Hot tub retailers often find themselves in close proximity to one or more direct competitors, not unlike furniture stores or dealerships in an auto mall.

One example is Accent Spas and Hot Tubs, which sits along Interstate 45 in Spring, Texas, a few miles from The Woodlands.

Established in 1981, it’s among three hot tub dealerships within a mile or so of one another.

But the current recession, and subsequent drop in demand for hot tubs, has thinned the ranks considerably in a number of markets, dealers report.

“There are definitely fewer spa companies,” says Amy Barto, co-owner of Barto Pool & Spa in Phoenixville, Pa., who cited as proof the dearth of competition at a recent home show.

“Our two main competitors have dropped out,” she adds. “There [were] only three spa companies now, where there used to be at least six — and one of those three is from New Jersey.”

Based on the latest data from the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, residential portable hot tub sales peaked in 2004, with 417,000 units sold. The numbers have declined steadily since, bottoming out in 2009 at 175,000 tubs; in 2010, sales ticked up slightly to 182,000.  

In the Bay area city of Dublin, Calif., David Seim says a local dealer base that three years ago numbered a half-dozen or more has been whittled down to just two.

“Around 2008 we had 20 within a 50-mile radius,” says the general manager of Dublin Spa Center. “Now we have about four. There’s just a lot less competition out there.”