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    Credit: COAST SPAS

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    Credit: LEISURE CONCEPTS

In January 2011, Pool & Spa News began publishing the hot tub-dedicated column Spa Smart. While establishing its parameters, the editor determined there would be two guidelines: One, we would only focus on portable hot tubs; and two, we would not write about specific products or manufacturers.

But after just over a year, we’re breaking the mold, and for good reason. While making my way around the show floor of the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in Las Vegas last November, I kept my ears perked and my eyes peeled, curious to hear attendees’ reactions to the exhibits, and eager to find a few items worthy of showcasing. Thanks to a little networking with industry peers and a few days of exploration, I uncovered four items that really shined.

Cutting edge

After receiving a patent on the negative-edge concept of its Cascade hot tubs in November 2010, Coast Spas added to existing models and created a full line inspired by the design innovation. A year later at IPSPE, the Langley, British Columbia, Canada-based manufacturer launched the fourth inception, Cascade IV – The Edge. To celebrate, Coast Spas dedicated its entire booth to the series.

“Having the Cascade line on the floor made the difference this year,” says Oran Wakelam, marketing and communications coordinator. “It was by far the best response we’ve ever had.”

Attendees flocked to the booth to see The Edge up close for the first time. Like its three predecessors, the new spa includes the signature negative edge. But it also serves a mechanical purpose, allowing for zero water displacement. As an added perk, it works as the largest skimmer available on any hot tub on the market, according to Wakelam.

However, what separates The Edge from  the series’ other models is its smaller  footprint, larger capacity and lower price point, he says. Whereas the original Cascade model only seats four or five adults comfortably, The Edge, which measures two-square-feet less, actually can fit up to six. Plus, by eliminating some acrylic and fiberglass materials, reducing the number of jets to just above 40, and removing a pump, the company can market it with a lower price tag to a broader range of consumers.

“It’s a big advancement to get a negative edge on a smaller footprint spa,” Wakelam notes.

Top-of-the-line

Steve O’Shea has a habit of discussing the industry the way most people talk about sports. The executive with Leisure Concepts especially enjoys talking about product development, and inevitably finds himself focusing on hot tub covers.

“Since its inception about 35 years ago, the cover really hasn’t been enhanced that much,” says O’Shea, who is the Spokane, Wash.-based company’s vice president. “We felt that it was the last component that needed to be updated to the newest generation.”

In addition to aesthetics, one of his major concerns was longevity. Most of the covers currently on the market need to be replaced every two or three years, or sooner, depending on the region where the hot tub is installed, according to O’Shea.

“If the spa is designed to last eight to 10 years, why shouldn’t the cover be designed to last at least that long?” he asks. “The consumer deserves better.”

Enter Smartop, Leisure Concepts’ patent-pending, eco-friendly and energy-efficient cover. The sleek-looking top features PVC decking with UV inhibitors and additives to withstand the sun’s rays; a thermal seal foam system with a full-length heat-sealing hinge; anodized aluminum trim; injection molded corner handles; a SureLock Safety System and an integrated cover lifter, all backed by a five-year warranty.

Before introducing Smartop in Las Vegas, Leisure Concepts notified customers and industry peers of the innovation. In response to the notice and having viewed the product’s Website, a number of dealers reportedly ventured to IPSPE for a chance to see Smartop in person, according to O’Shea. Many even placed advance orders on the spot, an indication the category is ripe for change, he says.

Mind bender

Mario Medina has been building pools for 37 years, but for the last two he’s had something else on his mind. His digs were down nearly 85 percent, an unfortunate effect of the economy, so he took advantage of the free time to do something “positive.”

“The downturn may be a blessing in disguise for me because I’ve come up with two neat products that I think are going to be good sellers,” says the owner of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Crystal Pools.

For the time being, he’s keeping one of them a secret. But at IPSPE he offered the industry a peek at his prefabricated PVC pipe plumbing kit for round, inground gunite spas. More than 2,000 visitors to his booth scanned their information to learn more about the new Spa Loops product.

The kit, which can be installed before or after the structural rebar, includes six Waterway Poly Storm jets, one 2-inch PVC water loop, one 1 ½-inch PVC air loop, six 2 ½-inch PVC caps, six 2 ½-by-11 inch PVC pipes, one 2-inch PVC tee and one 1 ½-inch PVC tee.

The patent-pending Spa Loops only requires the manpower of one, and promises to stop leaks and cut the plumbing installation down to one-eighth the time it typically takes. It also eliminates the need for builders to break out electric pipe heaters or propane and blow torches to bend the spa into shape on site. Nor will they have to return to a job to realign the jets that pop out of place when the pipe kinks during the plumbing inspection, Medina says. There are even alignment lines for the jets so they are level with the pipe when installed.

“We made it dummy proof,” he adds.

Tech tub

Gecko Alliance is hoping to help retailers benefit from the enthusiasm surrounding iPhone, iPad and iTouch devices with the introduction of its new in.touch spa control App and module connection box.

“There doesn’t seem to be any recession at the Apple store,” says Gary Nugent, Gecko’s vice president of sales. “There will be 75 million tablets by 2014 in the U.S. This gives dealers a way to tap into a very large and growing culture of people who love those devices.”

Consumers who purchase a hot tub with in.touch installed by the manufacturer will be able to remotely access their spa and control everything from temperature and pumps to blowers and lights. They can even choose preset spa experiences — Beach Party, Gentle Movement, Kids or Relaxation — or create personalized his or her settings.

Users also will receive pre-scheduled routine maintenance reminders for cleaning filters, changing water and managing water quality, and can easily set filter cycles, taking the guess work out of the equation, Nugent says. Finally, retailers can upload promotional pieces and broadcast them to in.touch customers through the Web push-button feature.

“The interface is designed so that all the standard functions are maybe even easier to use on the i-device than they would be on the spa keypad because of the quality of the color touch screen,” Nugent adds.