sealing the deal

Sealing the Deal

Retail veterans delve into the nitty gritty of sales

Sales are the core of a spa retailer’s business. And while many aspects of selling remain constant, others have changed profoundly in recent years. 

The sales process starts when a customer walks through the showroom door. How does a salesperson know whether that customer is serious about buying, or if they’re just browsing?

We believe that everyone who walks through our door has a purpose in mind. It’s our job to ask the right set of questions to understand their reason for stopping in.”

Scott Clark, The Spa and Sauna Co.

Scott Clark, owner and CEO of The Spa and Sauna Co. in Reno, Nevada, started working at his parents’ small retail store when he was a young teenager and has been in the hot tub business for 35 years. “We believe that everyone who walks through our door has a purpose in mind,” he says. “It’s our job to ask the right set of questions to understand their reason for stopping in.” 

Thompson (right), sales manager at The Spa and Sauna Co. in Reno, Nevada.

Clark says it shouldn’t take a salesperson long to determine if the customer needs to order a hot tub right away to finish a project or is simply gathering information for a future purchase. “Prejudging a sale is the kiss of death,” Clark adds. “Someone in overalls driving a beat-up pickup truck might be your best sale of the year.”

According to Al Eckert, regional sales manager at Litehouse Pools & Spas in Cleveland, Ohio, a salesperson really doesn’t know how serious customers are when they enter the showroom, but that doesn’t matter. A salesperson should be able to determine early in the initial conversation where the customer is in the buying process. 

“If the customer is not a serious shopper, it is our job to create excitement about hot tub ownership,” he says. “To plant the seed and turn the looker into a buyer.” 

When Donny and Melissa Stiver opened Stiver’s Backyard & Leisure in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2020, they made it a point never to make assumptions about anyone who walked through their doors. 

“Yes, we need to sell large-ticket items in order to stay open,” Donny Stiver says. “But our primary job is not to sell. It’s to supply the best customer service and industry knowledge available.” 

Donny Stiver, owner of Stiver’s Backyard & Leisure in Colorado Springs, Colorado, sees his job as less about sales, as much as it is about helping the customer find what they are looking for.

The Stivers currently run the business themselves, without any employees. In time, Donny Stiver expects that will change. “When the time comes that we can start bringing on a full-time staff they will understand that their job is to become customer advocates,” Stiver says.

If a sale isn’t closed on the first visit, then following up with potential customers is important. Different retailers have different approaches to the process. 

Eckert has found texting to be the most effective method of follow-up communication. “Within 24 hours, we will reach out to the customer via text to thank them for visiting and to ask if they have thought of any more questions after their visit,” Eckert says. “From that point, we will touch base with them weekly to ask how their research is going and perhaps offer additional information about the product.”

Spa retailers interact with customers of different ages, incomes and stages of life. What’s the difference between selling to customers in their 20s and 30s versus those in their 50s or older? Steve Binegar, owner of The Spa & Patio Center in The Villages, Florida, doesn’t see much. “No matter the age, they are either looking to purchase a spa for therapeutic purposes, for entertainment or both,” he says.  

For Stiver, every client is different and their reasons for wanting a tub are almost never the same. He generally finds the younger clients less experienced and more in need of an education on everything from maintenance to hydrotherapy to add-ons. Many older customers, he says, have owned a hot tub before and already know what they want. They also tend to be interested mainly in the tub’s therapeutic value and less in pricey add-on features, like audio systems and surround LEDs.

“I’ve also had the reverse,” Stiver adds. “I’ve sold to the 35-year-old soccer player who needed the healing power of hydrotherapy and the 65-year-old who wanted all the bling available. You need to be able to read your client.”  

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Eckert has worked with a lot of customers in the 32 years he has been selling hot tubs. 

“What I notice is that younger buyers are more willing to use financing for their purchase and more inclined to go over their budget to get the tub they like,” he says. “The older buyers tend to pay up front to get the cash discount and will settle for the spa that fits their budget, possibly because the spa is part of a larger outdoor project. The trend for shoppers who are retired is to stay with the smaller models so they can fit them into an enclosure.” 

How long does it typically take to close a sale? The short answer: Somewhere between several hours and several years. 

“Most of our sales take months,” Binegar says. “There are typically many phone calls and store visits before the spa is ordered. We always encourage customers to take a test soak.”

Clark has had a similar experience at his company’s six locations in Nevada and California. “Most interactions in person on the showroom floor last one to two hours,” he says. “Often, customers have done considerable research prior to the store visit and it’s our job not to mess things up. These prospects often close the first visit. We have other prospects that, for a variety of reasons, take literally years to close. Well over half our sales close within the first two weeks of initial contact.”

While most retailers have seen little change in the demographic makeup of their customers, some aspects of the sales process have changed significantly in recent years. 

Eckert learned early in his career that customers make two decisions when they buy a hot tub: which model to buy and who to buy it from.

The salesteam of Litehouse Pools & Spas in Cleveland, Ohio.

“We used to spend an equal amount of time between selling the features of the spa, and selling ourselves and the company,” he says. “Now it is easy for customers to learn about the spas on their own and they usually have done enough research to know which brand they like before they shop at a store. We now spend most of our time selling ourselves and the company, by focusing on their expectations and showing them how we can provide the best ownership experience.” 

The pandemic changed things, however. “COVID threw the whole industry for a loop,” Stiver says. “For almost two straight years it seemed like everyone and their dog wanted a hot tub.”

COVID threw the whole industry for a loop. For almost two straight years it seemed like everyone and their dog wanted a hot tub.”

Donny Stiver, Stiver’s Backyard & Leisure

While the pandemic caused demand for hot tubs to skyrocket, with mandatory business closures in many states, retailers had to find ways to sell to customers they couldn’t meet in person. 

“The pandemic accelerated our use and acceptance of technology and the ways our team communicates with customers,” Clark says. “Our team adapted very quickly to finding new and unique ways to communicate with prospects who we couldn’t meet in person. These skills have carried through and our most successful sellers use multiple ways to communicate and sell.” In the past 32 months, Clark says the business has seen an influx of hundreds of new customers that it may have never seen otherwise. 

For Eckert, the pandemic created a different set of problems. “Aside from the obvious supply chain issues, the biggest change from the pandemic has been the labor force, especially for retail and commissioned sales,” he says. “Our biggest challenge continues to be maintaining adequate staffing levels.” 

Like so many things in life, some aspects of sales stay the same while others are constantly changing. With his 35-year perspective, Clark sums it up this way: 

“Sales is an ever-evolving process that, in the end, stays the same. The tools we use to deliver our messages have changed, but people buy from people.” The bonds formed with customers, whether in person, online or over the phone, are another constant for Clark, who adds, “Building relationships and trust with our customers and prospects, delivering on our promises and not over promising, all play the biggest roles in long-term sales success.”