• Credit: Watkins MFG.

An increasing number of spa retailers are installing areas where customers can take test dips.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, many showrooms around the country had these “mood rooms,” but over time they were sacrificed for retail space. Now, with a recovering economy and stronger spa sales, private test spaces are showing up once again.

“In most markets, dealers are seeing more traffic,” said Bob Lauter, CEO, Master Spas, Fort Wayne, Ind. “You are seeing more people who are trying to show the product in a really good way, to have a controlled setting … so [the customers] can see the water and lighting features.” Dealers like that, he added, because it helps them sell spas.

Siblings Lynn White and Les Chalkley, co-owners of Water Works Pool & Spa in Tuscaloosa, Ala., are considering an addition to their store that would give customers a private area to change and test the Marquis Spas and Caldera Spas the store carries.

“If you have that, you’re going to sell more tubs,” White said. About 15 percent of the sales at their store are hot tubs, and it’s not common in their area to have a separate wet test room.

As planned, the room will be a place to showcase the backyard ambiance — five or six hot tubs surrounded by plants and maybe an arbor. The area also will showcase the array of lighting options available and hot tub add-ons.

Across the country, Desert Hot Tubs added a mood room to its third location in Tolleson, Ariz., featuring five running Hot Spring spas. The two other locations have smaller mood rooms.

The additions serve not only as a location to test the spa, but also provide a venue to demonstrate how quietly the hot tubs run, said Tom Colman, a certified wellness consultant at Desert Hot Tubs. “You have five tubs that are on, and you can’t hear any of them,” he explained. “For us, it’s more of just a mood room, a place to set the scene and have a conversation.”

The Tolleson room has dimmers to control the lighting, murals, a slate floor and plants to set the stage.

In addition to separate rooms making a resurgence, more retailers also are using free-standing structures in the showroom that can be closed for privacy during a wet test. “In a smaller showroom, it’s more difficult to carve that space out,” Lauter said. If the store doesn’t have the ability to expand, this option still gives owners the benefits of a wet test room.

In 1997, owner Penny Johnson set up the wet test room at Johnson Pools & Spas in Huntsville, Ala., to look like a sunroom to help customers envision the Hot Spring and Sundance spas in their own space.

“If you want the ambiance and want people to picture it in their houses, you have to give it character,” she said. That includes the 12-foot ficus trees and a mural that looks like a picture window facing a garden. Plus, Johnson added, the separate space helps her control the moisture the running spa is putting into the showroom.

She also added a cover lifter to the tub in her wet test room. At 5-feet,1-inch tall, when she demonstrates the ease of using it, she’s likely to make a sale for the add-on product.

“Some people might consider [the room] a fad and, at one time it was, but I use it as a sales tool,” Johnson said.