Hot tub valet services deliver profits, other benefits
By David Conrads
For many spa retailers, starting a hot tub valet service is an enticing but formidable task. Typically offered on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis, a valet service involves sending a service technician to a customer’s house to perform routine spa maintenance jobs — filter cleaning and replacement, water testing and balancing, tub floor vacuuming, seasonal draining and filling, and the like.
The logistics of starting such a service — purchasing trucks and equipment, hiring staff, calculating service areas, devising efficient routes and establishing competitive pricing — can be substantial. Once initial details are worked out, retailers find it can be worth the effort, yielding profit and other benefits.
Southern Pools and Spas in Bristol, Virginia, offers a biweekly and monthly valet service to its spa customers. Before the company started its valet service, it asked customers what they’d be willing to pay.
“Most people think what we came up with was very reasonable,” says Josh Arnold, general manager. “It has to be cheaper than a pool cleaning because, in people’s eyes, it’s less water and less work. Most of the time, they are right.”
The company keeps a tight service radius around its two stores in Bristol, Virginia, and Kingsport, Tennessee. “It’s not profitable to travel long distances on the valet program,” Arnold says.
For Southern Pools and Spas, offering a valet service makes a lot of sense. “It’s an extra avenue of revenue, especially in the winter, when the pool business is gone and things are slow,” Arnold says. “It also shows our customers that we are there for them, for anything they need.”
For Jeff Bailey, owner of Spring Dance Hot Tubs (and co-host of The SpaRetailer Podcast) in Jamison, Pennsylvania, offering a hot tub valet service made fiscal sense. “The best part of offering this service is the customer wants it and is willing to pay for it,” he says.
Spring Dance’s most popular service is a bi-monthly service. Swim spa valet is handled the same as hot tubs but with a higher service charge, commensurate with the extra time and water care larger vessels require.
“Handling the routes in the beginning is tough because they’re scattered throughout your selling market,” Bailey says. “If you stick with it, it becomes easier to manage as more customers come on board. It builds an additional profit center, making your business more attractive when you are ready to sell it.”
While Bailey cites increased profits and the ability to keep service staff busy as the biggest benefits, he says offering a valet service presents other advantages as well.
“All of our service techs are cross-trained to do valet, and a nice benefit of the valet service is that the valet techs can also learn the service side of the business,” he says. “We have several trucks on the road every day in my market and that really helps us to give better overall service to our customers that need service in a pinch.”
Many spa retailers offer drain-and-purge services, either as part of the valet service or as a separate offering. Spring Dance Hot Tubs started its drain-and-purge service first, though now it’s rolled into the company’s valet service.
Ouster Water Solutions, manufacturer of a line of water care products in Scottsdale, Arizona, offers hot tub valet service products for retailers who want to offer a drain-and-purge option for their customers. According to David Wood, the company’s managing partner, an advantage of performing a hot tub purge at a customer’s home is to let homeowners see with their own eyes the contaminants that come from the spa’s interior plumbing system.
“It’s really about education,” Wood says. Many customers, he says, are astounded when they see all the gunk that results from the company’s Ouster Restoration cleanse and want to prevent their hot tubs from becoming that filthy again.
Wood is also a believer in the additional benefits of companies offering valet and drain-and-purge services, beyond the extra revenue they bring.
“Drain-and-purge programs are often ignored during good economic times, but are the lifeline during a market slow down,” he says. “Spa dealers who thrived in the 2008 to 2011 recession had extensive spa service, valet and drain-and-clean programs. That revenue covered a significant amount of employee and fixed overhead expenses when new tub sales plummeted.”
Dave Wooldridge, president and sales manager of Two Men and a Spa Dolly in Arnold, Missouri, also sees benefits of offering a valet service beyond simple added revenue.
“Lenders definitely look at your portfolio before approving loans,” Wooldridge says. “If you look like a 12-month company and less seasonal, that helps with the approval process.”
Two Men and a Spa Dolly offers weekly, biweekly, monthly and quarterly service. Swim spas are serviced along with regular spas, just with more time allocated to those jobs. Like many spa companies that offer valet service, the company also separately offers drain-and-purge service for an added fee. In addition to providing a convenience to customers, Wooldridge says, their drain, clean and fill service also allows the company to stay in front of potential problems with a customer’s spa and to be proactive with repairs.
Kelly King, owner of Mountain Hot Tub in Bozeman, Montana, says his company grew its valet service in steps, offering service in a particular area only after there was enough interest. With Montana’s long winters, the overhead on vehicles and the number of jobs his technicians can perform in a day is significantly less than for spa companies in warmer climates. Mountain Hot Tub now has four full-time valet techs in the field, plus an in-house manager and part-time assistant manager.
“Routing is key to profitability,” King says. “In areas that have high concentration of accounts, we can service a lot of spas in a short amount of time. It also allows us to leave a hose running on a timer so we can return to it instead of waiting for a spa to fill before we leave. But in areas that are farther away and spread out, we may not have the luxury of returning the same day to pick up a hose on a timer.”
Drain-and-clean jobs are a big part of Mountain Hot Tub’s valet program, both as part of a quarterly valet package and quarterly service by itself. King says their valet customers are an important part of his company’s revenue portfolio.
“Research indicates these customers will help carry our business in a downturn,” King says. “They will be loyal to our company when it comes to buying their next spa. Their contribution to our business by word-of-mouth as happy hot tub owners may be hard to measure, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it makes a difference.”
Additionally, King says the value of their valet service contributed to their obtaining a substantial loan through the Small Business Administration to fund the building of a new facility. “Being able to add that recurring revenue line to our P&L definitely has advantages.”