Landscape designers on how spa retailers should offer design recommendations to homeowners and maintain B2B relationships
by Michelle L. Cramer
When Utah Landscaping in Riverton has a backyard-design client who wants a hot tub, owner Chip Galloway refers him or her to a local spa dealer. But recently, Galloway had to put that dealer on notice because the dealer’s salespeople were giving Galloway’s clients unwarranted design advice.
“It’s created a tremendous amount of extra work for me,” Galloway says. “I already made the [hot tub] sale and sent the client to them. I understand everyone wants to be helpful, and everyone wants to be the person who gives good advice, but sometimes the best advice is not to give any at all.”
In this particular instance, Galloway’s design included a recessed hot tub next to a waterfall. The spa dealer’s salesperson convinced Galloway’s client that the hot tub should be raised up by 18 inches, making it easier to get into. Unfortunately, this change blocked the view of the waterfall in Galloway’s original design. But the client couldn’t see it any other way at that point, so Galloway had to redesign the layout.
“I just gave the dealer a $15,000 client, and then he turned around and made my life hard,” Galloway says. He let the spa dealer know that if the sales team continued to give design advice to Utah Landscaping clients, Galloway would take his business elsewhere.
In truth, hot tub customers can become dependent on spa dealers who weigh in on backyard design, and dealers don’t want to seem ignorant or uncooperative. But providing recommendations to clients without harming B2B relationships with local landscape companies can be tricky.
Sell Design Too
Many dealers have a strong understanding of what makes a hot tub look good in a backyard. But Galloway advises the dealer default to a landscape designer if the homeowner wants anything more than a simple install. “One of the biggest things a spa dealer should probably sell is how important design is,” Galloway says.
Educating the homeowner can make all the difference, says Kurt Kraisinger, founder and president of Lorax Design Group in Overland Park, Kansas. New hot tub customers focus on the hot tub’s features, he says, but may overlook how its aesthetic plays into overall backyard design. “A lot of times, we ask clients first and foremost what manufacturer they’re using, specifically to make sure it is aesthetically pleasing from the outside if it’s not something that’s going to sit in the ground,” Kraisinger says. “Because it’s a whole different dynamic when it sits on a slab.”
To that end, a homeowner who comes to the spa dealer first may have future plans to landscape the yard — but for now just wants the hot tub. Kraisinger says a spa dealer in this case should recommend — for design sake — a hot tub on a slab. “It’s the most cost-effective option for a landscape architect or designer, so he could come in after that is in place and build a design around it,” Kraisinger says. “That way you’re not really taking away from a designer’s inspiration or ideas of what they could do. A hot tub installed in-grade makes it more challenging for the designer after the fact because you can’t move it around.”
Galloway says he’s often seen homeowners engage in piecemeal backyard design, and that the end result lacks flow. “It’s really important to plan the whole thing before we put a shovel in the ground so we don’t have costly mistakes,” Galloway says. “I’ll ask people if they would build a house without a design. When they say no, I ask, ‘Why would you build a landscape without a design, then?’ ” Gary Alan, owner of Designer Landscape in Jacksonville, Florida, says the best time to approach design with a homeowner is when the dealer is doing the home visit to plan for delivery and installation of the hot tub. “Ask them if they’re just looking to set up a hot tub or really create a little more than the backyard they have,” Alan says. “What else is on their wish list?”
“The easy thing for a spa dealer to do is just sell the unit,” Kraisinger says. “The bigger challenge is painting the pictures of what could be, going beyond just setting it on a slab.” He recommends showing pictures of completed installations with full landscape designs and encouraging homeowners toward something more.
Laying the Groundwork
Modern homeowners seek a resort feel to their backyards, Kraisinger says, and hot tub dealers can capitalize on this without negatively affecting future design. Dealers can recommend quality outdoor furniture, he says, plus modular fire pits and other things that can be moved around. “The retailer could think about lighting,” Kraisinger says. “Incorporate light within that space that could create another layer of atmosphere and interest” and create another point of sale. Kraisinger says dealers may even want to sell these changeable details for additional income.
Alan recommends brainstorming with the homeowner on a preliminary plan that can later be shared with a landscape designer, who can advise how the hot tub gels with the backyard’s overall aesthetic. “Do a half plan, with maybe a patio drawn out, hot tub placement, a few trees, where the turf and plant bed lines are,” Alan says. “That doesn’t mean you fill in all those areas with detail. If I’ve got a little bit of scale as to what the sizes of the boxes are and where they’re going, I can create a whole environment around it pretty easily.”
Alan recommends the dealer charge $150 to $200 for this preliminary design plan. “The expectation is not that the hot tub dealer is going to do [the whole design], but that they would give tips and speak intelligently about what the backyard could become.”
Refer to a Designer
Once you’ve laid the groundwork for a homeowner to have an amazing backyard space, bring in the landscape designer. “Dealers can throw out ideas — but not numbers — and then have someone else to lean on,” Alan says. This is where a partnership with local landscape firms can be of benefit, he adds, with referrals working both ways.
“If I were in the spa business, I would refer the most business to those who send me the most business,” Galloway says, recommending that dealers list five to 10 designers who are ready and available. In return, those landscape designers could send homeowners your way when the design includes a hot tub.
If the homeowner wants a backyard overhaul that will take several weeks, work with the designer on the hot tub install. “Why not just sell the hot tub and let it sit until they’re ready to take delivery?” Galloway says. “That’s what all my clients do when I send them down to pick out a hot tub. We may be two months out from installing it, but I know that the minute I’m ready for it, I call and they deliver it — and that’s the relationship I have with them.”
The key, Galloway says, is showing the homeowner the importance of design. “The hot tub dealer should emphasize that it’s really important to get…the hot tub in the right place” and create a good flow, Galloway says. “My best advice is just to say that design is super important and we have some great designers we can refer you to.”
Tool for the job
Since its 2001 debut, pool builders have been using Pool Studio to plan backyard layouts, design pools and present plans to customers. While initially the software was perceived as an investment spa retailers couldn’t justify, Pool Studio now has a loyal user base of spa retailers since releasing features just for hot tubs. A pared-down version of the original software allows retailers to superimpose a 3D model of a hot tub over the backyard space, demonstrating for customers exactly how a hot tub will look on their deck.
“They won’t be using many of the advanced functions because they’re doing more limited projects,” says Noah Nehlich, founder of Structure Studios, makers of Pool Studio. “That’s what makes it super easy. If you’re doing a pool or landscaping, there’s a lot of drawing and design that goes into it. Here, you just drop in the assets we’ve created.”
Those assets: a digital library filled with 3D hot tubs and spa accessories that users simply drop into photographs of an actual backyard space. “It cuts the design time down to five or 10 minutes,” Nehlich says.
Just as the software allows users to project how a spa will look in a yard, retailers can also flip the vantage points and project the surroundings as seen from inside the future hot tub. As a bonus, the software helps customers visualize the importance of empty space, which is needed to accommodate accessories like cover lifts and steps.