Hot Spring - FreshWater IQ


Watkins’ FreshWater IQ marks a new era in hot tub maintenance

Watkins Wellness, the parent company to Caldera Spas, Hot Spring Spas and other well-known brands, has been pursuing innovation in the world of hot tubs since its first product in 1977. Amid its successes, a persistent challenge lingered: simplifying water care for consumers.

“Second to price, fear of water care is the biggest barrier to entry for our category,” says Caitlin Woelfel, director of brand and channel marketing.

The team at Watkins Wellness was determined to find an answer and is now releasing a breakthrough product in the category: FreshWater IQ, a combination of the FreshWater Salt System and the new Smart Monitoring Sensor.

At its core, Freshwater IQ is a meticulous caretaker, continuously monitoring a hot tub’s water every hour and offering precise recommendations on maintaining its balance. Andy Ordonez, director of product management, explains the system tests pH, chlorine and salt levels and is designed specifically to complement Watkins’ FreshWater Salt System.

“We wanted to focus our innovation efforts on how to make water care — which is the hardest part of spa ownership — easier and less time consuming for the customer,” says Steve Stigers, executive vice president. “So [FreshWater IQ is] this groundbreaking innovation we’ve come out with. There’s nothing else in the world like it.”

According to Woelfel, the patented system uses a unique sensor electrode that allows for the combination of many sensors and test parameters in a compact size. The sensor is integrated into the design of the Hot Spring Highlife and Limelight collections along with the Caldera Utopia and Paradise series. It offers real-time chemical readings through the top-side digital control panel. The notification will go away once viewed, but if the condition is not resolved, it will reappear to remind the customer to take action.

“[Customers] frequently get impatient, and then they overdo it one way or another,” says Kirsten Roesch, senior marketing services manager. “So the fact that it’s smart enough to help guide them through that process is really beneficial.”

App development is underway, so hot tub owners will eventually have notifications sent directly to their phones to help them manage water care.

The sensor has a lifespan of a year, and the salt cartridge, an essential component, is designed to last for four months, packaged in a three-pack bundle to match the lifespan of the sensor. The sensor is fully in-line, helping to protect it from damage, and unlike some other common pH and ORP sensors that use fragile blast bulb technology, the Freshwater IQ system doesn’t need to be kept wet or require calibration.

“The design will be very pleasant for the consumer,” says Carl Krumrei, vice president of product. “They’re not going to need a service call. They’re going to be able to change it out themselves.”

- Sponsor -

The development journey behind FreshWater IQ is a testament to perseverance. Through collaborations spanning nearly a decade between Watkins, the R&D department of its parent company, Masco, and the University of Michigan, the team developed a chip that could act as a sensor but also solve multiple challenges.

According to Krumrei, the sensor had to be able to function in a hot, humid environment, be durable, be easily installed and replaced and be able to be submerged in water — all while remaining about an inch and a half in length. In addition, accuracy was crucial, overcoming the unpredictability of traditional test strips.

“The industry’s been waiting for [an accurate water testing sensor] for years,” Ordonez says. “And it’s because it’s not easy.”

Another priority for Watkins when developing the FreshWater IQ system was affordability. The initial cost of the Freshwater IQ startup kit is between $450-$499 with ongoing costs being roughly $400 a year for new sensors and salt cartridges.

“We’re not out to sell more salt systems,” Woelfel says. “It’s about creating more hot tubbers. If we can make the experience easier, then owners can hot tub every day, and that’s when you really start accruing all the mental, emotional and physical benefits of hot water.”

Watkins Wellness is expecting an enthusiastic reception to the FreshWater IQ system, with Stigers calling it a “game-changer” for both consumers and dealers.

“It’s not only [about] the product; it’s also the throughput through the dealer network to educate them,” Krumrei says. “They’re the ones who have to explain it and set it up for [the customer], so the whole team has to be aligned.”

In providing support, Watkins hopes to enhance business for its dealer network. “Hopefully, this is one more arrow in their quiver to help them sell more spas and make them more competitive,” Woelfel says.

After a launch to dealers in January, FreshWater IQ is slated for consumer availability by March 2024. While proud of the product, Stigers says the company isn’t done.

“We’ve created something special; it’s going to be the best comprehensive water care system for the consumer,” he says. “We believe if we can continue to push the boundaries with innovation and deliver innovative products that remove barriers to entry and improve the ownership experience, we’re going to continue to grow the category.”

Request Media Kit

[contact-form-7 id="1975" title="Media Kit Inquiry"]