Hot tub retailers dabble in whole-backyard design
By Michelle L. Cramer
Annie Leibovitz, the American portrait photographer perhaps most famous for her photograph of John Lennon the day he was assassinated, is quoted as saying of her own outdoor refuge, “I feel a responsibility to my backyard. I want it to be taken care of and protected.”
Most anyone spending the money to install a hot tub in their backyard likely feels much the same way, which is why customers are increasingly asking hot tub retailers to help them design their entire backyard. They want everything to come together to create a space that reflects who they are, and is a respite.
Importance of Location
Christian Staples, owner of Arctic Spas Utah in Salt Lake City, says designing around the hot tub is all about offering customers what they need to use their hot tub and backyard the way they desire. It starts with the location of the hot tub, which he says should be determined before any additional backyard designing occurs.
“Hot tubs are one of the few 12-month products you can incorporate into an outdoor living space,” says Ken Leonard, president of Carefree Spas in Indianapolis. “The biggest mistake is placing the spa too far from the entry and exit of the house.” He recalls many instances where a hot tub was moved from the ideal visual location to something closer to the home.
“In New England, it gets very cold in the winter, but we want our customers to enjoy their hot tub year round,” says Jamie Burson, owner of Great Bay Spa and Sauna in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “So we always suggest they place their spa as close as possible to an entry to the house and, if at all possible, the ideal entry would be close to a bathroom.”
The Cover Plays a Part
Another important element to consider in a backyard layout design is the hot tub cover. This is an essential part of proper hot tub use and maintenance, but homeowners have a tendency to forget the visual role the cover plays. “Planning on where the cover will go, how it will come on and off the spa and how the spa and spa cover will look when the spa is open or closed is actually much more important than you would think,” Burson says. He adds that it can really keep the customer from enjoying the spa if they don’t consider these elements ahead of time.
Staples says Arctic Spas Utah makes cover recommendations that will provide customers an appealing patioscape. He says they’ve had success upselling the Smartop cover because of the versatility of colors to match cabinetry, including the new decorative overlays that match outdoor furniture and compliment patio décor. The company also sells the fully automatic Covana cover/gazebos, which Staples says are extremely popular.
“Many customers are looking for a privacy screen from neighbors or wind barrier, based upon the location of their hot tub,” Burson adds, mentioning the CoverMate 3 as a good option. “We recently heard from a client that this same spa cover [lift] makes an excellent movie projector screen as well.”
Patio and Deck Design
Once you and your customer determine the location of the hot tub and cover, patio and deck design can commence.
“Many of our customers have an existing deck and want to put the spa there,” Burson says. “But they sometimes overlook how much space the spa will take up. We work with them to ensure they retain or obtain the deck space they want once the spa is in place.” Sometimes, he adds, this requires a different placement of the hot tub or a deck redesign.
The importance of a level, even surface for the hot tub cannot be overlooked. “We’ve had customers who built their own brick patios and place the spa on top,” Burson adds. “Then they find themselves with a lumpy mound of bricks under a tilted spa after 10 years of shifting ground.”
Burson says it’s also important to plan getting in and out of the hot tub when it comes to the deck or patio plan. “Consumers often want that ‘flush’ look to their spa within the backyard design,” he says. “But getting that ‘flush’ look while still making it easy to get in and out of the spa is where we, as experienced professionals, can recommend steps and surrounds to give the spa an attractive look and still make the spa highly functional.”
One option for a flush look is a drop-in hot tub, specifically designed to be submerged into a patio or deck design — often when paired with a pool — and still provide easy access to equipment. “The drop-in spa is a growing design trend,” says Dave Hoffman, national service manager for Fabcote out of York, Pennsylvania. “Offering drop-in spas in backyard landscaping is an excellent way to improve the functionality of the backyard design.”
Arctic Spas Utah offers both fully enclosed and open gazebos. “In either case, they can really make the look of the patio or backyard living space,” Staples says. “They protect users from the elements and also can provide lots of living options, like a built-in bar with stools for eating and drinking around the spa. It becomes a part of the living space.”
Leonard recommends that the hot tub store provide suggestions but prioritize customer preference. “I like decks and gazebos, but they should be a compliment to your home,” he says. “I’ve seen too many that didn’t fit the overall home design. Then again, I’ve sold some burnt orange hot tubs — so let the customer get what they want.”
Creating the Environment
Joe Dodson, director of retail operations at Fox Pool Stores in York Pennsylvania, says they don’t get very involved in landscaping and design around a hot tub, instead pointing its customers to contractors they know and trust. However, it does sell a lot of Marquis Environments.
“We advise our customers to start with a sturdy step, and add storage or corner benches,” Dodson says. “In addition, those people looking to entertain around their spa can add a counter cabinet, which stores all the hot tub items and makes a great spa-side bar table.” There are also shelves, stools, planters and towel bars available to accent the space and color-matched to the spa, he says.
Dodson has seen customers spend $12,000 on a hot tub, then add another $3,000 in environmental accessories. Some customers purchase all at once, while others purchase one item at a time over several seasons. “Overall, this shows us the client is wanting to create a ‘look’ for their hot tub patio,” he says.
Some retailers offer outdoor furniture. Burson recommends smaller tables and stools for customers who have a tiny patio, “but if the customer has a large deck they want to furnish to get more enjoyment out of the space, we show them how they can combine benches, coffee tables, gliders and more to create the perfect seating and relaxing arrangement around the spa.”
Arctic Spas Utah recommends all types of lighting options, recognizing customers want to use their hot tub day and night. “Lighting provides ambiance and beauty,” Staples says. “Not only are we selling landscape lighting, but we’ve also had a lot of success selling lighting built into the steps that lead to the spa. I would say that 95 percent of our spas are sold with some type of step that completes the design of the spa, as well as serving the practical purpose of getting in and out.”
Landscaping Expertise Not Required
While you may consider offering products like outdoor furniture and hot tub accessories, and obviously have expert recommendations regarding the installation of the hot tub, it’s not uncommon for hot tub retailers to partner with local, trusted contractors to help customers get the best design for their backyard.
“We’ve always relied on outside contractors to facilitate any other elements a customer wants in order to get their backyard set for their hot tub,” says Don Riling, president of Olympic Hot Tub in Seattle. “We source a number of electricians and deck folks we can refer to customers. They must all have current license or bonding documents on file with us in order to be referred. We haven’t wanted to incur any responsibility for these pieces should something not go quite right. Nor have we wanted to be in the position to finance those services for customers and then have to pay those contractors once we’ve been funded.”
Leonard says you’re a contractor, landscape designer or neither, and he claims to be neither. “I am a retailer with sales, services and 35-plus years of practical experience that are important enough,” he says. “I tend to let the designers and contractors do their thing, and I keep an eye on the spa portion so that ease of use and maintenance are accounted for.”
“We are not a landscape designer per se,” Burson also says, “but we do work with our customers to provide the look and functionality they desire for their hot tub. Our years of experience help us guide the customer to the best, most practical solutions for their backyard design, while still fulfilling their aesthetic dream look.”