Surviving an Election Year

Spa retailers discuss how to navigate business in a volatile political climate

This story was written before the covid-19 outbreak. Though the advice is geared toward politics, much of it holds true for helping your business through a pandemic.

An election year is here, again.

But that doesn’t mean it needs to be tricky to score sales. Or that you’ll have political feuds going down in your spa showroom.

Election years are often seen as tough on the economy because consumers are generally more thoughtful with spending — especially when it comes to luxury items like hot tubs. Additionally, it can lead to challenging situations if clear policies aren’t in place regarding political discussions for employees.

For other spa retailers, it’s just not top of mind. “We worry more about the weather than an election cycle — and the weather makes us adapt our spending more than anything else does,” says Eric Cassidy, vice president of the Pennsylvania-based Valley Pool & Spa. “At least we can talk about the weather without upsetting anyone.”

Cassidy says he doesn’t have any indicators this will be a slow year for spa retailers.

“There are no signs inside or outside our business that the election will cause a down year, so we are not planning for one because of it,” he says. “That being said, we do hope other retailers are planning for a soft year in our area because that would continue to give us the upper hand within our market.”

Election year or not, Cassidy believes putting positivity toward the sales process is the most helpful, even in an “uncertain” economy. Encouraging sales members through all sales seasons is a critical part of keeping morale up, he says.

“The most important thing we do is to ensure our team that we are still planning big things for the season, and that there will be little to no change because of an election,” Cassidy says. “If we make it seem to our team that the election cycle worries us, that would then artificially cause a downturn in sales. We have seen in the past that the more positive you stay, the more effective your team in making sales — regardless of outside factors.”

Norm Coburn of New England Spas, with three locations in Massachusetts says planning ahead for change in business is a must — election year or not.

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“The uncertainty of elections can contribute to consumer confidence shifts, which in turn may inhibit spending,” he says. For his business, he doesn’t change his focus much. He and his staff concentrate on creating the best possible customer service.

Coburn recommends evaluating advertising budgets during an election season.

“The advertising dollars injected by candidates can affect our ability to compete within certain media, television especially,” Coburn says. “Rates tend to go up and targeted spots may be unavailable.” As for preparing for any slower seasons, Coburn advises to always have cash set aside and have strong lines of credit.

Other than keeping political discussions to a minimum, expert spa dealers also recommend reducing or eliminating any sort of political affiliation. That goes for sales staff and the actual storefront, too.

“We ban visual political signs, and pins, hats, etc.,” Coburn explains. “It is simply smart salesmanship to avoid potentially controversial subjects.”

When Cassidy was asked if his storefronts would be displaying any sort of political signage this year, he explains it’s not something his company allows — now or in the future.

“While it’s not saying we don’t have strong political opinions, it does say that we believe that everyone has their right to have an opinion and that regardless of that opinion, we want you as our customer,” he says.

When it comes to creating policies surrounding politics in the workplace, there’s no better time than an election year. As an employer, you’re within your rights to create such policies as long as it’s fairly applied to all employees.

If customers bring up politics, however rarely, it’s good to practice a response that subtly redirects the conversation.  “The easiest thing to do when a customer brings up politics is to just [give] a gentle nod or smile and then attempt to move on,” Cassidy says. “This neither says you agree or disagree with the customer, but that you acknowledge what they said and then they can think what they want from it.” Cassidy says he can’t recall a single riff over politics or religion in any of his six stores, however, instead focusing on keeping the sales floor upbeat if sales slow during an election.

“After the last recession and recent election cycles, we made the decision that we do not dwell on issues out of our control,” Cassidy says. “We look at the upcoming election as one of these scenarios. While we always work at being fiscally responsible and work hard to align our sales and expenses with our budget, we are not planning to do anything significantly different. The economy is hot right now, and folks are buying.”