some of these things are $40, and they’re used only every month or two,” Michel said. “It’s just really about the sensual experience of when you’re in the tub. It’s about the quality of the soak.”