Celebrating Sauna

Traveling sauna/association encourage sauna usage, help retailers

What’s red, has wheels and makes you sweat? It could be the sauna traveling across the United States to celebrate Finland’s 100th birthday. That probably wasn’t your first guess, but if you sell saunas or are interested in starting, this mobile sauna is raising awareness about the benefits of the sauna experience.

Saunas are a way of life in Finland. “If I’m not mistaken, there are more saunas than cars in Finland,” says Norm Coburn, owner of New England Spas in the Boston area. “Everybody has one; it’s just what you do.” The word sauna is the only Finnish word in the English dictionary.

“It’s just a part of a home in Finland — you wouldn’t build a home without a sauna,” says Risto Sivula, who conceived of the idea for the traveling sauna. “Would you build a home in the United States without a garage?” Sivula and a friend, both Fins who now live in the United States, wanted to find a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary in America.

Historically, Sivula says, the sauna would be the first structure built on a homestead in Finland, or wherever a Fin immigrated, because it offered multiple uses. It could provide shelter and warmth while everything else was being built, but it also gave them a place to bathe, cook and cure meats. “It’s very clean, like a hospital,” Sivula says. “People gave birth in the sauna. People were born in the sauna, and then when you died you were washed in the sauna before you were buried.”

Coburn is a board member of the North American Sauna Society. The group promotes traditional sauna use and is one of the organizations supporting the little red sauna traveling America this year. Coburn has sold saunas since he opened his store in 1985 but says his company is seeing a sizable increase in sauna business this year.

There are two types of saunas: traditional and infrared. Both offer the benefits of sweating, but the comparisons end there. Infrared saunas cost less, usually come prefabricated, are plug-and-play and take a half-hour or more to heat up.

Traditional saunas are heated by either a wood stove or, more likely, an electric heater. Rocks are placed on the heater, and users can sprinkle water on them to create humidity. Traditional saunas are available as kits, but you can custom make them to fit almost any space.

To get the full benefit of using a sauna, the user should shower, sit in the sauna, shower again, spend some time out of the sauna resting, and then repeat the process.

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In the United States, people are often exposed to saunas in their gyms and other public places where they have little control over the experience. “If you are curious, find a sauna where you can control the environment yourself,” Sivula says. “People ask us all the time what is the right way. It’s your personal preference. For me, it’s been a good experience if you feel good coming out of it.”

There are a number of reasons Coburn says hot tub retailers should consider getting into the sauna business. “It’s refreshing as all get out,” he says. “You just feel like you’re ready to start the day.” When he uses his sauna regularly, he sees improvement in his complexion and hair. He also says it has helped him get over colds faster and cured the occasional hangover.

Compared to a hot tub, selling a sauna is simple: “There are virtually no service calls,” Coburn says. “If you’re going to grow a part of your business, that’s an important factor. Hot tubs require service. They also require chemistry, education and the maintenance side of it. People also compare and contrast that a sauna only costs money when you’re using it. The operating cost can be a lot less. It doesn’t stay hot 24/7.”

If selling saunas, have enough models on the floor to look like you’re in the business. Have at least one working unit in your showroom, train your sales staff and give people the opportunity to try before they buy.

New England Hot Tubs has recently started offering sweat tests, which are similar to wet tests. Customers can come in and try out the sauna — the store provides sauna kilts, which are essentially long towels with elastic at the top like a wrap with the company’s logo embroidered.

The North American Sauna Society, along with the traveling sauna, is trying to bring the Finnish sauna lifestyle to Americans. Society members are listed on its website with a link, and can also use the society’s logo and access swag like T-shirts. It has a resource library on its website for consumers and dealers to learn more about saunas.

“[The Sauna Society] would give those who are carrying sauna a leg up on the competition,” Coburn says. Response to the traveling sauna has been positive, Sivula says, especially among his fellow U.S.-based Fins.