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An overhead shot shows how The Spa & Sauna Co.’s Reno showroom is displaying hot tubs during the shortage. Photo: The Spa & Sauna Co.

What Can You Sell Now?

Saunas and other big-ticket backyard items offer supplemental sales for retailers

For many spa retailers, showroom floors may be looking a bit sparse. And hot tubs aren’t the only products with long lead times right now, so you will be hard pressed to find new categories you can bring in to help fill the space. For the inventive and industrious though, there are products (and ways to source them) to help fill the gaps.

Selling Hope Over Hot Tubs

Lack of inventory, along with delayed shipping times, has been one of the frustrating aspects of the pandemic. From grills to backyard swing sets and other miscellaneous backyard items, manufacturers can’t fulfill requests fast enough. 

 That’s where honesty and integrity come in, dealers say.

 “Business has been crazy busy — orders up significantly year over year — but not invoiced (i.e. deliveries not made) due to inventory shortages,” explains Norm Coburn, owner of New England Spas. “We are open and honest about lead times in order to set expectations that we may actually over-perform on.”

 Scott Clark, owner of The Spa & Sauna Co., found inventory dwindling in his five locations in Nevada and California. As a 30-year spa retailer veteran, he’s never seen this volume of orders before.

 Because of the inventory issue, Clark had to think on his feet. He ordered saunas and took advantage of scratch-and-dent sales to fulfill short-term needs and showroom space. He also found ordering customized saunas had shorter lead times, which made customers happy. 

 “Right now, our customers just want something to use right away,” Clark says. “The product we have may not be their first choice, but it’s here and available now. That has made a difference.”

 To keep his sales staff well-paid, he offers a combo of a small base salary, commissions and sales volume bonuses. Clark says he believes paying out monthly sales bonuses based on actual sales made — not on what is delivered — has been helpful in keeping his sales staff motivated this year.

A fire pit by The Outdoor GreatRoom Company sits on display in The Spa & Sauna Co. showroom floor. Fire pits and chat sets are great showroom filler products for the current hot tub shortage. Photo: The Spa & Sauna Co.

 Another big-ticket item that gives Clark’s sales team a commission boost? Pool tables. He keeps Brunswick Billiards and Olhausen Billiards on his floor. While both brands have extended lead times, he says buying closeout models helped. He advises other retailers to consider doing the same for pool tables and other products. 

 “We took advantage of a truckload of clearance and closeout models being phased out but at substantial discounts,” Clark says, “which allowed us to have inventory and expanded displays. Because we have so much product on the way, our sellers are selling hope to our customers. Many of the places prospects are calling or visiting are not offering any hope of getting something in a reasonable amount of time.”

 By buying all that inventory, Clark showed his sales staff they could rededicate their hot tub selling techniques to other high-value items. Clark advises retailers to go all in, if possible, when looking at new inventory to add to the sales floor.

 “You need to look like you’re in the business,” he says. “You can’t just put one out. Have a substantial display. Immerse your salespeople in the training and the product knowledge.”

Saunas 

This year, dealers are finding the spa sell-outs have contributed to higher sauna sales.

 Custom saunas, Clark says, are worth the investment at the moment and have a reasonable turnaround rate. He’s had more saunas on order than ever before. One way he’s been able to get saunas in his showroom is through Finnleo’s scratch-and-dent offer.

 “We have also ordered a series of standardized custom models with shorter lead times, as they are built in Minnesota,” Clark says.

 The lead time for sauna delivery is not all that different from what it was pre-pandemic, says Mark Raisanen, general manager of TylöHelo Inc., a Nordic sauna company.

 If retailers have the means to include more saunas in their showrooms, they can do so with easy-to-get custom and higher-end modules.

 He recommends displaying a minimum of three saunas, but floors look best with five or more on display. While saunas aren’t hot tubs, they still offer the advanced heat therapy methods customers want.

