PHOTO: Bullfrog Spas

When baby boomers were thirty-somethings, spas were considered status symbols. Today, as these children of the Cuban missile crisis and “I Like Ike” campaign buttons become AARP members, they grow less concerned with what their neighbors think and more concerned with their aching backs.

The spa industry is slowly taking notice, modifying their sales and manufacturing tactics to meet the needs of an aging demographic. This means an emphasis on the health benefits of hydrotherapy and improved spa accessibility, as well as marketing campaigns that feature physically fit seniors and their smiling grandchildren. It’s a huge market populated with largely affluent prospects, many of whom are first-time spa buyers.

“It’s all changed,” says Dave Wright, vice president at Dream Maker Spas, Lake Mary, Fla. “Today’s buyer is more mature and purposeful, and less likely to worry over status. They care about quality and value.”

Wright explains that, as the baby-boom population cycles through retirement, it’s only natural that hydrotherapy and health-related features begin to take greater importance in the decision-making process of these spa purchasers. Industry reports have indicated this demographic trend for a number of years now, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that Dream Maker Spas began to target its rotomolded spas at this age group.

“This ‘old-school’ way of thinking had us marketing what were traditionally considered starter spas to younger buyers of modest means,” Wright says. “Thanks to advances in rotomold-making techniques, modern design capabilities, smart engineering and a revolutionary marketing strategy, Dream Maker Spas is experiencing a new, more mature client.”

The shift is reflected in Dream Maker’s 2013 launch of a new line of hot tubs, which is being promoted with marketing materials featuring boomer buyers. “Our website has been redesigned with front page rotating banners showing older, health-conscious customers,” says Wright. “Additionally, more space has been made on the site to discuss health benefits and warm water therapy topics.”

Authorized dealers of Dream Maker Spas are also being encouraged to seek unique events and opportunities targeted to this growing and important segment of the market. “This will continue to be a factor in all strategic factory-supported marketing,” Wright says.

Easing aches and pains

Another manufacturer pushing hard on the boomer market is Master Spas. CEO Bob Lauter said the Fort Wayne, Ind., company has a new product line aimed at consumers pursuing healthy lifestyles. This isn’t necessarily a ‘boomers-only’ product, but there’s no question that a big bubble of the population is looking for hot tubs to help with their everyday aches and pains.

The new hot tub line complements Master Spas’ swim spa series, which according to Lauter specifically addresses the exercise needs of the aging populace. “This is a big opportunity for the hot tub industry,” he says. “There are 76 million baby boomers who can benefit from these products. Better yet, this segment of the population also is the most affluent.”

To assist in the pursuit of these boomer dollars, Master Spas hired a consultant. Dr. Rick McAvoy is a leading physical therapist, and has researched the benefits of hot water therapy in the rehabilitation of knee and hip replacements, mobility challenges, and other physical ailments.

Based on this information, Lauter says there’s an opportunity for spa manufacturers to tailor their products in a way that helps people who’d like to stay active but are challenged to do so. “We need to really spend the time in developing our products to addresses these therapy needs,” he says.

Pomona, Calif.-based Cal Spas has taken a similar approach. President Casey Loyd says their video marketing efforts on one of its recently released therapeutic spa lines appeal to boomer logic.

“The tub is designed to look prestigious,” he says. “It is a ‘me only’ product. Baby boomers want to maintain and take care of themselves in the privacy of their own homes, so we’ve delivered a spa to address that need.”

Another shot is through accessibility. Cal Spas has modified its some of its spas with a lower profile and easy access design, including nonslip steps and handle rails, making ease of use a top priority for aging customers. They’re also going after the more athletic boomers by offering a series of swim-spas.

“Baby boomers are more conscientious about their health,” Loyd says. “However, these guys are getting to a point where they don’t want to go to the gym. They’re looking for a more personalized and private setting in which to exercise.”

As Loyd explains, this makes a swim spa, which is easier to maintain and much cheaper to install than a regular swimming pool, a perfect solution for many boomers. “It’s a well-fitness machine.”

Someone who agrees is Jim Johnston, vice president of marketing for Marquis Spas in Independence, Ore. Check the Marquis Spa website and you’ll find plenty of links to various health-related sites, including the Arthritis Foundation and the New England Journal of Medicine. And like most of the manufacturers’ sites, (see sidebar), Marquis sees social media as a vital advertising approach. Their site has prominent links to YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and others, as well as a blog by Johnston himself. Apparently, it’s working.

“We’re rocking and rolling around here right now,” Johnston said. “We had a dealer meeting in April and queried a number of our partners about who they’ve seen coming in the door. A good percentage of our business was for higher price points and our more sophisticated products, which generally indicates customers who are a little bit older, a little bit further along in their careers, and want more value.”

Fulfilling dreams

Dan Sjoblom, director of marketing, Bullfrog Spas, Salt Lake City, Utah, said that appealing to the boomer market is all about meeting unfulfilled dreams. “A lot of spa manufacturers are really focusing on the therapy aspect of the tubs,” he says. “That’s a good point, but the aging demographic is buying tubs for a different reason.”

This age group, according to Sjoblom, is concerned with the things they might have missed in life. “Whether it’s fitness goals they’ve never quite achieved, or time they could have better spent with family, boomers frequently look to consumer products to help them fill some of these gaps.”

This could mean the opportunity to have the grandkids over for a weekend playing in the hot tub, or dealing with the aftereffects of a day at the gym. In either case, it’s up to the spa industry to get the attention of these potential buyers.

The industry as a whole has made a mistake, Sjoblom explains, because they’ve let so many in the baby boomer generation get to retirement age without selling them their first spa. “It’s a lot easier convincing someone they should buy a hot tub if they’ve already owned one through their younger years, rather than waiting until they’re in their 50s and 60s, let alone their 70s,” he says. “It’s tough work at that point.”

Bullfrog is committed to avoiding that same mistake again. At least part of their marketing strategy is now focused on the younger generation, the X’ers, so that by the time they become retirees, they’ve already owned hot tubs and wouldn’t consider living without one.