You’ve done all your research and are ready to visit your local retailers to see some hot tubs in person and make your purchase. You go to the first dealership, excited to see the top tub on your list. But when you get there, the showroom is sparse. That model isn’t in stock. And, the salesperson tells you the hot tub can’t be delivered until next summer.
I’m sorry, what?
You write them off and go to the next store. However, they tell you the same story. Before you even bother going to the last store on your list you call ahead and guess what, they’ve got a hot tub they can deliver in January! But turns out it’s not the size you need.
Obviously, you’re not going to be sitting in your hot tub on New Year’s Eve like you had planned. Like many other consumer products, the hot tub supply chain was deeply impacted by the coronavirus. Many manufacturers are retailers were asked to close their businesses this spring, and during that time orders for hot tubs started coming in at unprecedented levels. Many stuck at home were looking for new ways to relax, destress and entertain their quarantined families.
“It was just phenomenal. Historic,” says Jim Johnston, vice president of marketing for Marquis, a hot tub manufacturer based in Oregon. “Normally, we try to operate on a two- to three-week backlog on production, and each day we were taking more orders than we could produce in three days. We were adding a week of backlog time every two days. It was incredible.”
“Never dreamed we would see demand for hot tubs like we have seen,” says Pete Westfall, president of Nordic Hot Tubs, a spa manufacturer based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “We have received more orders in one month than we received all last year.”
In the past, shopping for a hot tub was a very personalized experience. You could pick out the shape and size you wanted, acrylic and skirt colors, and add any additional features you may want like a stereo or updated water care system. Once your customized spa was ordered, it would generally take 3-4 weeks for it to be made, shipped and installed at your home. Since most people were placing custom orders pre-pandemic, retailers traditionally kept very few hot tubs in stock. But when orders started piling up while manufacturers were closed, retailers watched the little stock and showroom models they did have disappear quickly, with little to replace them.
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When manufacturers were allowed to reopen, many weren’t able to produce the same number of hot tubs they had pre-pandemic. Because of social distancing requirements, they had to spread out their production lines, often making them less efficient. In some cases they could reopen, but with a smaller percentage of their workforce allowed in the building. Despite these challenges, manufacturers did what they could to ramp up production — hiring to add more shifts and trying to keep up with demand. There were roadblocks there as well.
“There was considerable fear in our workforce and people not wanting to come to work, not wanting to even try,” says Jake Ricks, director of marketing at Bullfrog Spas, a hot tub manufacturer based in Utah. “We immediately made all kinds of changes on our line to space things out, mandating PPE, masks, shields, and things like that. But in those first weeks we did have a lot of people calling in sick, just out of fear.”
Even if a manufacturer was able to hire all the additional workers they needed and could space everyone out appropriately, there was more out of their hands. While there are several manufacturers of hot tubs, there are only a handful of companies that supply some of the parts for the entire industry. Most manufacturers are sourcing their acrylic and topside controls from the same companies. As more and more orders came in, they started to bottleneck.
“Those parts and pieces have been our biggest issue the past few months,” says Kevin Richards, vice president of sales and marketing for Master Spas, a Fort Wayne, Indiana-based manufacturer. “If you have product going down the production line in anticipation of X, Y, Z parts showing up Thursday but they don’t show up, workers get frustrated.”
“We started bringing people back in May, as quickly as we could,” says Steve O’Shea, vice president of sales and marketing at MAAX, a hot tub manufacturer in Arizona. “During that time, a number of suppliers kept us from having a smooth production rate on a daily basis. It went from, ‘Are we going to have enough to build for the month?’ to ‘Are we going to have enough to build all of our products for the week?’ to daily evaluating our inventory. We had to shut down production for different periods to unload trucks to have enough raw materials to keep production flowing. Our procurement and production departments did a fantastic job keeping plates spinning during this time.”
The industry is slowly starting to get caught back up — but orders haven’t really slowed down. Hot tub retailers have started placing orders for unsold tubs that will be delivered sometime in 2021, which makes the buying process a whole new experience for their customers. While you can still choose whatever colors and features you’d like, that may mean an extended wait period. Many are opting to choose their hot tub from the list of what’s already been ordered. Fortunately, retailers and manufacturers have a pretty good idea of their best-selling models, so you should have no problem still finding a tub that more than meets your needs.
But as the hot tub industry, and the world, adjust to doing business during COVID, hopefully we can all practice some patience.