How dealers in the United Kingdom and Australia approach the hot tub industry
By Michelle L. Cramer
It never hurts to look beyond your backyard and see how the other guys are doing things. While the overseas hot tub dealer has challenges unique to their markets, caring for customers is a first priority no matter where you do business.
Jim Luciano, vice president of sales and marketing for Clearwater Spas in Woodinville, Washington, has spent the last 11 years working with dealers abroad for the Clearwater products, so he gets a clear picture of how domestic and overseas dealers compare in their approach to the market.
“[The European] market is a strong market for a lot of us manufacturers and has been growing over the last 10 years,” Luciano says. While he sees a lot of similarities in both markets, there are distinctive differences. He sees low-quality, Chinese-manufactured hot tubs beginning to infiltrate the European market, so dealers in that region have upped their online presence in order to compete.
“The largest retailers in that market are online retailers, not mass merchants like you see in the U.S.,” he says. “These people have taken the time to build really good e-commerce sites that are smartphone friendly. They have a main location that’s kind of a warehouse, instead of having a retail showroom that they market for people to come to. Their retail showroom is the online store and they have a warehouse that supports that.”
This online presence isn’t limited to the U.K., however. Duncan Hogg, managing director of Just Spas in Perth, Western Australia, has helped to develop an automated sales system that starts with the implementation of a strong web presence. Snorkel Software, which Hogg began developing about five years ago and is currently exclusive to Just Spas dealers, leads customers on the website to a “request a quote” function that plugs the lead’s data into a sales system. From there, the dealer sends an email quote, followed by a text notification. The dealer can then add the customer to a hot, warm or cool customer contact schedule, created by the retailer.
“This schedule is a mix of time-delayed messages from the initial quote sent via text, pretty emails inspiring the customer, tasks for the sales staff, tasks for delivery contractors and more,” Hogg says. “Basically, helping the lazy salesperson or the busy business owner who is trying to do it all.”
Hogg adds that this software gives him a virtual management system for his staff. At any given moment, he can find how many leads the sales staff is working with and what has been done to reach them. “I’d estimate that [this system] gets me 15 to 20 percent more sales by actively following up with customers and looking a lot more professional than my competition.” Hogg is working toward integration of the sales system into the companion customer app called Spa Mate, loaded by the delivery staff onto a customer’s phone, so the continuation of customer care is streamlined.
There are more ways U.K. dealers are reaching customers online. Luciano mentions the reality television show for The Hot Tub Superstore in the U.K. as a big success, not only for that company, but also for the whole European sector of the industry. “They did a pilot and got picked up by a TV station in the U.K.,” he says. “I think they’re up to 10 or 11 million views. It shows a lot about what this business is like — mom-and-pop businesses, people who have family members working there and it becomes a culture, so you’re seeing these guys all supporting their families.”
Luciano has seen other dealers in the U.K. become more engaging with their online presence as a result of this show. “I think, in the U.K. especially, [an online presence is] the No. 1 way that spas are moving,” he says.
Through the Customers’ Eyes
Celebrating 80 years in the industry as a family-owned business, Goodwins Hot Tubs, located in Margate, Kent, in the U.K., attributes success to looking after customers and prioritizing the company’s reputation. “We know that if you provide a good service, a customer will tell one or two of their friends,” says Dave Goodwin, owner. “However, if that customer is upset or feels they have been treated unfairly, they will tell everyone they know. That can be very damaging to ongoing sales.”
Goodwin says that dedication to the customer starts with the quality of products. “Many companies in the U.K. are selling substandard products,” he says. “These companies are closing down regularly and reopening under a new name. This is why we promote our 80 years of service achievement — to show that we do not operate that way.”
Goodwins says it goes above and beyond expectations with all its customers to make sure they are happy. “Sometimes it does cost us money and time, but if we can turn [dissatisfied customers] into happy customers, they become some of our best sources of future sales,” Goodwin says.
A few years ago, a customer purchased a spa from Goodwins and the LED lights were not level. “He was a perfectionist and a little OCD — by his own admission — and it drove him nuts when sitting in his spa relaxing,” Goodwin recalls. “So we exchanged the spa for another one at no charge. Since then, this customer has recommended us to many of his friends and they too have purchased from us. So we have a very happy and loyal customer.”
