We call ourselves the pool and spa industry for a reason. Hot tubs are a valuable component in the broad scheme of the business, but enthusiasm for the product has flagged in recent years. Now is the time to start the work that will get us in the forefront of consumer minds and the entire industry.

Because I joined the APSP Hot Tub Council at the industry’s peak in 2005, I have been able to watch the effect of the economic decline on our particular product category. When I came onboard, estimated domestic production of hot tubs was approximately 450,000 a year. This year, however, we’re looking at closer to 180,000.

As an industry, our main need is not just a better economy, but the ability to speak with a single voice to represent the hot tub product in any circumstance, good or bad. To do that, we must understand the challenges.

A big concern these days is safety, and that actually hurts the portable hot tub business largely because of confusion with inground units. For example, there has never been a suction entrapment fatality in a portable hot tub, but in the past, we’ve had trouble clarifying that distinction to the public, who see the product as another pricey backyard hazard.

The professionals surrounding hot tubs have also gotten a bad reputation. Say, for example, that a given local market has five retailers, each selling different brands. When one retailer goes out of business, the other four may not have the ability to service that brand, creating what we call orphaned hot tubs. This also happens when a manufacturer goes under, and stores that don’t have in-house hot tub service techs have nowhere to send warranty work. Suddenly, customers are calling stores across town, getting more and more frustrated with the product category as a whole when no one materializes to perform the work.

The solution for problems like these is for us to tackle them as a team. When promoting themselves, retailers must begin to talk about the advantages of owning any tub. It doesn’t help the product sector to say. “I sell ABC Hot Tubs, which are much better than the XYZ brand.” Instead, explain the health benefits all hot-water immersion offers, the ease of maintenance hot tubs can now provide, and the memories that will be made. That way, the consumer thinks well of the product in general.

Also, retailers must educate their techs on servicing all brands, at least major ones, even if they don’t sell them. We’re still near the bottom of the recession. If we take this downtime to focus on learning generic procedures that can apply to all types of tubs, we will emerge stronger than ever.

Pool & Spa News will help bring awareness to hot tubs through our new section focusing exclusively on spas and related topics. It will debut in our Jan. 14, 2011, issue.