Dealers place large orders to get ahead of hot tub demand
These days, ordering hot tubs takes patience, time and proper planning.
“We have never preordered dozens of hot tubs and swim spas,” says Jennifer Gannon, owner of BonaVista LeisureScapes in Ontario, Canada. “Now we have to — along with water care, toys, robots and pool accessories, as we know they will likely sell out again next year.”
Dealers say unit orders placed now take anywhere from five months to over a year to arrive. What’s a dealer to do when aiming to sell and order that which is not available to show?
First, be willing to take whatever is available when placing an order with manufacturers, including customer returns and factory seconds. It also means preordering more spas than ever and selling those products off sell sheets and websites.
Due to unprecedented demand, Gannon says her manufacturers recommended a preordering process. They started hosting monthly town hall–style Zoom meetings with dealers to keep them informed about inventory changes and other updates. The meetings keep Gannon’s team in the loop when it comes to ordering and what to expect with inventory.
Gannon orders 20 to 50 units at a time, which are scheduled to deliver in eight to 12 months, and she is almost sold out already for 2021. She expects that when the manufacturer gets caught up, she won’t need to preorder so long in advance. “I expect by 2022, the market may contract,” she adds.
To continue selling and processing orders — as well as create a sense of urgency for buyers — Gannon created a “power wall” in her showroom that showcases all sales tags with serial numbers and hot tub features. Ones that have been purchased are marked SOLD across the tag.
“It helps us show the inventory that’s coming when we don’t have much in our showroom,” Gannon explains, “and it’s a quick reference for the models available to help match-make a hot tub with a client. It’s amazing how motivated people are when they see [hot tubs] that are already sold to help them understand how the supply chain is different now.”
Most customers now know they have to wait for hot tubs, and it’s up to the dealers to be honest about how ordering will work.
Melissa Deverell, owner of Cambridge Pool Supplies in Ontario, which sells Bullfrog Spas, says honesty about delivery times, parts and accessory shortages is crucial, as is providing regular updates. “In addition, having an effective lead follow-up system, and POS system that makes tracking easier is very important,” Deverell says.
Bullfrog has pre-assigned spa production slots for each dealer, each month, Deverell says and has slots available for March delivery. “We are [offering] custom orders or buy what we have on order only,” she says. “We do not anticipate having inventory for the showroom for the foreseeable future.”
To keep orders coming in, Brian Wasik, owner of Spas of Montana and Spas of Oregon, asks customers to let him keep their sold spas on the showroom floor for a bit to continue generating interest. “That’s part of ordering every month,” he says. “Even if I pre-sell, most customers will let me hang onto it. Most people don’t mind a few more weeks of being without it.”
Wasik says he takes what he can get when ordering, and lets reps know he’s open to factory seconds or customer returns. In most cases, as soon as a hot tub hits a dealer’s showroom floor, it’s sold.
Audra Johnson, partner at Johnson’s Pools and Spas, LLC in Owego, New York, says her showroom floor is empty for the most part. “Nothing sits for more than a week,” she says, whereas 15 to 20 tubs were normally on her floor year-round. With such high demand comes a need to stay atop ordering.
Wasik has spas coming in every month and has been ordering in advance. As lead times get longer, he orders accordingly. He estimates he is ordering around 50 hot tubs a month right now. “We were at 20 to 25 a month pre-pandemic,” he says.
Even if it’s a bit of a guessing game, Johnson says, it’s better to order than to miss the window to get extra hot tubs in the queue. Her team sells from brochures and keeps an eye on the product coming in, along with the anticipated arrival date.
Johnson carries two lines of American-made hot tubs, and one manufacturer has received her orders through December 2022. The other is a regional manufacturer with a factory nearby whose lead time is about 36 weeks. “I make it a habit to place an order with this factory weekly,” she says. “There is no way to know exactly what tubs to order, we just go with the biggest movers in each line. The next two years are full of unknown supply and demand levels, and we don’t want to be caught short. If we don’t have tubs to sell, we can’t make a living.”
Wasik is weighing his 2021 ordering options as he forecasts his store needs. He says he is ordering and planning “for 75% of what we did in 2020.”
“I think it’s low,” he adds, “but I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot in case it goes sideways.”
While waiting is tough for dealers and customers alike, Gannon says there is a silver lining.
“It’s delayed gratification for the client,” Gannon says. “It’s something positive to look forward to, which during the pandemic may give them hope and optimism.”