 “Custom and deluxe saunas made in our Minnesota plant have reasonable turn-arounds — from two weeks to ten weeks,” Raisanen says. “It is important on the sauna side that dealers understand there is a shortage of portable saunas as well, but those dealers taking advantage of this pandemic are doing so via the custom and higher-end modular sauna route.” 

 On the other hand, plug-and-play saunas are still about four to six months out, so not much different than portable spas, Raisanen says.

Hot Spring hot tubs sit on display in The Spa & Sauna Co. showroom in Campbell, California. Due to the current hot tub shortage, the showroom — which normally has 25 or more spas, plus three swim spas — is more wide-open than usual. Owner Scott Clark has been using pool tables and saunas to fill the space. Photo: The Spa & Sauna Co.

 For dealers interested in infrared saunas, Sunlighten, a Kansas-based infrared sauna company, is currently accepting partnerships with hot tub dealers. Due to its multiple product lines, sizes and product types, partners of Sunlighten have access to inventory, says Cathy Freund, a Sunlighten business development representative.

 “We typically are able to find something in stock, although our demand has been very high, so inventory levels change quickly and it depends on when an order is placed,” Freund says. “Currently, we do have stock on many of our products. Once inventory is depleted, it could take three weeks [for delivery].” 

 Some shipments have taken up to 16 weeks, but Freund says Sunlighten is keeping up inventory to keep pace with demand. 

Start Planning Ahead

Thanks to the spa shortages, retailers have learned to pivot and adopt new business practices to keep cash flow coming. Right now, looking ahead to next year and cementing solid relationships with new manufacturers is the optimal, logical move for many. 

 “It is a very exciting time,” Clark says. “We’re seeing demand at unprecedented levels.”

It’s also taught Clark and his team — and others in the industry — that planning ahead will keep showrooms full and customers and salespeople happy. 

 “[In the past], it’s been sell a spa and deliver three weeks later,” Clark says. “While it’s not uncommon for other businesses to forecast, we haven’t been in that mindset as an industry. Planning for future inventory needs through next summer and executing orders to sell into has also been key to keeping the sales team engaged. While not nearly enough in the short term, we have a steady flow of hot tubs arriving to fulfill existing orders.”


Inventory Ideas to Fill Your Showroom (Now or Next Year)

Crystal Lengua, director of sales and marketing at SMP Specialty Metal Products | Ultralift and president of the Pool & Hot Tub Council of Canada, offers insight on inventory for the showroom. 

Outdoor Kitchen Pieces
Think BBQ grills, pizza stoves, outdoor fryers, fridges, etc. Retailers could team up with a local landscape designer for referrals and to offer customized design opportunities.

Fire Pits
Gas and wood-burning fire pits and chat sets are going to be hot items to sell in fall and winter. Set up a display to help customers envision gathering around the fire on cooler evenings.

Saunas
For those customers who can’t get into heat therapy via hot tubs fast enough due to backorders, a customized sauna is a great secondary option to have on hand.

Cabanas and Pergolas
These are perfect outdoor and backyard additions that are easy to display and take up a good amount of space in showrooms.

Backyard Furniture Sets
Hammocks, hanging chairs and rugs provide a simple and effective way to create visually pleasing showroom displays. Don’t forget fun accessories like pillows, decor and outdoor dinnerware.

Outdoor Electronics
Outdoor televisions and sound systems are welcome additions to backyards this fall as sports teams start their seasons again, and socially distanced backyard parties commence.

Ponds and Other Water Features
Consider pairing up with local landscapers for referral programs to create easy inbound customer leads.

Backyard Lighting
As the cooler months approach, more customers will be spending time in their backyards in the evenings. Consider displaying lighting options in your showroom.

Last but not least, Lengua recommends thinking ahead to Christmas. Now is the time to start bringing in gifts for hot tub lovers and running holiday specials. Bringing in items like customized robes is a great way to get them excited for their impending spa delivery.

More Stories
Episode #36, Buying a Store 200 Miles Away, with Scott Clark
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