A 45-year veteran of the spa industry, Joe Stone has an infectious excitement about swim spas. Starting in the manufacturing side of the business, he segued to retail store ownership about five years ago when he opened Swim Fitness, now with three locations serving Northern California.
Someone with Stone’s industry pedigree has a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to making the sale at off-site events. “I suggest displaying four swim spas in a combination of your biggest, largest and very best, down to your smallest, entry-level model with a couple of nice, in-between choices,” Stone says.
Stone stresses the need to provide options based on a customer’s budget, interest and lifestyle. “I see retailers who’ll go out to do a parking lot sale or off-site event and take one unit to display,” Stone says. “Just one! And it’s usually their smallest, cheapest swim spa, along with a few other hot tubs.” He says many retailers think they have to compete on price at events, but since most people haven’t seen a swim spa in person before only having a single, dry, entry-level model on display doesn’t help them understand the product. “You need to illustrate the sense of ownership,” Stone says. “Otherwise, it’s like only being allowed to look at an entry-level Kia, not knowing there’s such a thing as a Lexus or Mercedes-Benz and what those carmakers have to offer.”
Stone suggests filling your best unit with water and hiring a swimmer to show it off. “I hire high school seniors and college athlete swim team members,” he says. “The reason I hire swimmers in this age range is that they look like professional swimmers. These athletes are beautiful to watch, too. They glide through the water, don’t splash a lot and they have a big smile on their face when they pop their heads out of the water — it’s a great demonstration and draws an enthusiastic crowd.” He doesn’t reserve this diamond of showmanship for his off-site sales events; he holds such demonstrations inside his three showrooms.
Stone’s choice for off-site venues runs the gamut. “We do a lot of outdoor events, home and garden shows, larger county and state fairs, places where you set up for two or three weeks, and parking lot sales,” Stone says. “We decorate each event to attract people with lots of colorful balloons, signage, a big tent and a bunch of spas.”
If you’ve attended a home show or similar event, you notice many vendors staying within their perceived safety zone around their booth area, handing out brochures or playing games of chance to spur interest. It’s up to you and your staff to lure passers-by into your sales area and invite participation, whether it’s an actual product wet-test or live demonstration. “You have to effectively illustrate the use of the [swim] spa so people say ‘Oh, that’s what this is about,’ ” Stone says. “I don’t think you can offer a more dramatic visual than a live swimming demonstration. Get people to stop, look and begin the sales dialogue. The live demo is an impressive customer magnet. It’s not uncommon for us to have 50 people standing around to watch a swim demonstration. It’s also great affirmation about what you can do in that spa and the benefits it provides for the customer.”
Sean Hunsinger of Spa Show Pro recommends only have a swimmer demonstrate the swim spa at specific times. “The swim demonstration can easily take attention from the conversation between a salesperson working with customers interested in buying a hot tub,” Hunsinger says. “To minimize potential distractions, having the swimmer demonstrate a swim spa at a scheduled time can be used as an event within the event, to generate foot traffic and excitement at your sale or off-site event. Include some Q&A time between the swimmer and the crowd, make it interactive so potential customers can ask questions in a one-on-one environment. The only time I would ever say you shouldn’t do this, is if there are power restrictions at a venue and swim spa can’t be heated or operated at 100 percent.”
Where power concerns restrict operation of the swim spa, Michael Nekahi of Seattle-based Black Pine Spas relies on available electronic sales collateral. “Many of the swim spa manufacturers have beautifully produced demonstration videos available for their retailers,” Nekahi says. “We’ll play those videos on a big-screen LCD TV, mounted near the unit. This allows visitors at an event, the opportunity to see the wide spectrum of what that swim spa model offers them, the exercise equipment: rowing unit, stretch cords, resistance exercises, etc., the types of workouts which can benefit the swim spa owner.”
Exercise, Stone says, is what the swim spa buyer wants, so having a swimming demonstration is a great way to build an interested crowd. “Your customers are not a Michael Phelps–type of swimmer,” Stone says. “They might want to do a little light swimming but they also want to row, do some weight exercises, upper and lower body workouts, they might want to put a treadmill or bicycle in the swim spa. Aquatic therapy is really where the market is for these units. That said, I believe in having swimmers present for the strength of their visual demonstration and because they represent an in-person version of third-party verification for the customer. When the swimmer talks up how great the swim spa is, it carries more weight with the consumer than anything said by a salesperson.” In Stone’s world, the on-site swimmer is a sort of living, breathing testimonial.
It’s $10 to $15 an hour, Stone says, to hire swimmers for a four- to five-hour event. “It’s the most incredible product awareness campaign you could ever do for the fewest dollars possible,” he says. Consider, too, if you have a hometown swim athlete who has become somewhat of a local celebrity, or who has aspirations to compete on a larger stage, the association with that athlete can lend a higher position of expertise for you as the retailer. In the annals of marketing success stories, there is ample, anecdotal and empirical evidence that celebrity association, even at a local level, lends credibility not duplicated with price and item marketing or sales efforts.
Stone knows that his approach to swim spas is a little different from the norm and says that if you want to sell swim spas you must know and understand the product. “Most spa retailers are hot tub guys who want to try and sell a couple of swim spas,” Stone says. “I’m a swim spa guy who wants to sell a couple of hot tubs. That’s a fundamentally different approach to knowing the product you’re selling. I sell very expensive products on purpose. I do not sell on price. Unfortunately, for many retailers, [selling hot tubs] is a quick dollar or impulse buy — an easy $5,000 or $6,000 grab, where someone takes the money and runs. In our case, it’s a $30,000 or $40,000 sale. And with a swim spa, the backyard prep can take six to 12 months to complete before the unit can even be delivered and put in place.”
At off-site and in-store events, Stone has built his success on showing up different in his marketplace. He first creates interest and excitement in the swim spas he sells, while putting a touch of showmanship into each swim spa demonstration.