Pandemic-induced demand is changing the swim spa niche
The concept of a stationary swimming apparatus has been around since the 1980s, evolving over the last 40 years into the swim spas we know. While their popularity has grown immensely over the last decade, the pandemic has taken the swim spa market to a level of success dealers and manufacturers had long hoped for.
Aspen Spas, a hot tub manufacturer in St. Louis, released its first swim spas in 2019, only to shut down at the beginning of 2020. “The ironic aspect of this [past year] is that we went from ‘What now?’ to ‘Holy cow!’ ” says co-owner Sam Bania. “We have enjoyed an increased interest in our product, and a surge in both new orders from existing retailers and an injection of new dealers in new territories.”
Swim spa orders in 2020 increased by over 180% and continue to grow over 2019 numbers for Jacuzzi brands, says Tracy Hall, vice president of global swim spa sales. “The demand for backyard leisure activities has exploded,” she says. “It has brought swim spas to the main stage, as they are the true entertainment product for the entire family and can be used all year long. We like to call them our ‘all season pool.’ ”
Interest in swim spas is at an all-time high for Master Spas, too. “Motivation has been everything,” says Kevin Richards, vice president of sales and marketing for the Indiana-based manufacturer. “It started with serious swimmers needing a place to swim because pools were closed. Then interest expanded to a much broader group: People looking for swimming, fitness, relaxation and family fun. With many pool builds out until [next year], our industry has seen big opportunity. The demand for our swim spas is through the roof.”
“Swim spa technology and innovation have continued to surprise us and excite the customer with improved efficiencies, performance and simplicity,” says Joe Stone, owner of Swim Fitness in Rancho Cordova, California.
Jim Ornce, sales and training manager for Pettis Pools & Hot Tubs in East Rochester, New York, says he’s seen upgrades in swim spa technology happening quicker in recent years, “which is a move in the right direction,” he says, adding that competition breeds innovation. “Dealers have to become the best in the market for knowledge and customer service to remain ahead of the competition. More competition among dealers means we will have to keep pushing our manufacturers to innovate.”
Hall says new models are continuously introduced for all swim spa brands under the Jacuzzi banner: Hydropool, SwimLife and Jacuzzi Swim Spas. All Jacuzzi brand swim spas come with soft stride mats installed on the bottom, making them a cross-training machine. And 2021 brings the introduction of a smart display goggle that gives the swimmer a real-time display of time, distance, calories burned, swim rate and heart rate indicators, in a patented heads-up display in the lens of the goggles.
Swim spa innovation doesn’t stop at technology. Richards says the biggest thing that elevates the swim spa industry is smart marketing. “Our investment in our numerous, high-profile brand ambassadors — including Michael Phelps — and the content we create, draws a lot of attention,” he says.
Before the pandemic, swim spas were already on the radar of those seeking family fun, Hall says. “Having more seats plus a larger swim area, water aerobics and play area is key for the consumer of today,” she says.
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Ornce says he noticed customers becoming better informed about swim spas on their own over the past year. “While stuck at home, most seemed to have done many hours of research on swim spas,” he says. “In the past, many customers didn’t know they existed. Now people seem ready to buy more than ever.”
Bania says there now seem to be two types of swim spa customers: The one who has his eye on the therapeutic or recreational aspects of the swim spa, and the one looking for an alternative to an up to 2-year wait for a swimming pool install. “The former has become savvier, while the latter has certainly become educated [about swim spas],” Bania says.
Increased customer demand, Richards says, has meant seeing the joys of swim spas reach so many more people.
As with hot tubs, before the pandemic most swim spas were custom ordered and manufactured as needed within three to six weeks, but increased demand over the past year means customized swim spas lead times of six to nine months.
Pettis Pools sells MAAX PowerPool Swim Spas, with optional upgrades of Bluetooth music systems, fountains and lightshows. But not all swim spas come fully equipped and customers are sacrificing upgrades to get their swim spas faster. Some features are limited due to manufacturer resources, Stone says. Most customers want a specific color and size for the swim spa, he says, but are content with any additional features they can get with the models currently available from the dealer.
Hall reports that many Jacuzzi brand dealers are ordering swim spas and putting them on white boards in the showroom to pre-sell before delivery.
When the shutdown began, Pettis Pools had to close its doors. Meanwhile, a flood of emails and website information requests were coming in. “Our sales presentations took place via email, phone calls or FaceTime calls,” Ornce says. “I found myself standing inside an empty swim spa showing potential customers over FaceTime how big the swim spas are in relation to a 6-foot person. I even had shorter co-workers pose for pictures by the swim spas for reference. We had to be creative to help the customer feel comfortable to make the purchase.”
Ever Evolving Future
“Swim spa manufacturers and our suppliers are collaborating on new innovations to meet the needs and demands of the marketplace,” Bania says. “We continue to look for ways to increase our efficiency while creating an even more versatile product line.”
Bania advises patience. “Everyone is backed up,” he says. Customers should look for dealers who truly believe in their team and the products they offer — those are the best dealers that will take care of you, the customer, for the long haul.