For hot tub retailers, today’s economy provides few
A banner two-month stretch could be followed by a three-month dry
spell. Then, with little warning or prompting, sales could just as
easily spike again.
As a result, forecasting has become nearly impossible.
Indeed, there seems to be little rhyme or reason to spa
consumers’ buying patterns, industry veterans
“This year has been strange,” says James Boardman,
retail manager at Pool & Spa Concepts in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“Fortunately, since June it’s been consistently good
To get a sense of the national climate, Pool & Spa
News recently surveyed a number of hot tub retailers across
the country. And while a handful of trends did emerge, regional
differences were as pronounced as ever — for example, one
dealer’s mid-range tubs were thriving, while another saw his
nearly devoid of interest.
The following snapshots provide a glimpse of what’s selling
where, and why.
What they’re buying at Jelly Belly’s Pools and Spas,
These days, manager Dean Delamarter fields frequent questions on
energy-efficiency, as well as the construction of the hot tubs he
sells. Because of his firm’s Northeast location, shoppers
typically seek information regarding the benefits of full-foam vs.
other means of insulation, he says. Ease-of-operation is another
area of interest, he adds.
On the treatment side, customers at Jelly Belly’s are
requesting mineral purifiers in order to reduce their reliance on
spa chemicals, Delamarter says.
He’s also getting out among the public. Over a span of 17
days in September and early October, Jelly Belly’s sold
approximately 100 hot tubs during The Big E state fair in West
However, only about 25 percent of those sales were price-inspired,
Delamarter says. Most units fell into the mid- and upper-level
— $6,500 to $8,000, and $8,000 to $13,000,
“That middle range is what’s selling best,”
Delamarter says, adding that 70 percent or so of buyers took
advantage of the financing programs he had available. “A lot
of it is based on hydrotherapy, and the mid-series in both lines we
carry meet that quite well.
“In fact, the majority of our customers are therapy-driven in
their purchases,” Delamarter says. “People are getting
away from the sizzle — the stereos, the TVs and so forth.
They’re telling us they have problems with their back, or
their neck or legs. Their whole thing is water
What they’re buying at Dublin
Spa Center, Dublin, Calif.
Five years ago, David Seim only carried his spa supplier’s
top-shelf line. But today, he says, “consumers want to be
well under that.” So a high-end market that used to account
for 70 percent of his business now makes up probably 30 percent, he
Indeed, most of his spa sales today — 60 percent or so
— are for units that fall between $4,999 and $6,500, but
still retain the characteristics of higher-priced tubs.
“Our manufacturer has produced a line that is very comparable
pump-wise and in terms of jet count and looks,” says the
general manager of Dublin Spa Center in Dublin, Calif.
“We have the ability to promote it during holidays, at home
shows and at the end of the year. We display a model at the front
of our showroom, and it’s always in stock. Plus, we get very
good marketing support for it.”
Though Seim is selling a healthy 150 spas annually, it’s his
parts and service departments that have picked up. He attributes
this in large part to a trend he and others have observed, namely
owners holding onto their spas a lot longer.
“People used to rotate their tubs about every 7 years or
so,” he says. “But that’s not as much the case
Whereas Seim’s prospective customers for years wanted to know
what made his products the best, those questions have been
replaced: “Now it’s ‘What is the cheapest?’
Price is the No. 1 thing they’re looking at. They’re
also asking how long the tub will typically last. It’s a
valid question, but we never used to get much of that before.
People are really hanging onto whatever they have.”
What they’re buying at La
Costa Pool & Spa, San Marcos, Calif.
Used spas comprised approximately half of all hot tub sales at La
Costa Pool & Spa last year. But when his manufacturer produced
a new price-point line that retailed at around $4,000, the
pre-owned market shrunk to about 20 percent, says Jeff Jamroz,
sales manager of the San Marcos, Calif.-based company.
In addition to hot tubs and swim-spas, Jamroz is investing a
sizable amount of time these days into boosting his store’s
online presence. After all, he’s picking up business through
his Website with notable frequency: In a recent span of a few
weeks, Jamroz says seven of eight spa buyers visited his Website
first; the other came on referral.
Jamroz isn’t certain about selling the tubs themselves
online. At the moment he’s concentrating on spa supplies and
water treatment products — algaecides, pH balancers and
bromine tabs, among others. La Costa also is looking to add another
manufacturer’s line to the mix.
As for his primary target market, it’s clearly existing
“We’re losing out on the aftermarket,” Jamroz
says. “Our customers love us to death, and they would buy
from us, but we’re just too far away for a lot of them.
They’ll drive to see us, but they’re not always going
to drive 45 minutes for something like chlorine.”
What they’re buying at Pool
& Spa Concepts, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Hot tub customers at Pool & Spa Concepts are turning away from
heavy chemicals, and Boardman is happy to oblige. In response, he
is directing his clientele instead toward low-chlorine, low-bromine
systems that combine ozone and mineral cartridges.
While a small fraction of his hot tub buyers dip below the $5,000
range, most choose units priced between $5,500 and $7,500, Boardman
says. And cost is still the determining factor in probably 80
percent of spa purchases, he adds.
Among the features most sought-after are auxiliary control pads,
waterfalls, whirlpool-action foot jets, and stereo systems with MP3
Today, new customers represent more than three-quarters of the
company’s hot tub buyers, Boardman says, noting that his
spa-upgrade business has fallen off of late.
“I haven’t seen much in the last two years on
trade-ins,” Boardman says. “People are holding onto
them a lot longer. Some customers are getting 16-plus years out of
their tubs, so it’s been pretty slow on that end of
The days of same-as-cash financing also have tailed off. Boardman
estimates that fewer than a dozen prospective customers have
inquired about it since late 2009.
“People are just coming in and flat-out buying,” he
says. “The economy here hasn’t been as bad as in many
What they’re buying at The
Pool & Spa House, Tigard, Ore.
They don’t make them like they used to. Or maybe they do.
Either way, Don Somppi recently sold a customer two replacement
jets for her 22-year-old spa. Earlier in the year, it needed a new
pump and heater.
“It’s an oldie, that’s for sure,” says
Somppi, retail manager of The Pool & Spa House in Sellwood,
Ore. “But she’s happy with it — she just keeps
replacing parts on it and keeps going.”
This nationwide trend toward tub longevity also has helped boost
the market for hard covers, Somppi says. And when the time does
come for a new one, customers are frequently switching to a thicker
vinyl and thicker foam better suited to the Northwest.
“A lot of people are upgrading to a cover material made for
the area they live in,” he says. “Most initially
didn’t realize that they needed to specify, and a year later
they’re having to replace it. People are finally
understanding that you need to look at what you own and buy
accordingly, as opposed to just getting the cheapest thing out
Somppi also has observed hot tub customers using the products
year-round, easing the water temperature down when the air
temperature rises. Among everyday users, he says, is a growing
population of diabetes sufferers who have discovered the
therapeutic benefits of hot water immersion in addition to certain
“Some hydrogen peroxide-based sanitizers have a chemical base
that helps control blood sugars,” Somppi says. “So
we’re turning a lot of our customers onto those