Four ways hot tub retailers can make money selling, subbing or fixing decks
By Robert Stuart
THE LAST RECESSION TAUGHT US to do everything in our power to keep ourselves in customers’ sight and create as many revenue streams as possible. Over the years, I’ve seen spa companies that dabble in decks; deck companies that dabble in spas; and very few that do both well.
However, I’ve recently found success with deck repair and tune-up.
Most of us likely already partner with a deck company. But how many times have you lost a spa sale because the customer contacted a deck company, and the cost of a new deck pushed the dream of a new how tub by the wayside? That customer is often picturing a spa as a means to spend more family time in their backyard. The deck designer’s outdoor living picture can then make the spa seem like a small part of a much bigger goal.
Our goal is to make sure the spa remains a focal point and not just an added expense. There are several ways to do this:
•If money isn’t an object, work hand-in-hand with the deck company to make sure your spa is the only one that fits the bill.
•Be the general contractor for the project and the main line of communication to the customer, hiring subcontractors to complete the job.
•Create a deck division within your company and do it all in-house.
Often, the deck simply needs a tune-up, and you can be a hero by taking charge, and getting their deck repaired and stained to look new. This can include putting up an arbor, trellis, gazebo or simply a privacy blind. You’d be amazed at what sanding, fresh stain and new railing can do, and it’s typically thousands less then a new deck.
If the customer needs a deck update and would like a hot tub — but don’t think they can afford one — find a way to give them what they want. A beautiful new hot tub and a backyard facelift for a portion of what they thought they’d spend not only makes you a hero, but can also allow you to sell them more than you would have been able to with other options.
Remember, the goal for most people is home recreation and relaxation — not just a big brown box full of hot water and jets. Sell that dream! Let’s break down those three options above and see what works best for you.
1. WORKING WITH A DECK COMPANY
This most-common scenario is vital if you don’t do the work in-house, but also has the highest risk of not getting anything out of the deal. If you haven’t already, form a relationship with a deck builder immediately. In that relationship, make sure they know how you want things handled. I always had the deck builder call me first with the bid so I knew their communication with the customer. Trust me: If you are just handing them a card and hoping they’ll call, you will lose 60 to 80 percent of those deals. No matter how good of buddies you are with the deck guy, he’s ultimately in it for himself. I’ve had deck companies form relationships with several spa companies and try to remain neutral, telling the customer they should compare prices (good for the customer; not so good for you), which starts the whole spa shopping experience over again.
Tell that deck builder what to say about you, your company and spa. Tell them your expectations (including level of contact) and test their loyalty often. If they work on your terms, let them know you will send them all your business!
2. BECOME THE GENERAL CONTRACTOR
You’d be surprised how many large deck companies subcontract their work. Those subcontractors are as available to you as they are to them; the difference is learning design — or subcontract that as well. Once you do this, make it profitable. Shop the market and see what deck builders are charging. You’d be shocked at the variation: I’ve got deck builders in my area charging anything from $30 a square foot to $120 a square foot. One is better at selling the dream and selling themselves.
Know the market and the big players — but believe me: If you’re good enough to sell a spa in that market, you’re good enough to sell everything. Keep tabs on your subs and keep communication coming through you. It doesn’t take much to have a sub steal the deal.
3. START A DECK DIVISION AND DO IT IN-HOUSE
There really isn’t a lot of difference in being the general contractor and forming an in-house division — other than the hassle, liability and adding employees.
Don’t even think of starting a deck division without taking it as seriously as any other revenue stream in your company. Dabbling in decks will cost you more time and effort than it’s worth. Hiring several people to build a $20,000 deck and a $10,000 spa to only make money on the spa is insanity. You need a proper profit margin on both. Deck tune and stain could instead be your niche. Work exclusively with a contractor who does all your deck work; know what they charge and the quality of their work. These guys can help you take off railings, cut holes in decks, do supports and other small deck-related tasks. To make this a win-win for both of you, help sell each other’s services. You need an a la carte menu of their services like how much they charge per square foot, what it costs to take rail off and replace, and what they charge to add support. You wouldn’t believe how easy this is to sell. It’s a great solution, and you should always be solution oriented.