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Parking Lot Profits

Hot tub tent sales need big visuals to attract customers

You’re driving along listening to the radio, when ahead you see a big white tent with banners waving in the wind. There wasn’t one there yesterday. Curiosity takes over, and you look to see what’s happening. In big letters, the banners shout HOT TUBS plus a local business’s logo.

There is a very good reason some of your peers and competitors are going to the considerable effort of having tent sales: They work very well when done correctly.

Shawn Maynard, owner of Bullfrog Spas of Northern Utah, looks first at locations. He wants a good-size parking lot for a business that attracts lots of local traffic with consistent customers, such as a grocery store or hardware store. Visibility is important — but not as much as strong traffic.

Bullfrog Spas of Northern Utah tent sale

“Put up a tent and people will come,” says Jamie Severs, general manager for Lifestyles Hot Tubs, which has nine Michigan locations. “Driving along, we need to stop and see what’s in the tent.”

 Severs decides where to put tents based on the locations of Lifestyles’ nine stores. He looks for locations in busy mall parking lots, including Meijer grocery stores and Petsmart. Regular customers will feel comfortable going into a tent in their familiar lot. Severs advertises tent sale incentives on billboards, his storefront and road signs. Often, potential customers will stop in the store to get a quote, then drop into the tent sale. They’ll see the additional discounts and realize buying at the sale is a better deal. 

Severs is cautious about flooding the market, so he doesn’t do tents in the same areas too often. His goal is to set up the sales far away from each other throughout the Lifestyles service area, ideally having the sales spaced between two stores so customers can also visit the store closest to them.

Maynard looks for areas that are somewhat remote and at least 30 miles away from one of his stores so there’s a sense of urgency for the customer to buy now rather than travel all those miles to a store.

Black Pine Spas tent sale at the Washington State Fair

Attracting Customers

Other than the 20-by-40-foot tent branded with the Bullfrog Spas logo and HOT TUB SALE banners, Maynard uses 30 flags around the perimeter. Flags are latched to tent posts so they flutter in the wind above the tent top. Other flags go around the property and its perimeter. If he’s using a generator, he’ll add tube dudes (giant inflatables) to attract attention.

Maynard traded a hot tub for a camping trailer, which he wrapped with the Bullfrog Spas of Northern Utah logo. This trailer also becomes the office at off-site events. Additionally, a hot tub is tilted up in the back of a high truck so it can be seen from the road. He also utilizes a branded monster truck with “tires that come up to your chin.” It’s a hit with adults and kids alike, he says, and is a great photo op for selfies and families.

Severs uses 4-by-12-foot banners, and several blue and silver Mylar helium balloons. Once the tent sale is over, these balloons are still flying and get transferred to the nearest store. If a customer says they just missed the sale, a staff member will offer the customer the sale price.

Until the snow falls, Severs lights the spas and adds LED rope lighting around the toe kicks of each spa to make the tent glow as the sun fades. A generator easily powers all the lights as well as some space heaters in the colder months. The tent set-up is as similar to the stores as possible, with shrubs to break up the rows of spas, signs, banners and balloons. Combined with the lights, the tent becomes an appealing, showroom-like experience with the excitement of an impromptu sale, fresh air and an unusual location.

Maynard lines up the spas so there is room to walk around and also adds patio furniture. “Depending on the space, we’ll angle the smaller spas into diamonds,” he says. “Each unit has a [matching] stand with a placard sign. We show a lot of merchandise. Too few pieces don’t sell. We have at least eight spas, plus a swim spa.”

Audio is as important as visual appeal. Since generators can be noisy, Maynard asks the power company to put in a temporary drop (like a construction site) so he can have electricity on-site. He has his own post with a meter, which makes the power company happy, too.

Giveaways, Handouts and Food

If the tent sale is in a grocery store lot, Maynard will put inserts into customers’ bags twice a week for at least two weeks before the event. To notify the public, Severs sends email blasts to past customers, informing of the upcoming tent sales and manufacturer discounts. The reduced cost doesn’t affect the salespeople, which gives them incentive to sell well.

Each Lifestyles tent sale has a barbecue going with hot dogs and burgers. Free bottled water, seltzer and pop — especially Mountain Dew — is offered to customers and browsers. Severs will often eat when a potential customer does. “It becomes more friendly and personal when you break bread together,” he says. “People will hang out longer and feel more inclined to engage with a salesperson when they are welcomed in by food. It’s a gift, and they know and appreciate it.”

If you’re considering a tent sale, remember that how it looks matters. Don’t skimp on the size of your banners, as they need to be seen from a distance. Aim for a strong contrast — dark letters on a white or light tent. Yellow or light blue on white won’t read from a distance. Add anything that moves: balloons, tube dudes and beach-type flags in bright colors attract attention. Lights, especially as the sunlight wanes, are important; tents tend to be dark. Organization is everything. Be prepared and make it fun for you, staff and customers.

“There are times when the ROI manifests right away,” Maynard says, “and others when we make friends and sell later.” Sometimes he’ll hear, “I saw you at this event,” and he’ll know the tent sale from months ago is finally paying off.


Remember:

  • Get a permit to put up the tents
  • Plug rent and fees into your hot tub prices
  • Follow local ordinances
  • Write up a step-by-step procedure for staff to have a successful tent event in each municipality, including rules and regulations plus items — including décor — to bring to each event
  • Have a dedicated toolbox for off-site events with everything needed to hang, install and connect your structure and design elements

Jamie Severs
general manager
Lifestyles Hot Tubs, Michigan


LINDA CAHAN is an internationally known expert in visual merchandising strategy and store design. She gives seminars, workshops, trains and consults for chain stores and independent retailers. Along with SpaRetailer, she writes for several other retail magazines, and is the author of two books and seven corporate visual standards manuals. Cahan lives in West Linn, Oregon. lindacahan.com

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