The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals has abandoned its nationwide hot tub campaign.

In the works since mid-2007, the ambitious Hot Tub Industry Growth Initiative sought to reverse the downward trend in spa sales. Its goal was to raise $10 million annually for mass-market advertising, as well as education and certification programs.

Hurt by a lack of funding from hot tub manufacturers — many of whom were battered themselves by the slumping economy — the campaign never gained the momentum APSP leaders had hoped would carry it through the early stages of implementation.

Association officials recently presented an alternate direction for the initiative, which would have placed more emphasis on sales training than marketing and promotion.

However, that too failed to gain traction.

“The support just wasn’t there,” said Lauren Stack, APSP’s director of public affairs and industry promotion, who helped spearhead the initiative. “We didn’t have the groundswell of backing from the industry.”   

All told, the campaign collected and spent more than $400,000 on various research, planning and outreach projects in an effort to buttress an industry that has seen revenues decline steadily since 2004.

The decision to pull the plug comes on the heels of a May 13 meeting of the APSP Hot Tub Council in Dallas, in which leaders discussed rollout plans for the revamped campaign.

That meeting was followed by a Web-based conference call June 5 to announce the proposal to industry members. 

But as early as July 2008, APSP officials had begun dialing back the campaign’s goals. Steve Gorlin, Hot Tub Council chairman, discussed curbing monetary objectives. Stack sensed trouble as well. “I’m not getting any sort of feeling that we’re moving in the right direction,” she said at the time. “It’s frustrating.”

Just four firms by then had contributed start-up funds: L.A. Spas in Anaheim, Calif.; Master Spas, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Marquis Spas, Independence, Ore.; and Beachcomber Hot Tubs Inc., based in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

Last summer, APSP officials traveled to Southern California in hopes of securing the backing of industry giants Jacuzzi/Sundance, based in Chino, and Watkins Manufacturing Corp. in Vista.

But support was not forthcoming.

“A lot of people had different ideas and opinions on how [the initiative] should be run,” said Kathleen Carlson, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Seattle-based Aqua Quip. “No matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t get everyone to agree to it. And if you can’t get the big guys on board, it isn’t going to work.”

One of the campaign’s sticking points centered around its funding mechanism, which used a formula based on pump horsepower that would have resulted in a fee for each spa. Some industry members thought the emphasis on financial logistics moved the initiative in the wrong direction.

“How you’re going to access the funds is secondary,” said Andy Tournas, president of ThermoSpas Inc. in Wallingford, Conn. “There was too much focus on how they would acquire the money vs. how they would spend it. In a way, I think they put the cart before the horse.”

Using the money that was collected up-front — approximately $225,000 by mid-2008 — to develop a viable advertising campaign may have helped garner more support, Tournas suggested.

Others just thought any initiative of this scope would be a challenge to pull off in the spa industry.

“For a campaign like this to work, everybody has to participate,” said Manuel J. Perez de la Mesa, CEO of Covington, La.-based PoolCorp. “It’s fair to do a graduated assessment, but you still need everyone in each segment of the industry to participate.”

And for a category that’s largely fragmented, he added, the odds of widespread participation became insurmountable.

In addition, dealers may not have seen eye to eye with the campaign’s fundamental goals, Carlson said.

“Retailers never got it,” she said. “As a retailer, it’s hard to create a demand; I can only fulfill a demand.”

The key was getting enough manufacturers to buy in and say they believed in it, Carlson explained.

“And APSP was trying to create a demand,” she said. “So that’s the quandary, and that’s what Lauren really tried to present.

“But the research they did was amazing, and everybody ought to take a look at it and take it to heart,” Carlson added.

“Ultimately, we’re not a need, we’re only a want. If we get too far down the list, we’re going to go away. That’s what Lauren was saying.”

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