Alice Cunningham, co-owner of Olympic Hot Tub Co. in Seattle, recently sold a triangular two-person hot tub to an older couple who were downsizing from a deeper spa that used a lot more water. Because they had no plans to host company in their spa, a vessel with room for just the pair of them was the perfect fit — both in terms of size and price.
That transaction, Cunningham says, exemplifies the growing popularity of compact spas over the last few years. Some manufacturers have reported gains of 15 to 20 percent annually in the product category since 2008, despite the overall slump in the portable hot tub market. Many believe the appeal of two-person spas is one reason the sector has not contracted further.
“Certainly, as baby boomers get older and move into townhouses and condominiums, two-person hot tubs fit really well into very small yards,” Cunningham says. “And with the recession, people don’t want to go big. Frugality is in.” Because of their smaller size, two-person spas are inherently less expensive, which can make customers feel they are getting an even better deal when they compare their purchase to everything else in the showroom.
Spa makers offer versions of the product in virtually every shape, making it easy for downsizers to find one that fits into their outdoor space. The simplicity offered by these hot tubs has also been a big selling point.
“I say it’s kind of like buying a barbeque and cooking a hot dog on it as soon as you get it home,” says Don Elkington, president/CEO of Coast Spas Mfg. Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. “It’s all about the convenience.”
The success of two-person spas is so apparent that larger, national retailers are getting in on the action. Sears recently approached Elkington to sell Coast’s Tublicious model in stores throughout the United States and Canada.
While many spa dealers are selling this product successfully to an existing customer base, two-person spas open up many new marketing opportunities as well.
“You can put one in a mall with brochures and cards,” says Kevin Richards, national sales manager of Master Spas in Fort Wayne, Ind. “You couldn’t do that with larger models because space is at a premium.”
He also suggests partnering with local sunroom firms, which often are more willing to display a smaller product for a hot tub dealer.
The spas, with their lower price-point, are also great to use as giveaways in dealer-sponsored contests to get customers in the door, adds Samantha Sarles, the Hot Spring Spas brand manager for Watkins Mfg. in Vista, Calif.
In addition, the smaller units appeal to a new demographic: single women. For one, women are accustomed to taking baths, and may desire a similar experience in a hot tub. Coast has given its Tublicious colors dessert-inspired names to further entice them.
“The trend is that women are not waiting [anymore] for a prince to fix up their homes,” Cunningham adds. “This gives them an easy entry — if you meet Mr. Right down the line, then he can soak with you.”