While the hot tub market may not be as robust as in years past, plenty of spa dealers are still doing well.

Though there is no one-size-fits-all formula for spa-selling success, what these firms have in common is a commitment to service and strong family ties.

Here, the top-performing dealers of a handful of spa makers discuss their history in the business and today’s hot tub market.

Suntek Pools & Spas

Master Spas’ Apex Award

For Robert Lucia, president of Suntek Pools & Spas in Farmingdale, N.Y., being named the top dealer for Master Spas was more of a reassurance that his firm is on the right track rather than a surprise.

“As a company, we don’t focus directly on winning the award,” he says. “Instead, we follow certain core beliefs and a vision for how the business should run. In the end, winning the award just validates what we do.” Suntek also earned the Apex in 2009.

Part of that vision involves responding to the market and remaining flexible in business practices. For instance, though the company primarily serves Nassau and Suffolk counties (encompassing all of Long Island, N.Y.), on occasion Suntek will increase its sales radius when Master Spas does not have a dealer in a nearby area. Lucia also modifies his showroom to reflect current consumer needs.

“As the economy began to slip into recession, we adjusted our floor models to display fewer ‘super high-end’ spa models with TVs, etc., and displayed more units in the $5,000-to-$8,000 [price range],” he says.

The firm has changed its marketing focus as well. Where he used to rely more on print advertising, Lucia now has shifted a significant portion of his efforts to the Internet, investing heavily in the company’s Website. And while Suntek’s main demographic is the 35-to-55 crowd, Lucia has also noticed yearly sales growth in the over-55 age group — something he considers in his sales plans, too.

Suntek may be very adaptive, but it still relies on the core values Lucia introduced when he founded it in 1989 as a service business. Since those early days, the company has expanded into hot tubs, pools, renovations and other retail offerings.

“We continue to perform all of our service in-house, with our own people and a fleet of well-stocked vehicles,” he says. “As a company, we still stress service as a major reason to buy from us.”

Valley Pools & Spas

Marquis Spas’ Marquis Cup

Larry Berczyk, president of Valley Pools & Spas in Burnsville, Minn., had his nose so close to the grindstone over the last year that he didn’t realize just how many portable spas his firm had sold.

“I knew we’d had a better year, but I had no idea we were doing that well!” he says of winning the Marquis Cup, the highest honor Marquis Spas bestows upon its dealers. “I can’t pin it on anything but great service, and a lot of our sales right now are repeat sales to current customers purchasing new spas.” Berczyk also estimates his company has a closing rate of at least 70 percent.

Valley’s dependable customer base comes in part from longevity — the firm has been around since Berczyk’s parents founded it as a service company in 1974. They began carrying spas in the ’80s, and still work with some of the same clients that bought the wooden tubs they originally stocked. Now Berczyk owns the business with his sisters, Wendy and Heidi. His children also work in the store, while his wife/advertising manager Cheryl is adept at securing television, radio and newspaper marketing spots on a limited budget.

“A lot of [our clients] have owned spas in the past and bought them years ago,” Berczyk says. “They love the brand and won’t go anywhere else.” He does offer some floor-model and in-stock specials on hot tubs, but mainly relies on a specialized pricing system that doesn’t work off MSRP to close sales.

Multiple locations also help. The company has branches in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro-plex, as well as a franchise in Hudson, Wis. This allows them to serve most of the region.

“We’ve been able to back away from home shows, when we used to do quite a few,” Berczyk says. “The multiple locations make it easier to draw from a larger part of the state.

Ohio Pools and Spas

Hot Spring Spas’ Locksin Thompson Dealer of the Year

Cleveland-area Ohio Pools and Spas is a six-time Territory Dealer of the Year for Hot Spring Spas, but this is the first time they’ve won the top Locksin Thompson Dealer of the Year prize. Nearly 800 retailers compete for the award annually.

“This is a group of elite dealers, so to win over them is an incredible honor,” says owner/president Rich Annis. “We were working really hard just to repeat our territory dealer win for 2010, and then we found out we won the big award!”

Like other companies that have earned their manufacturer’s highest honor, Ohio Pools and Spas depends on their long-term market presence to draw new and returning clientele. Annis’ uncle launched the business in 1957, operating out of a single-car garage when Annis came onboard in 1976. Soon they expanded to a three-car garage, and they’ve been growing ever since.

The firm has sold the same hot tub brand for 30 years, which Annis believes doesn’t happen much these days. And because his staff is so familiar with the single spa line, customers know they have in-depth answers to any questions that arise.

“Our staff act more as consultants than high-pressure sales people,” he adds of his team. “Our philosophy is to make it an easy and enjoyable shopping experience, not something aggressive.”

The company has three locations flanking the Cleveland metro area, allowing for a broader client base. Providing options and interactivity in each of those stores contributes to Ohio’s success.

“In comparison to the competition, we stand out for the number of spa displays we have,” Annis says. “We show all three series [of the brand], so there’s a lot to choose from — from entry-level to very customized. And we keep a full complement of spas filled and available for customers to try, if that helps with their selection.”

Annis also has struck up partnerships with deck builders and other backyard-industry professionals — part of what has kept    clients coming back even during tough times.

Bullfrog Spas of Ogden

Bullfrog Spas’ Top Dealer Award

Sometimes, an honor means more when it’s won against tough odds. That’s how Shawn Maynard, owner and sales manager of Bullfrog Spas of Ogden in North Ogden, Utah, feels about being named top dealer for 2010.

“[This win is our] second year running, and in the two worst years the spa industry has seen in a long time,” says Maynard, who runs the business with co-owner Chris Bowen. “We are working extra hard now for numbers like we saw before.”

Maynard attributes his company’s success to multiple factors. One is a comprehensive marketing strategy that involves hands-on interaction with the product and a move toward less-traditional advertising opportunities. For instance, Maynard’s teenage son  is in charge of Bullfrog of Ogden’s social networking initiatives, such as posting online videos of difficult spa deliveries so clients know the company can handle challenging installations. The firm is heavily involved with offsite events as well, including tent sales and “mobile showroom” vehicles.

Another factor involves adapting to what Maynard calls a “change in the shopping paradigm.”

“It used to be that a spa customer would find the store nearest to their home and, if they generally liked the product and hit it off with the salesman, they would probably pull the trigger right then,” he explains. “Now, they feel that they owe it to themselves to research the different brands and make sure they are getting the best value.”

To combat the lack of commitment from first-time store visitors, Maynard’s team has developed an in-depth follow-up plan to remind the potential client what the company will do for them and what they liked about the product. To further set his brand of spas apart, Maynard offers live demonstrations of the jet system, as well as its 30-day exchange program.

“It’s something very tangible that the customer can see and appreciate,” he says. “They feel good about making their purchase, knowing that they have a month to change it around.”

Something else that makes people feel good about buying from Bullfrog of Ogden is a sense of permanence the company promotes. Though the firm only opened its retail location in 2005, the 110-year-old Historic Cannery brick building they purchased has been a fixture of North Utah commerce for generations.

Maynard also rents space in the building to tenants who can drive business to his store, and has another branch in nearby Layton, Utah.“The feel of the building tells customers we are a big part of the community,” he says. “It feels like we’ve always been here and will be for many years to come.”