Before the pandemic, consumers mostly did their hot tub shopping and purchasing in-store, but 2020 shutdowns forced dealers to turn to the digital space to creatively accommodate changes in shopping behavior as consumers brought more of their business online. Relieving stress and getting to spend family time at home became a top priority for many communities and many hot tub retailers were swift to make the needed changes or capitlalize on the work they’d already put into their digital presence to offer their services.
The evolution of C.C. Steepleton Co.’s website is like many retailers in the hot tub industry. It started as an online catalog and grew to be a lead generation source. But right before the pandemic hit, vice president Gunnar Graven started treating it as his third location to continue to support his consumers who needed to remain home for their family’s safety.
“Over the years the most common [customer] question that we would see is, ‘Great website, but would love to see prices,’ ” Graven says. “I took it a step further and gave them cart, price, availability, everything. I wanted to do X amount of dollars on my website and, once COVID hit, I reached that goal within a month and I did about 7-times that.”
The ecommerce site went live in November 2019, hoping to capture holiday sales. But the pandemic quickly changed Graven’s focus. Initially he intended to put big ticket items on the website, but still drive people into the company’s physical locations to buy chemicals and smaller items. Then Steepleton was forced to close its doors and it quickly became apparent that chemicals needed to be available in the online store. That funneled everything to one channel, allowing them to focus on fulfillment of all items for their consumer needs.
“Now, when a customer buys a hot tub, I send them an email that says ‘Thank you for your hot tub purchase, here’s a link for a discount,’ ” Graven says. “Boom — they’re buying chemicals and very easily it ships to their door. Hopefully I’m beating the Amazons before they get to them.”
Similarly, Atlanta Hot Tub Center already had an e-commerce site up and running pre-pandemic, ready to serve their consumer at a moment’s notice. Owner Brian Johnston has always been very focused with the company’s marketing and online offerings. “When COVID hit we were so set up for the internet it just turned a big can of gasoline upside down,” Johnston says. “Now we’re going to fuel this fire because there’s even more people on the internet.”
“The YouTube channel has been a game changer for us,” Johnston says. “Ultimately we sell through education. When you come in, you basically already know what you want because we’ve done that work upfront.”
The success of the Steepleton’s website has provided Graven a peek into what customers are looking for through the search terms they’re using. With that information, he’s able to test new items online first before he makes a big investment in inventory.
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“If I’m showing 50,000 items in my showroom floor, I can’t afford the rent [on space] for that,” Graven says. “I’ll use the website if I want to introduce some new product lines. It goes up on my website heavily with a full array of offerings, versus if I was going to do it on my showroom floor, I would buy one and see if it takes off. You really can test things out on your website to see how it takes. The analytics are huge too.”
As Johnston watched his web traffic go up despite increasing lead times, he began pouring more money into his online marketing.
“You’ve got more people on the internet than ever before,” Johnston says. “It’s a great opportunity to create more customers, more relationships. I can use this pandemic as a runway.” Like Graven, Johnston also closely watches the analytics to see what people are clicking on and what they’re interested in.
Graven says it’s young millennial parents who are mostly making purchases from his website: “For those customers, [online is] the major way they know how to purchase.”
The volume isn’t huge Graven adds, but it’s consistent. “It’s not greater than either one of my stores, nor do I ever want it to be, but it’s another tool,” he says. “The one thing the website doesn’t get credit for is what it drives into my store, low funnel leads, customers just ready to come in and purchase. It’s been a good closing tool for us.”
Johnston says Atlanta Hot Tub Center’s online success during the pandemic reinforced his strategy.
“We’ve already been shaping our whole organization to have people shop online,” Johnston says. “We’d rather you shop online. It was always moving in that direction, COVID gave it a swift kick.”
Dealers such as C.C. Steepleton and Atlanta Hot Tub Center recognized a new way to offer support during the pandemic. They offered a product that was recognized as high desire when trapped at home and they were setting up to not let their neighbors down.