Manufacturers focus on making water care easier for dealers and consumers
By Keith Loria
David Wood says chemical sales for water care is a huge problem in the hot tub industry — one that many retailers, dealers and manufacturers are trying to solve.
“We’ve interviewed tons of homeowners and maintenance is the No. 1 concern of those buying a hot tub,” says Wood, managing partner of Ouster Water Solutions, creators of Bio Ouster, and former publisher of SpaRetailer. Wood says alternative sanitizer systems introduced to the market (ozone, salt, etc.) help people with chemicals, but that homeowners have misconstrued that as a replacement for chemicals, “and that’s a problem.”
Hot tub owners may then rely on just the new system, eventually seeing cloudy water, and only then go to the dealer for help.
“The truth is, [we find] 80 percent of people get tired of taking care of their spas and lose control of their tubs because they don’t watch their chemistry, and something goes wrong and the hot tub isn’t fun anymore,” says Bob Snodgrass, senior vice president of AquaFinesse, which offers an environmentally friendly formula called SpaClean that loosens the layer of organic debris from surfaces.
Melinda Scheble, assistant manager of product management for Watkins Manufacturing — which now offers the Freshwater Salt System in the Caldera Utopia, HotSpring Highlife and HotSpring Limelight series — says some view the hot tub industry as “water wasters” because of how often the hot tub water needs to be drained and refilled.
“Other [chemical manufacturers] will tell you to drain and refill once a quarter,” Sheble says. “That’s a lot of water in a year. With this new system, draining and refilling is not required for a year. That’s a ton of water savings every year. The cool thing about Freshwater is it’ll keep [the water] OK even when you’re not using it.”
Susan Dolnik, director of sales and marketing for SilkBalance in Bellingham, Washington, says when a dealer recommends a water care product, it has to be something they trust.
“We wanted to make sure the product we’re providing to them that they’re reselling to their customers is something that’s going to lend to their credibility as a dealer,” Dolnik says. “Innovation has always been at the forefront of what SilkBalance is as a company.”
Dolnik adds that the whole idea of its new SilkBalance Gems is to make water care as simple as possible for the customer. Customers buy their hot tubs for all the health and wellness benefits, she says, not realizing that poor water care will prevent them from experiencing those benefits.
“They’ll buy their hot tub and after a week or two weeks or a couple of months, the water won’t feel great and they’ll get in it less and less,” she says. “We wanted to give customers the simplest water maintenance program possible, keeping it as natural as possible because that’s what everybody wants.”
Products like pHin are helping to bring the internet of things to hot tub water care as well. The pHin floats in the hot tub, tracking and monitoring the water chemistry, and alerting users and dealers when things get out of whack. It can also send the consumer back to the dealer to purchase chemicals when they are running low. Recently, pHin introduced an in-line version of the technology.
Many manufacturers are helping their partners by offering auto ship programs, service programs, warranties and mobile apps that help to tie the customer to a dealer. This keeps hot tub owners from simply purchasing chemicals from Amazon or big-box stores.
O-Care is a Netherlands-based company that offers a water conditioner kit that provides up to five months of constant pH and water balance, and the company is working with dealers to sell subscriptions to customers, so they always have what they need.
“Once you get [autoship] into the DNA of a retailer, [it’s easy] to put a sticker on a box and have 50 or 60 boxes going out every month,” says Roel Fassbender, owner of the company. “It really adds value to your end-user as well.”
Mindy Walsh of Alternative Water Care Solutions says, “The industry is at a really interesting shift right now. We’ve gone from where it’s all built on personal relationships, but the customer doesn’t want that anymore, so we have to shift to the customer’s needs.”
Norm Coburn, owner of New England Spas in Natick, Massachusetts, says it’s important to remain connected to customers so they are successful in maintaining clean healthy water, which in turn promotes more usage of the product and helps spread the word for generating referrals.
“A happy hot tubber should be the goal of all retailers,” Coburn says. “Retention of our customers’ ongoing business is important for revenue generation, as well as producing future spa purchases, such as trade ups, and/or second- and third-time buyers.”
The best way to compete for the aftermarket business, he says, is to provide added value services to customers.
“We train them in the beginning with our EZ Water Care Programs, and continue to provide ongoing support surrounding proper water care, including free water testing and troubleshooting,” Coburn says. “We keep track of their purchasing history and make notes when we interact, so there is a convenient record and consistency in the advice any of our staff can provide.” This approach, he adds, allows employees to look up information relevant to each customer and make product suggestions like a new filter or mineral cartridge.
“We provide a large selection of natural water care products and can inform the customer as to their treatment options to maximize their hot tub experience, using a minimum of toxic chemicals,” Coburn says. “We have also found a significant portion of our customers would like us to provide water care services, which we call our Valet Program. This program continues to grow for us and offers weekly, biweekly and service options.”
Mark Henderson, president of Hot Tub Serum, based in Medford, New Jersey, is so confident in his products ability to maintain proper pH that it offers a warranty to consumers who use its autoship program.
“Most jets fail because of water chemistry,” Henderson says. “That’s either caused by low pH conditions that result in too much acid and the plastic begins to deteriorate, or a high pH condition that causes too much calcium on the ball bearings and the jets stop spinning. If you can hold the pH in the water directly at center, around a 7.5 pH level, the life span of the jet will be greatly increased.”
To keep customers coming back to the stores where they purchased the hot tub, Hot Tub Serum offers a lifetime warranty on its jets as long as customers utilize the company’s chemicals on a regular basis — and they must be purchased from where the hot tub was bought. “If someone is using Serum on a weekly basis, and water chemistry is the culprit for a jet failing, we will replace it,” Henderson says. “We are the only chemical company in the industry to offer this program to our dealers.”