John De Luna used Craig’s List in the past to sell various household items — computers, printers or anything else he was inclined to swap for cash.
Then, about five years ago, the store manager and senior salesman at Sundance Spas in San Rafael, Calif., had a revelation: Why not use the online listing service to sell hot tubs?
“It’s something I already had a familiarity with,” De Luna says. “And while it’s not a huge part of our business — we sell maybe three or four per month on Craig’s List — it is a big part of our advertising in that it draws people to our stores.
“So we get business from it in an indirect way, too,” he adds. “It’s been successful.”
Today, De Luna is far from alone. Spa dealers (and even a few manufacturers) across the country use Craig’s List to attract potential buyers of both new and pre-owned merchandise. One retailer estimates up to three-quarters of all spa ads on the site in the Denver area come from dealers.
But even a simple-to-use, no-cost marketing tool has guidelines and best-practices. Consider the following:
Placing an ad on Craig’s List doesn’t cost anything. But that’s no excuse for an uninspired posting. Still, the rule of thumb among retailers tends to lean toward shorter as better.
“I try to stay pithy and stick to the high points,” De Luna says. “If I’m scanning through, I don’t want to have to read too much. I wouldn’t think a long entry would be of too much value.”
Most dealers agree, including John Hampton, sales manager at Turbo Spas in Dublin, Calif. Hampton keeps the wording on his ads brief, and light on technical details. He typically includes price, the brand name and size of the tub, as well as his store address, phone number (store or mobile), hours and Website.
Another advantage to keeping it short is that the ad tends to look less like a dealer’s and more like that of a private party seller, which some shoppers seem to prefer, says Calley Dinsdale, owner of Spas ‘N Things in Broomfield, Colo.
The information on her listings includes seating, number of jets, type of lights, special features like waterfall, aroma therapy or ozone, and whether it comes with a cover, chemicals or delivery within a certain area (in her case metro Denver).
The same philosophy generally applies to the headline: Keep it short, experts say, but always include keywords like “Hot Tub” or “Spa,” the price, and perhaps a word on the brand, warranty or seating capacity.
Pictures speak a thousand words. And nowhere does this ring truer than on Craig’s List. So there’s agreement that photos of hot tubs, the showroom, or even a map to the store are useful.
De Luna attaches three to four pictures to each listing, including an exterior shot of his store, as well as a close-up or two of individual tubs.
But Dinsdale only runs pictures of her higher-end spas, not her price leaders. The fear, she says, is that online shoppers may see the photo and decide, based solely on the image, that it isn’t something they’re looking for and move on.
Others choose to zero in on a particular used model, and run a showroom shot with their new-tub displays. It just depends on what particular product(s) the ad is geared toward.
One vs. multiple
This is where personal preference really takes hold. Some dealers opt to run separate ads for each tub; others believe multiple listings are the way to go. As is often the case, legitimate arguments can be made for both.
Dave Skinner, who sold eight used spas on Craig’s List during a two-week stretch in early March, runs individual ads.
“If you do them altogether, you tend to get too many questions all at once,” says the owner of Hydrotech Spas & Pools Inc. in Denver. “Plus it takes too long to download all the pictures onto a single page. So I run them separately.”
Conversely, Dinsdale believes shoppers may grow frustrated with multiple ads from the same dealer. So she includes several tubs, with description, in each listing, “which allows them to compare prices and features.”
There’s nearly across-the-board agreement that for dealers, Craig’s List isn’t really the place to haggle. Instead, most retailers list the lowest price possible on the base model that’s being advertised.
“The posted price on Craig’s List is about as low as we can take it,” Hampton says. “We do that so we can move it out the door.”
De Luna follows a similar strategy, but says he always keeps higher-priced models on hand. The key, he says, is to “be in a conversational mode.” Going in low starts the conversation, he adds, and that naturally leads into the traditional sales process.
And he tries to avoid eBay-style negotiations.
“If they come in with a price and we’re able to do it, then sure,” De Luna says. “But I tell them on the ad to mention the Craig’s List price when they come to the store. Those are usually below retail, and they’re often the lowest possible prices.”
Most Craig’s List-savvy retailers concur that it’s crucial to stay on top of your postings. And that means literally remaining at or near the top of your category.
Because new listings are added all the time, dealers are advised to post and re-post their ads at least weekly, if not every two or three days. A few even make daily updates.
“The main thing is to consistently run the ads all the time,” De Luna says. “You want them to get used to seeing your name. Trust is a big part of the Internet sales business.”
To that end, De Luna has gone the extra step by branding himself in his ads, as in “Please call John (the hot tub guy)…”
Be aware, however, that Craig’s List isn’t wild about carrying too many posts simultaneously from the same user. One way around this is by changing the e-mail address you use as a contact, as well as other identifying information like names and phone numbers.
Users can flag ads they have concerns about, and too many flags can get you booted from the site. But by changing up the e-mail address, you should be able to avoid having to make major changes to the ad — unless you’re posting multiple times a day.
Like any online venture, scams and spam are inevitable.
Be on the lookout for seemingly interested parties who offer external links to other Websites. And if someone requests a cashier’s check in exchange for a product or, better yet, a promise of future business, chances are you’re looking at a soon-to-be charitable donation.
That said, contacts by phone typically are a good sign: “Usually if they’re taking the time to call, they’re legit, and it’s just a matter of money,” Dinsdale says.
Dave Rempfer, owner of Sunset Spas in Chandler, Ariz., feels the online community in his market remains overpopulated. And he still sees home-based, non-private party sellers masquerading as established companies.
“It does take a toll on the legitimate businesses,” he says.
Others may receive questions related to anything from water chemistry to set-up to service and maintenance. It’s up to the individual dealer, then, to decide whether to field the inquiry.
But pitfalls aside, the vast majority of retailers report overwhelmingly positive experiences on Craig’s List. And for many, it remains their primary source of local marketing.
“When we ask people how they found us, a few come through the phone book,” De Luna says. “But mostly it’s Craig’s List, or the Internet or Google… This is the only form of advertising we’re consistently doing.”
Elevating the Category
In addition to the rodeo, arena football and the occasional tattoo expo, the Cow Palace also plays host to backyard and home shows.
The Bay area venue typically attracts a number of hot tub merchants that range from the fly-by-night variety to well-established dealers.
And that presents an opportunity for John De Luna, store manager and senior salesman at Sundance Spas in San Rafael, Calif., who has become adept at advertising and selling on the Internet marketplace Craig’s List.
“Whenever those shows come to town, I’ll run a posting telling people to be careful when looking at hot tubs,” he says. “I just give them some pointers on what to beware of, as well as how to identify a good tub.”
And because he never mentions the name of his business or the brand he carries — or any brand names, for that matter — shoppers e-mail back to let him know they appreciate the service. And they’re not the only ones.
“I’ve actually gotten thank-you’s from other dealers as well,” he says, “especially when they see I’m not pushing our product — I’m pushing the industry.”
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