Dealers and reps report growing number of swim spa sales
by Andrew Lisa
Expanding into swim spas pits hot-tub dealers against reduced product familiarity, higher price tags, longer sales cycles and more demanding clientele. Swimming against the current, in fact, is a fitting metaphor. Many of those who take on the risk, however, are learning that swim spas can be a lucrative product line with massive growth potential.
Swim spa dealers from the mid-Atlantic region, the Pacific Northwest, Southern California and Canada deal with different customers, climates, cultures and challenges. All, however, are expanding their businesses and selling more swim spas every year.
Canada: Taking the Plunge in Frigid Waters
Ontario, Canada — is not exactly swimming pool country. But for Ro Mehta, co-owner of Arctic Hot Tubs, the unforgiving weather is a blessing in disguise.
“In Canada, we have very short, nicer seasons and very long winters,” Mehta says. “People don’t have time to enjoy swimming pools, but swim spas are year-round.”
Throughout its 14-year history, Arctic Hot Tubs has worked with only one manufacturer: Arctic Spas, based in Alberta. When Arctic Spas released a line of “all-weather pools,” as Mehta prefers to call them, Arctic Hot Tubs entered the swim spa business with them. “We figured if we could sell half a dozen to eight the first year, we’d be ecstatic,” Mehta says.
All-weather pools now represent a full 10 percent of their business in terms of units sold. “Every year, it’s gone up for the past five years since we started,” Mehta says. “We see growth every year. We sold 40 last year. It’s incredible.”
Built specifically for frigid conditions, the Arctic Spas line consists of big, rugged machines with names like Wolverine, Kingfisher and Juneau.
The eight-seater “Ocean” model is by far its most popular; Mehta says it doubles as an entertainment hub where the entire family can bond. Learning to sell swim spas on family entertainment value was a precursor to Mehta’s success.
“We had to put a different spin on how to sell these,” Mehta says. “Before, customers wanted a pool or a hot tub. There was nothing that could do both. Now we say, ‘Before you dig a hole in the ground, check out this thing.’ ”
A massive real-estate boom has also put wind at his back.
“The amount of homes they’re building right now is absolutely incredible, and the yards are getting smaller and smaller, which is why swim spas work so well,” Mehta says. “You can fit it in your yard, you have 365 days a year and it’s not as expensive as a pool. It lets customers check off a lot of boxes.”
In the end, Mehta says he only sees his all-weather pool market growing.
So-Cal Pool Party
There are by far more pools in California than anywhere else in the country. So how does a retailer in Orange County sell swim spas when backyard pools are as common as taco trucks or palm trees? For Bill Allan of Coastal Spas, drought and population density do much of the work for him.
“In Southern California, people are always concerned about water and usage,” Allan says. “You’re talking 2,000 gallons versus 15,000 gallons for a full pool.” There is also the matter of space: “We don’t have a lot of land out here and people have smaller backyards,” Allan says. “But they still like to swim.”
For Allan, it’s all about getting as many eyeballs on his swim spas as possible, which is why he showcases them everywhere from garden shows and street fairs to drag races and hockey games.
“Most of my sales don’t happen in my showroom,” Alan says. Instead, he goes “any place where there are a lot of people. Fill it up, and a whole bunch of people will come up asking questions.”
Allan bought his first swim spa, one single unit, in 2006. Last year he sold more than 70, which represents a significant chunk of his overall annual sales of around 600 units.
He sells three lines. The big, family entertainment-focused Catalina and TidalFit lines represent roughly 80 percent of his business, with the rest going to higher-end models from Endless Pools.
“It keeps growing,” Allan says. “It’s a big part of my business.”
Redefining Hydrotherapy in the Great Northwest
Rob Kaplan operates Black Pine Spas in Edmonds, Washington, where swimming pools are a rare sight. “It’s one of those markets where an in-ground pool can devalue a property,” Kaplan says.
A relatively new arrival to the industry, Kaplan has learned selling swim spas is a different animal than selling hot tubs: a bigger investment and a longer purchasing cycle. Kaplan keeps 25 or so units in the showroom, saying that visibility is key. “People want to see what they’re going to buy,” Kaplan says.
His biggest seller is a 14-foot model from TidalFit that customers buy for family entertainment as much as for doing laps.
A more unique demographic, however, has also emerged as a reliable customer base. People with physical limitations know the word “hydrotherapy” is not limited to hot tubs.
“We’re seeing more and more folks who are interested in swim spas for physical therapy,” Kaplan says. “We had a wonderful customer last year who has MS. She does a little bit of swimming, but she uses the spa mostly for physical therapy and resistance.”
The customer, Kaplan says, cleverly modified standard swim spa exercise equipment for the specific rehabilitation needs of her condition. “She was in the store a few months ago after having the swim spa for about a year, and she was very proud to show how much her mobility improved,” Kaplan says. “She’s able to move in ways that weren’t possible before she got the swim spa.”
Kaplan says he is seeing more and more seniors, or people who have an injury or an ailment, wanting to do physical therapy in a swim spa. He says he sells “a little north of 50” swim spas a year, and estimates they make up roughly 10 percent of his business.
“It’s definitely accelerating,” Kaplan says. “More people are interested in them, and more people are buying them.”
Selling Swim Spas to People Who Sell Swim Spas
As the factory rep for Master Spas in the Mid-Atlantic, Dave Henry sells not to end users, but to retail dealers. He says he drives their business by helping them with training and acting as a go-between with the factory.
Henry sells two lines for Master Spas: The larger, roomier H2X Fitness line is the most popular, and the higher-end Michael Phelps Signature Series “is for hardcore swimming,” Henry says. A longtime rep, Henry has had a front-row seat to the swim-spa revolution: “I’ve been with Master Spas since before they even had the Michael Phelps line. So I’ve seen swim spas grow, not only in our company, but within the industry, and it’s been pretty exciting.”
People buy for all different reasons: There are swimmers who want to continue the practice, “but are tired of going to the Y,” Henry says.
Others are Gen Xers who, unlike their baby boomer parents, don’t plan on owning the same house for decades.
“If they move from Pennsylvania to Florida, we can move the swim spa with them,” Henry says.
Another benefit is that homeowner associations look at swim spas more like hot tubs and allow them where pools might be forbidden.
“This allows you to get into these gated communities,” Henry says. “Also, it doesn’t change your tax assessment.”
Like Kaplan, Henry reports an influx of individuals seeking relief from injuries, ailments and illnesses. Recent clients included a cancer survivor and a woman with MS.
“They want relief from the pain that plagues them day in and day out,” Henry says. “They can justify the purchase because for an hour a day they feel like they don’t have MS or chronic pain. That relief is a big thing driving the industry right now.”
As far as annual sales, Master Spas keeps those numbers close to the vest, but to Henry, the trend is clear. “We were doing well before, but with the swim spas, we’re doing great,” he says. “It’s a ticket to the next level. It keeps getting better.”