Consumer research continues to show that the majority of people want hot tubs. People believe these products enhance outdoor living. They are seen as a status symbol, and most people expect to have enjoyable social and therapeutic experiences with a hot tub.
However, according to data compiled in The Unofficial U.S. Census: Things the Official U.S. Census Doesn’t Tell You About America (2011, Skyhorse Publishing), only about 2 percent of people, roughly 6 million, currently own a hot tub.
Why don’t more people buy?
If you’ve been in the spa business long, the objections are familiar. It’s a relatively large upfront investment. People worry about energy costs. The unit takes up significant space and requires modifications to the home, like a new patio or wiring. All these concerns carry some validity, yet they often are easy to overcome with an appeal to the benefits and an explanation of the lower-than-expected cost of ownership.
However, the most common objection is the perceived difficulty of maintenance. And addressing this concern seems to have some of us in retail spa sales stumped.
Seasoned hot-tub owners, and those of us in the business, know that maintenance doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming. But how do we communicate this to potential buyers who, whether or not they admit it, are worried about the hassle and expense of spa care?
In many cases, we professionals don’t do ourselves any favors. An appeal to hot-tub experts online reveals innumerable opinions found on various sites, some of dubious authority. Manufacturer and industry organization sites are vague. Information shared by experts via online forums is often too complex and loaded with jargon.
Unfortunately, the situation sometimes isn’t much better when you visit retail stores and ask about hot-tub care. A recent informal survey at one large dealer revealed that, amongst five regular hot-tub sales associates, three different methods of sanitation were being suggested to customers, all requiring different chemicals and care regimens. None of the salespeople seemed truly committed that their method was the best. One salesperson admitted that, “Yes, the other methods also work pretty well.”
Imagine the confusion customers must feel. They want a hot tub but worry it may be difficult to maintain. Then, when they talk to different salespeople about the thing that has them most worried, one suggests bromine, another chlorine, another something “more natural” — and none seem committed that their method is the best. This is when the customer throws their hands in the air and decides to spend their money on an all-inclusive tropical vacation.
How do we simplify hot-tub care and keep more customers on the path to purchase?
First, educate yourself. As the expert, it is vital that you understand water care better than anyone else. Be aware that some customers will have a very good grasp on chemistry. You need to be able to speak intelligently and share real, scientifically sound information.
Study water sanitation information coming from the trade organizations, enroll yourself and your staff in water-care courses, and train with experts at your manufacturer. When you speak in an educated way about water care, your customers will be able to trust that you are the expert and they will know they are in good hands.
Ask the right questions to start a non-threatening conversation. Whether they admit it or not, almost all potential buyers are concerned about water care. It is important to get this topic out in the open early and begin a conversation. Don’t introduce unnecessary doubts, but also don’t shy away from discussing it. If you are not afraid to talk honestly about ongoing hot-tub care, it won’t seem like such a big deal.
Early in the process, ask about the customer’s experience with spas. Discover what they already know. If they’re not well versed, ask what they have heard and work to ease any concerns. Discuss their day-to-day lifestyle and figure out times you can suggest for them to give their new spa a little love. Maybe you’re working with a retiree who can look at things daily, or maybe your customer is a busy professional who would do better to program a quick spa-care session into their weekly schedule. Getting your customers to a place where they are comfortable talking about spa care will help you move beyond the concern.
Provide instructions that are easy to follow. The information you share should be complete but also expressed in terms that are easy to understand. Just because you know practically everything on the subject doesn’t mean you should download it on a wide-eyed new spa owner. Give a brief explanation of your preferred spa-care regimen. In addition, provide a quick-view spa-care instruction sheet (laminated is best). A brief, clear instructional session is much better than an information dump or just pointing to an owner’s manual.
Among your staff, get on the same page. While those of us in the hot-tub industry know several effective ways to sanitize and maintain a spa, it is vital to decide on one method that everyone in your store will promote. Discuss this with your team, taking into account factors such as local water chemistry, and get everyone on board with a single regimen. When you present a united front, it inspires confidence and indicates you’ve thought this through.
But don’t be too rigid in adhering to your store’s chosen spa-care method. You will inevitably deal with the experienced owner who prefers another way. No problem — work to accommodate them. Just be sure your staff is educated in all regimens.
Make the delivery an enjoyable and educational experience. Nothing makes a new spa owner more nervous than a delivery person who just drops off the spa and dashes. Be sure your delivery team is trained in customer service and water care. Make your customer’s first experience with their spa is a great one by giving it an initial treatment, reviewing your suggested water-care regimen and answering any questions.
Offer additional help at any time. One concern many potential spa buyers have, but won’t often share, is that they will be left on their own after their purchase. It is critical to future referrals, good reviews and your success that customers know you are there to support them well after purchase. Be sure new spa owners have your contact information and be ready to happily answer water care questions at any time.
Because spa buyers will be responsible for maintaining an always-ready body of warm water, the care regimen will continue to be one of the most concerning aspects of the ownership experience. However, if you are up front, educated and extremely helpful, you can turn this customer concern into a big win for you and your business.
Jake Ricks is the online marketing manager and chief writer and editor at Bullfrog Spas in Layton, Utah. He has written on pool and spa care and outdoor living for numerous publications.