Caldera introduces Freshwater Salt System
By Michelle L. Cramer
Watkins Wellness learned a lot from the launch of the Ace Saltwater Sanitizing System in 2010 and customer feedback since then, says Melinda Scheble, assistant manager of product management for Watkins. Among those changes: Customers were looking for something easier to maintain and with a lower price point.
“The No. 1 concern for someone who’s considering buying a hot tub is how much work it is to take care of it,” Scheble says. ACE provided spa owners with the ability to control the system from the spa’s control panel and spend less time putting bottled chemicals in their hot tub water.
However, says Scheble, the ACE system was an expensive option to add to the hot tub — and it was difficult to predict how long it would last. Dealers would explain that, ideally, it lasted 12 to 24 months, but customers clung to the longer timeline. When it only lasted 12 months for some, that became a challenge.
“We thought, ‘OK, what can we do with what we know?’ ” Scheble says. “[The customers] all love the salt water aspect, right? The soft water and the less harsh chemicals. So we set out to keep that part of it — the easy maintenance and nice, soft water — but address some of the challenges we had with ACE.”
Officially launched in January, the Freshwater Salt System is Watkins’ answer to these customer needs. Newer hot tubs — currently Caldera Utopia, Caldera Paradise, HotSpring Highlife and HotSpring Limelight collections — will have the Freshwater Salt System built in at manufacturing, so they are readily equipped. All the customer has to do to opt in is purchase the Freshwater disposable cartridges that last approximately four months.
The Freshwater system is not backward compatible for previous hot tub models, but Watkins plans to continue offering products and services for the ACE system as long as it’s needed. “We’re going to let the market dictate it to us, but our expectation is that ACE will fade away,” Scheble says.
The ACE system was only available for Hot Spring collections, but Watkins wanted Freshwater to have more exposure. “Our sights are on the consumer, because they’re the ones who are going to use the product and be our advocates to get more people to buy,” Scheble says. “So how can we get it into more consumers’ hands? That would be to offer it to both brands. The best way to grow that base is to share it across the board.”
Customers should not expect to do any more water care maintenance with the Freshwater system than they’re already doing with ACE. In fact, Scheble says they will likely do less, though they’ll still need to dip a test strip to make sure chlorine, calcium, pH and alkalinity are balanced.
Less water maintenance needs with the Freshwater system was evident in the beta test conducted by Spring Dance Hot Tubs in Pennsylvania. Of the six customers who tested the Freshwater system for Spring Dance, hot tub usage ranged from one customer who took three weeks to try it, to another who had multiple hot tub parties.
“I can’t say that the customers who used [their hot tubs] that much more frequently needed their cartridge changed that much sooner,” says Katherine Banks, purchasing manager for Spring Dance. “It didn’t drastically change the life span of it.”
Spring Dance service techs did the system installation and some customer hand-holding the first few weeks, balancing the water so they could feel the difference, Banks says. Then the techs started visiting bi-weekly and monthly to make sure everything was still in working order. Banks says one customer was hesitant and overwhelmed over the phone when they discussed the process, but once her Freshwater system was installed and she saw it firsthand, she had no problems maintaining it. “Coming from the service department, I had a lot of interactions with the ACE system and, for some reason, it confused a lot of people,” Banks says. “There was a lot of room for user error. Freshwater simplifies the whole system. It seems to be a lot more user friendly.”