Many hot tub dealers have been circling the wagons for the past few years, looking inward to find sustainable business practices and focusing on survival. However, as we move into the 2011 swim season and a stronger financial foothold, many are once again taking tubs out of the showroom to display at off-site events.
“We had a couple of tough years in 2009 and ’10,”
says Doug Carlson, co-owner of Dolphin Pool Supply and Service in
Dallas. “But our [off-site event] season this year has been
unbelievable — off the charts. It seems like there’s a
bit more consumer confidence.”
Some dealers in relatively more robust markets never halted their
off-site sales efforts.
“We had the opportunity to either die on the vine or take our
mobile showroom on the road,” says Shawn Maynard, co-owner of
Bullfrog Spas of Ogden (Utah). “Last year I could directly
attribute 40 percent of our sales to off-site events, either at the
event or because they saw the spa there and later bought it in our
To enjoy such success at an off-site sale, retailers must ensure
all arrangements are made and any contingencies planned for well in
advance. Finding a suitable location is paramount, as is
scheduling, staffing and securing all necessary equipment and
Location, location, location
Most business owners understand their markets and know which
pockets see the most activity, as well as where affluent consumers
tend to shop. Finding a site for your event shouldn’t be too
difficult, but a few key factors must be considered.
In general, off-site events should be near an expressway, off-ramp
or other main artery. This allows drivers to easily spot your wares
— or, in Carlson’s case, a 20-foot inflatable duck
provided by Chino, Calif.-based Jacuzzi Hot Tubs.
Shopping centers and strip malls are natural retail destinations
and make ideal candidates for tent sales.
First, locate the center’s property owner. Signs advertising
space for lease often include contact information, and existing
tenants should have those details handy as well.
Also, get creative — Carlson investigates vacant plots of
land or corner properties for sale. He’s even been known to
check out a shuttered gas station, provided the location is
Joe Mahoney, president of Hot Spring Spa of Washington in
Clarksburg, Md., settled on a shopping center anchored by a Home
“We tell them that we don’t compete for the same
client, but that people are going to spend thousands of dollars at
their store to make their hot tubs look nice,” he says.
Look for untapped areas within five to seven miles of your store,
which can help reduce commute times and gas use. The event will
inform the consumer that your store is close by. However, a few
events in farther-flung areas of your market also may be viable
opportunities to get your name out there.
“We have a smaller town not big enough to support a full spa
store presence,” Maynard says. “Our mobile showroom
brings our presence to a 100-mile radius.”
Once you’ve chosen a site, establish an ongoing presence
there. Your event will gain credibility if customers see you
returning to the same spot. Be sure to introduce yourself to the
surrounding tenants, and keep your space clean.
“Many stores ask us when we are coming back,” Maynard
Some locations don’t even charge him for event space because
they like the “carnival atmosphere” of his sales.
Mahoney prefers all arrangements be made at least six months prior
to his first event of the season. At the start of the year, he and
his employees scout locations and chat up property owners. He
determines ahead of time how many spas he must move to cover the
event’s cost, as well as the official forms he will
Your local city hall can provide information on necessary permits.
These are often less than $100 each, but must be secured ahead of
time. Requirements tend to vary by location, and smaller
municipalities usually are more restrictive.
In Leesburg, Va., for instance, Mahoney had to secure three
separate permits — one to run the tent function, a temporary
merchant’s license and one for fire inspection. He spent less
than $100 on all three.
The length of each off-site sale is also something to consider well
in advance, depending on what you hope to accomplish.
“A shorter event gives the impression of short-term
offer,” Maynard says. “People have a sense of urgency
that they need to buy today.” Weekend sales also allow a
dealer to hold more events per season.
Other firms opt for fewer events that are a week or two long, which
allow consumers to drop by multiple times. Additionally, setting up
and outfitting a 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot tent for only three
days simply isn’t cost-effective for some.
“It is a fairly large expense, and it takes a lot of
effort,” Carlson says. Each dealer should determine what
makes sense for his or her market.
What to offer
Aim for a grand, yet comprehensive, presentation to attract
customers. It isn’t enough to simply bring mass quantities of
whatever spas you have on hand.
Customer finances vary, as does taste. As a result, you’ll
never know what may catch one client’s attention, or fit
snugly into another’s budget. Offer a range of hot tub
models, from the high-end through the economical, and multiple
options in between. This also is a golden opportunity to boost
sales on everything from patio furniture to chemicals.
Aside from stocking the right products, your tent sale should be as
interactive as possible. Shoppers want to test equipment, inspect
jet action and check out interesting features. Be sure to fill and
run at least a handful of tubs. You typically can fill the demo
spas through an on-site irrigation system if you’re renting
Off-site events also can require a generator and extension cords.
Mahoney typically spends $150 to rent one small generator, which
can power two tubs simultaneously.
Protect your investment
Once the salespeople have left for the day, ensure that nobody
damages or pilfers your merchandise after-hours. Many firms retain
hourly security guards for this purpose, while Mahoney invested
$50,000 in a truck camper for his off-site events. After closing
down for the day, one of his salespeople guards the spas overnight
and sleeps in the vehicle.
“It’s like having another store location,” he
says. The facility brings the added convenience of an
air-conditioned office, ideal for closing sales.
Some companies hire a traveling sales team or part-time workers for
tent events. Most, though, just use their regular employees.
Staffing in-house gives you tighter control over customer service.
A store employee also will be better equipped to handle delivery
concerns and special orders.
And because many salespeople work on commission, there’s
incentive to get out there and sell aggressively. Some employers
have even seen staff volunteer to work extra days during a tent
sale. They enjoy the change of pace as well.
A positive attitude among managers also goes a long way toward
inspiring sales. “Everyone needs to work together to
pull it off,” Mahoney says. “You need to be able to
roll with the punches and say, even when it’s raining,
‘Hey, this is going to work out — it’s going to
be a good day.’”