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.”