Why you should buy your hot tub from a specialty spa retailer.

Why you should buy your hot tub from a specialty spa retailer.
October 15/2015

Large box stores and online shopping sites offer hot tub hunters alternatives to purchasing through traditional, local speciality retailers. This has left some brick-and-mortar store owners scratching their heads, losing sleep – and even hair – speculating about the distant and not-so-distant future of their businesses.

For most retailers, though, the challenge of competing with these new big players has brought out the best in us in recent years, requiring thinking ‘outside the tub’ on the one hand, while not losing sight of the fact that we do – and will continue to – offer important value for consumers on the other.

The reality is a smart hot tub shopper will do his homework. He will consider purchasing through a retailer, big box store and online shopping outfit, weighing many of the pros and cons along the way. And so it should be. On the surface, box store and online options present certain advantages over their traditional counterparts. “Hallelujah!” a consumer rejoices from the comfort of his own sofa, tablet on lap and credit card in hand. “We no longer have to deal with sales people. And what a price for this tub, honey!”

Too good to be true? Maybe.

A more satisfying, complete experience

After scratching the surface, a potential buyer who examines the retailer route carefully will come to recognize the many tangible benefits of going with that Mom and Pop shop down the road. The Mom and Pop shop which has been serving the community and its loyal customers with pride and distinction for decades. The reason? Retailers generally offer a more complete, satisfying hot tub experience.

This experience does not begin and end with a purchase (though consumers sometimes delude themselves into thinking so when buying big ticket items online). Deep down customers, social creatures that we are, desire and expect a comprehensive experience from A to Z, and lasting relationships with friendly, customer service-oriented, expert staff that is only offered by a speciality retailer.

There is a customer experience continuum with a retailer from being educated about the benefits, options and technology of different hot tubs; to the point of purchase; to coordinating delivery, installation and show of operations; and after sales service comprising of maintenance and repair. A personal relationship with a local hot tub retailer can and will save you time and frustration, and often money.

Should consumers place a value on these? We retailers strongly believe so. Ultimately it is up to the customer to decide. Here are four other compelling reasons why consumers should purchase from a retailer.

So what are you buying?

Most of us would not buy a car without a test drive, or at least sitting in it to ensure sufficient leg room and comfort. Why should buying a hot tub be any different? Retailers display a wide variety of tubs, encouraging visitors to sit in several models on the showroom floor.

It’s crucial that a potential buyer finds that seat or lounger that fits her body comfortably, both in terms of ergonomics and depth. And many retail stores will offer a ‘wet test’ option. Is the size of the tub suitable for your family’s needs, and the space available in your backyard or deck? These considerations are more difficult when purchasing through box stores, that may not have many or any tubs on display, and online shopping sites.

Buying from a box store can certainly result in savings at the time of purchase, but vague and inaccurate advice from non-traditional dealers can lead to unanticipated and annoying expenses after the fact. The need for a master electrician, a suitable base or trucking in water come to mind. And what if the box store’s notion of delivery is dropping off a 1000 lb tub in your driveway? Unless you’re lucky enough to have two World’s Strongest Man competitors as neighbours, you’ll have to pay someone to get the tub into your backyard.

It’s what’s inside that counts!

Large box stores and online shopping sites want you to be dazzled with appearances. They are banking on consumers being wowed by photos of LED lights, stereos, water features and bright acrylic colours. This is of course part of the fun shopping for hot tubs. But these features are often available in even the most basic models.

At Mermaid, we explain to consumers that it’s what’s inside the hot tub that counts. Yes, potential buyers can learn a lot on the internet and should be aware of sales people claiming only their products are worthy of consideration. But most retailers offer knowledge and expertise, obtained over many years, having trialed several technologies and manufacturers. Mermaid genuinely wants a potential buyer to better understand the construction process and materials used in the base, shell, cabinetry, insulation, jets, plumbing and electrical components, and the warranties backing them up. Retailers want you to see and touch – up close and personal. In this case, a photo on-line is not worth a thousand words. But looking and touching the inner workings of a tub certainly is.

Box store staff are usually friendly and helpful, but often lack specific hot tub knowledge. Ask the following question of a large box store employee: “What are the pros and cons of ozone vs UV-C vs salt water hot tub technology for my well water, which has high levels of calcium?’ Retail store staff are trained to answer this kind of important question, and many, many more.

Servicing what retailers sell

Mermaid Pools and Hot Tubs takes the time to explain to customers that we service what we sell. Mermaid has its own dedicated Spa Service Department, operating 12 months a year and staffed with qualified technicians and call centre employees. This is a point sometimes lost on consumers who decide to purchase hot tubs from box stores and online outfits, which don’t directly service what they sell.

These buyers may find out that having manufacturer warranties honoured and repairs made – say in freezing Canadian winter temperatures and during power outages – is a far cry from the warm, relaxing experience of soaking in the bubbly waters of their hot tub.

Retailers that service what they sell have to be accountable to their customers. In-house spa service means that technicians repair tubs actually sold by the retailer which employs them. We also play an important role in communicating with manufacturers on our customers’ behalf. Mammoth box stores and online shopping sites may leave purchasers to deal directly with independent hot tub repair technicians and manufacturers with endless phone calls and emails. This can be a frustrating, drawn out experience, sometimes without ever finding a solution.

Reputation is everything

At the end of the day, speciality hot tub retailers have nothing without their reputations. In recent years, online customer reviews have become an increasing part of the buying equation. Google, Homestars and N49.ca are a few that come to mind in Canada. A 2013 survey conducted by Dimensional Research concluded that 90% customers say buying decisions are influenced by online reviews.

Gone are the days when a happy or unhappy hot tub customer tells her friend and family about an experience with a retailer. In minutes she can post her experience indelibly on the internet for thousands of ‘interested’ readers.

Retailers also receive ratings by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and, if they want to be serious contenders in this hyper-competitive industry, need to address and rectify customer complaints in a timely and satisfactory manner.

Smart retailers understand the power of consumer reviews and ignore what consumers write about them at their own peril. This makes us accountable to and eager to please our customers and communities. National and multi-national big box stores and online shopping sites may not feel the same obligation and pressure, nor be as accountable to customers with grievances.

Retailers offer real value

The reasons why consumers should consider purchasing from specialty hot tub retailers are vast. The bottom line: retailers are not going anywhere. We don’t operate and flourish year after year because box stores and online shopping sites ALLOW us to. Brick-and-mortar stores are still here because loyal customers and potential buyers WANT us to be. And they want us to continue serving them because retailers offer real value and a more complete, satisfying customer experience. Online shopping only makes up 5% of retail in the United States, while brick and mortar accounts for 95%. In fact, Mike Ghaffary, Vice President of Business Development at Yelp believes that local commerce will be larger than e-commerce for at least the next decade. Mermaid Pools and Hot Tubs has been around since 1965 and are more optimistic than Mr. Ghaffary. This retailer plans to be here, not just for another decade, but at least another 65 years, serving our customers with a smile and handshake.

And we certainly won’t be alone.

What are your thoughts on purchasing at specialty hot tub retailers? Please send your views to customercare@mermaidpools.com at Mermaid Pools and Hot Tubs

Chris Bjornestad is Customer Care Manager and a Sales Associate at Mermaid Pools and Hot Tubs. Mermaid, a long standing member of Canada’s Independent Pool Group (IPG), was established in 1965 in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. We are one of the oldest hot tub retailers in the country.

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