Jeff Mcneill/Bonavista LeisureScapes

Swim spas have been on the market for decades, but the category seems to have recently taken off. Half hot tub, half swimming pool, these hybrid machines offer myriad ways for consumers to stay in shape, relax, and get more enjoyment out of their backyards.

For those who are thinking about dedicating some floor space to swim spas, here are a few ways to take advantage of this popular product category and boost the bottom line.

Know Your Audience
Baby boomers, who once never trusted anyone over 30, are now well into their golden years — and looking to make the most of them. For some boomers, that carpe diem attitude can involve the purchase of a swim spa.

“Most people who buy [swim spas], I would say, are in their 50s and 60s,” says Jeff Bailey, co-owner of Spring Dance Hot Tubs in Jamison, Pa. “These people have disposable income.”

Swim spas can range from $20,000-$50,000, so it’s likely that these customers will be a little older, have a lot of money, and live in an upscale community. But you never know who may end up walking out of your store with a receipt for a $20,000 swim spa. While Bailey recently sold a swim spa to a woman in her 60s who was looking to get in better shape, he also recently sold a fairly pricey unit to a woman who didn’t live in a very affluent area.

“It’s really interesting to see the buyer who’s doing this,” says Bailey. “It’s people you don’t expect.”

Swim spa purchasers range from people just looking for a way to relax or get in shape to serious athletes perhaps working toward their next triathlon, Bailey says.

Show ’Em What You Got
Customers are more likely to purchase a product, especially a big-ticket item like a swim spa, if they have a chance to try it out. That’s where demo pools come into play.

Brian Quint, president of Aqua Quip in Seattle, got into the swim spa business about eight years ago, but the category didn’t really start taking off until he put working models on the show floor three years later. “We went from single-digit to double-digit sales when we put an actual working model in multiple showrooms,” Quint says. “Now [swim spas] are an integral part of our hot water business.”

Because swim spas carry a higher price tag, the buying cycle takes much longer, and it typically includes at least one dip in a demo pool, Bailey says. He recommends having at least one wet spa for potential customers to try.

Swim spas do have a sizable footprint, measuring in at around 8 by 15 feet, with some as long as 20 feet. This means that getting into the swim spa business will include not only a commitment of money but of square footage as well. Bailey recommends showing at least two to three dry models on the show floor, but adds that retailers should avoid cannibalizing their hot tub inventory or other products on display. “I would strongly suggest, if you have a small showroom, that you not give up the hot tub end of it for the swim spa end of it,” Bailey says. “[Don’t go] thinking that you’re going to be selling a lot of swim spas ... You could sell four or five swim spas in May and June, and not sell another swim spa for two months. [Don’t] put all your eggs in that basket.”

It’s a simple matter of prioritizing. If it’s possible, Quint recommends expanding your showroom or dedicating warehouse space to your swim spa inventory.

Marketing and Promotions
Once you’ve decided to give the swim spa category a try, Quint suggests picking a brand and getting that manufacturer to “train the heck out of you and your sales people.”

Because it’s such a feature-rich product, the sale of a swim spa is a more ‘technical sale’ than a typical hot tub, says Quint. A salesperson might have to spend more time explaining the general operations, features and functions of a swim spa to a potential client. The point is to help customers see and appreciate the features that go along with the higher price tag, he says.

But, of course, a boost from the manufacturer can only carry you so far. Part of the appeal of swim spas is their versatility, health benefits, and the fact that they can fit into a smaller backyard, unlike a full-size pool. And all this without a lengthy construction process. Quint plays up all of these benefits by having swimmers demonstrate the units at home shows and off-site events.

Bailey recommends specifically playing up the health aspect of the swim spa in order to increase sales. “That’s a whole niche out there that many people haven’t embraced,” he says.

In fact, Spring Dance is in the midst of a radio campaign that features some news personalities and focuses on the health benefits of swim spas and hot tubs. The ads mention how beneficial swim spas are for older people — whether it’s for physical therapy or just plain exercise. “Buoyancy takes 90% of the stress off the muscles and joints when you are in water making exercise much easier on one’s body,” says Bailey.

The campaign will run into the fall and has been very successful, says Bailey.

The swim spa category can yield noticeable returns. Since late June, Spring Dance has delivered a swim spa every week. However, retailers just entering the swim spa market should manage their expectations. “It takes a little while to get the wheels rolling on this — getting everybody to understand the health benefits and to … sell the people what they need in that category,” says Bailey.

But if you play your cards right and heed the advice of the experts, swim spas may wind up being your next big moneymaker.