The empty space where swim spas would be on display at Oregon Hot Tub.

Selling Swim Spas Sight Unseen

Dealers share strategies for selling swim spas in a pandemic

Spas of Portland has been out of swim spas since June, including display models, but owner Brian Wasik says his Portland, Oregon, store is still selling one to two swim spas a week. At his Spas of Montana locations in Missoula and Helena, swim spas are on display — but they’re just waiting to be delivered to the customer.

“I’ve been ordering consistently,” Wasik says. “I was a little behind the curve in the beginning, but I’ve planned pretty well with quite a bit of product coming through now.” When he places an order, he has no idea what he’ll need, but it doesn’t matter: They’ll be sold before they even arrive. His staff is selling spas off the order sheets, sight unseen. The swim spas currently on the floor will be delivered; the swim spas on the next truck will go on the floor until they are delivered and the next shipment comes in.

It’s a continuous cycle with no end in sight. “I’ve got hundreds [of swim spas] on order and everything coming in over the next five to six weeks, almost all of it is sold already,” he says. “It’s a good problem, but everybody has it right now in the industry. If you don’t, you’re doing something wrong.”

Swim Fitness in Rancho Cordova, California, sold its last swim spa display model April 30. Owner Joseph Stone also has a couple models on display in the showroom; they are sold and waiting on customer construction. He expects they won’t be there long, but he has a plan: “I’ve already negotiated with future customers for the same opportunity [to display their swim spa],” Stone says, “at least to have something [on display] in the store.”

Normally, Swim Fitness has five to six swim spas on display instead of two. Stone has moved accessories and other items to fill gaps on the showroom floor until he’s fully stocked again, which he doesn’t expect to happen until 2021.

Swim Fitness sells several Master Spas brands, which Stone says are on their longest backorder timeframe in company history, averaging five to six months lead time as of August. “I have sold more swim spas in the last 14 weeks than I have in the last three years combined,” he says.

It’s a similar story at Oregon Hot Tub, with five retail stores in the Portland area. Steve Ruscigno, vice president and general manager, says the company has sold over 50 swim spas since the coronavirus pandemic started. Floor models were gone in April and, as of August, the lead time for new orders is 28 weeks, though he expects that to increase. Sales staff is utilizing virtual presentations on the company’s and the manufacturer’s websites. There are also kiosks in select showrooms used for in-person presentations.

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A kiosk video display at Oregon Hot Tub where a swim spa should be.

Stone says he was using virtual presentations in the beginning of the shutdown as well. “I would use Google Earth to get an overview of the property, then use Facetime or Zoom to show information for both the showroom and the backyard,” he says. Now, Stone is back to showings and swim tests with strict appointments to ensure he is the only person in the showroom with only one or two customers at a time, all masked. “Before and after every showroom viewing, we sanitize the entire facility,” he says.

Spas of Montana has two customers who are allowing potential buyers to come to their home for scheduled wet tests. “They’re nice customers who we’ve built relationships with, and we give them free filters and chemicals [in exchange],” Wasik says. “They’re really good ambassadors. They talk about how much they love [the swim spa] when people come out there. That tends to help close the deal.”

Ruscigno says the fact that potential buyers may not be able to do a wet test can be problematic, “but with the popularity of [swim spas] even pre-pandemic, it’s not a deal breaker,” he says.

If the manufacturer doesn’t have video of the swim spa, Wasik recommends dealers take their own. A great way to do that, he says, is calling a customer who may have a filter or chemical delivery and asking to take video of the swim spa while there. He also says dealers should have customer reviews on their website and social media.

Another option, Wasik says, is to have potential customers call a short list of reliable and established customers for feedback about their swim spa. (Be sure to get the go ahead from that customer for others to call them first.)

While Wasik acknowledges that some dealers don’t want to sell their floor models fearing an empty showroom, it doesn’t worry him. He’ll give a discount to customers who are willing to wait, but if they want the swim spa on the floor, they get it. “I think you’re losing sales,” he says. “I’d rather take the bird in the hand. It’s just a tough pitch for you to tell a customer, ‘I’m going to sell you this, but I’m not going to let you have it.’ If it’s there and they want to write me a check, I’m all for it.”