Taking an in-store swim can make a swim spa window shopper a buyer, but you’ve got to do it right
By Andrew Lisa
If you sell swim spas and you’re not sure how much is riding on your ability to nail the wet test, consider the numbers.
In examining the purchasing habits of thousands of customers over several years and across the nation, Watkins Wellness has found that 45% of all test swims end up closing, says Ryan Landwehr, business manager for aquatic fitness at Watkins. “If you can get them in the water, you’re going to close [about] one out of two people,” he says.
Swim spas are marvelous machines, but they’re enormous, complex, expensive and — to most people — unfamiliar. For sellers, there are few scenarios where a first impression carries more weight. A flawless test swim can mean the difference between a customer leaving with a cool story and a customer leaving with a swim spa. Here’s what you need to know.
Sellers Should be Swimmers
A good swim test starts long before the customer asks where to change into their suit. The test should land back far enough in the sales process that the seller already knows the customer’s skill level, physical limitations, fitness goals, usage plans and why he or she is shopping for a swim spa in the first place. The sales process, however, is not nearly as important as the salesperson.
“It relies a lot on the salesman’s knowledge of the product itself,” says Garrett Loverin of Southern Leisure Spas & Patio in Arlington, Texas, which sells Aquatic Training Vessels by Marquis. “The more in tune they are, the more reassured the customer will be.”
Selling swim spas, however, is an intimate process that requires more than encyclopedic product knowledge. The person selling the swim spa will also be the one to guide the customer through the swim test, and guides can’t lead the way down paths they haven’t walked themselves. People who sell swim spas must know what it’s like to actually swim in one.
“Not every seller is a swimmer,” Landwehr says. “And if you’re not a swimmer, and you have a swimmer standing in front of you, how are you going to instruct them on what the swim should feel like, what their expectations should be, how you want them to behave? You have to have the experience firsthand. Not only will you sell differently, but you’ll give a demonstration based on your personal user experience.”
Loverin encourages all of his salespeople to wet test every hot tub they sell, “and swim spas are no different,” he says. “It gives them an alternative perspective. They can understand what the customer is experiencing when they get in for the wet test.”
For some sales teams, that can require a change in mentality: “A lot of our dealers sell multiple categories in their stores, and some of those categories don’t require experience in order to sell them,” Landwehr says. “This is one of those products that you truly need to experience yourself if you’re going to be a successful seller.”
The customer should enter the spa when the spa is at its very best. No. 1, Loverin says, is to make sure the spa is presentable. That means it’s clean and the water chemistry is on point, he says, with no missing valves or pillows. “You want to have all the bells and whistles on display for the consumer,” he says, including turning on all water features, lights and audio. “If it’s got a resistance or rowing kit or any other exercise equipment to incorporate into it,” he adds, “have all of that up and running and know how it all works.”
Also, be empathetic to the fact this is a highly intimate experience, which requires them to enter a big, powerful, unfamiliar machine in a partial state of undress while guided by a person they barely know. The experience will be even more unnerving if the customer is forced to take the test in a showroom with curious shoppers buzzing around and gawking at them while they figure it out.
“Some customers feel vulnerable in their swimwear around other people,” Loverin says. “Make it an option to schedule private wet tests. Make it available for the salesman to come in early or stay late after closing to get that privacy.”
Finally, tailor the experience to the customer’s skill level.
“There is a difference between the needs of aquatic fitness and the true swimmer,” says Joe Stone of California-based Swim Fitness, which sells a full line of H2X swim spas, the Michael Phelps Signature line from Master Spas, as well as some refurbished models. “I help identify which direction is best for them, then align their needs with the best swim spa model.”
Before the Customer Gets in the Water
Repeat customers or customers who have already experienced a swim spa will likely be more interested in features, current flow and other technical aspects. Newbies, on the other hand, will be almost totally consumed with contemplating the strange new experience that awaits. A good salesperson’s bedside manner can make all the difference at this critical stage. Don’t just turn it on, tell them to enjoy themselves and walk away.
“What is the proper methodology for instructing somebody to swim for the first time if they’ve never been in a product like this?” Landwehr asks. “They can swim in a lake, a pool or the ocean, but this is new to them. How do we provide the right amount of instruction to make sure their first experience is over the top?”
You can start by offering a confidence boost while the customer is still dry.
“Proper instruction starts before they even get in the water,” Landwehr says. “Try to explain in the most realistic and lifelike manner possible: ‘Here is what the jets are going to feel like. This is what the current is going to feel like over your body.’ Help the customer get comfortable with the flow of the current. Every manufacturer produces their current differently.”
During this preparatory stage, salespeople aren’t so much selling, but soothing.
“[Encourage customers to] get in and just walk around to feel the current and get comfortable,” Stone says. “Then as you are ready, start swimming on a slower speed. You can always increase speed as needed.”
Now is the time for the seller to gauge the shopper’s abilities and offer assistance or supplementary equipment to anyone who is struggling. “Serious swimmers normally have no issues,” Stone says. “Recreational swimmers may have an issue with their eyes or nose in the water. We offer the use of a full-face snorkel along with swimmer’s goggles as options.”
More than anything, a good seller can be a reassuring presence.
“Be out there with the customer,” Loverin says. “Give them different variations and speeds, hook up different equipment, show them different features. Give them the full rundown of the unit.”
Lean on Manufacturer Resources
Watkins has been incorporating demonstration prep into sales training for the last two-and-a-half years, Landwehr says, hosting between four and six sales training classes a year across America and the world for dealers of Endless Pools products. Typically, each training event lasts a day or so, with one to two hours dedicated to demonstrations and swim tests.
Watkins also maintains a dealer portal with videos and other supplementary training resources for new hires who won’t have an opportunity to attend their first sales training event for a few months. Those who can attend a sales training event, however, should bring a bathing suit.
“Everyone who participates has to get in the water for a wet test of their own,” Landwehr says.
Loverin, too, receives support from his manufacturer.
“Marquis is really helpful across the board,” he says. “They send out the sales rep to do on-site training, which is very informative. They also have an online training platform called the University of Marquis, which gives lots of specifications on models, tactics and scenarios.”
Go Big With a Wet/Dry Test
Conducting demonstrations can be daunting just for the amount of real estate a swim spa gobbles up.
“They’re such big pieces of equipment,” Loverin says. “They take up so much square footage that dealers are a little hesitant to sacrifice the space because they’re not sure of the turnover rate compared to a regular spa. But if they don’t ever bring one in, they’ll never know the success it could bring them.”
Loverin initially balked at the idea of committing to so much space, but he quickly realized he was losing opportunities by not having a working swim spa in the showroom. He says dealers should think bigger and consider keeping two swim spas on hand.
“Just having one to wet test gets customers in the door,” he says, “but we took the initiative and set up two, one for dry tests.”
The so-called dry test gives shoppers the chance to climb into the machine, poke around and see the manufacturing details, the quality and features up close without the distraction of water.
Swim spas have the potential to improve lives and make big bucks for dealers. Everyone involved, however, benefits from a first-class test swim that makes both seller and manufacturer shine while reassuring the buyer it will be five figures well spent.
“If you’re asking someone to purchase one of these things,” Landwehr says, “convince them it will actually do what you say it’s going to do when they get it home.”