South Pacific Pools & Spas is located in North Geelong, Australia — about an hour from Melbourne — and has been in business for about 30 years. Owners Rod Moore and Greg Willmott purchased South Pacific in 2005. Moore attributes part of their success to their partnership, stating that it’s extremely difficult to run a business alone. “Trust is a big point,” Moore says. “One of us is always there to oversee the store, customers, staff and run the business. Customers like to know that one of the owners is always available if need be.”
And that dedication to involvement with the customers is the other part of the store’s success, Moore says. Approximately 250,000 people live in Geelong, which makes connecting with the customer that much more important to Moore and Willmott because, chances are, they know the customer — or someone the customer knows — personally. “It’s always good to engage customers in conversation and have a laugh,” he says. “Then, all of a sudden, you have a connection and that trust vibe starts. We attempt to give people the time of day and they like that — they feel special.”
That customer care goes beyond the showroom. South Pacific does a site inspection before installation of all hot tubs, making suggestions and making sure the customer is happy with their purchase. “I also think talking with your staff and making sure you are all on the same page means the same message gets across despite who the customer is speaking with,” Moore says. “In 13 years of operation, we have only handed back a deposit twice when, on attending the property, we found out either the spa won’t fit or we can’t actually get it in. This goes a long way. I have heard some stores won’t refund the money. This doesn’t look good and it doesn’t actually cost the dealer anything anyway. Go the extra mile and it will pay off somewhere down the track.”
Train Them Up
Because his first taste of the hot tub industry was as a consumer, CEO and founder of 1 Stop Spas Ltd in Billinghay, England, Chris Brady, believes that his company is very tuned into consumer demands and needs. “As a result, we are very consumer focused, rather than driven by our industry,” he says.
To provide the best customer care, staff must be properly and thoroughly trained, Brady says. It’s because of this that he developed SpaTech Training, the U.K.’s first and only dedicated hot tub specific training program.
Brady previously worked within military aeronautical engineering as a chief technician in the Royal Air Force. “Aviation is one of the most professional industries, with the highest standards of engineering,” he says. When he finished his military career to concentrate on building 1 Stop Spas, he brought those best practices and standards “into a very immature and nonprofessional U.K. industry,” he explains. “[I want to] help curb the growing influx of fly-by-night retailers setting up and selling substandard far eastern imports.”
Teaming up with the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals and the British and Irish Spa and Hot Tub Association, Brady has been working on the SpaTech Training program over the last two years. SpaTech is the first training to offer hot tub technical courses within the U.K., including the APSP Certified Hot Tub Technician course, Water Hygiene Management courses, Hot Tub Safe Manual Handling courses and, more recently, Holiday Park and Business Use Hot Tub Safety Courses.
“Our aim is to raise the professional bar and standards within the U.K. industry through good education and training, and working with trade associations to offer technical support to our network of certified technicians across the country,” Brady says.
Give Them Options
When it comes to customer care, Gareth Jones, managing director at UK Leisure Living in North Wales, believes in providing options. “We feel it’s imperative to give the customer a great choice,” he says. “So we are dual-branded and find this works really well to cover every aspect of the market.”
UK Leisure Living offers a variety of brands in order to appeal to a variety of price points. For the middle to upper price point, the company offers Hot Spring Spas. Aspen Spas is the company’s midrange offering and rotomolded spas are available for entry-level customers. “We find this spread offers something to everyone at all price ranges,” Jones says. “Dual-branding depends on your location and needs. We feel choice is important and someone might prefer a midrange Hot Spring to a midrange Aspen, or vice versa. Having dual brands also allows us to monitor our stock. There are many benefits to dual-branding.”
Sometimes it takes outside-the-box thinking and new ideas to carve your name into the industry, regardless of the location. Looking at the big picture, Goodwin says it comes down to trust. “Above all, we have earned the trust of our customers by being reliable and consistent and we guard our reputation at all costs,” he says. “We have a lot of fun and enjoy the work we do and this reflects in our success.”