Let’s consider for a moment that the hot tub industry has little to no brand recognition or awareness amongst the average consumer. Hot tubs are not like cars or electronics where you can easily conjure name brands like Lexus or Samsung. In fact, the only brand with real name recognition is Jacuzzi which, to be honest, is considered less of a brand amongst consumers and more of a product much like Kleenex versus tissue. The term “Jacuzzi” to most people means a hot tub.
With that said, if there’s little awareness or dominance in the hot tub industry then what makes for the “best hot tub brand” or “best quality hot tub brand”? As is the case with any industry it’s all about deep pockets and marketing efforts. Consumers are readily convinced that, in general, the brands they hear about or see are the ones that are the best because they are being told they are the best and those are the brands that are top of mind when they (consumers) are ready to shop and ultimately buy.
The two most dominant companies in the hot tub industry for years have been;
- Hotspring Spas
- Caldera Spas (acquisition)
- Endless Pools Swim Spas (acquisition)
- Freeflow Spas (acquisition)
- Fantasy Spas
- Limelight Hot Tubs
- Hot Spot Spas
- LifeSmart Spas (big box retailers and online)
- AqauaTerra Spas (Costco)
- Jacuzzi Hot Tubs
- Sundance Spas (acquisition)
- Dimension One Spas (acquisition)
- ThermoSpas (acquisition)
- Hydropool Hot Tubs and Swim Spas (acquisition)
These companies are dominant for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, they spend a ton of money on advertising/marketing especially when compared to the average hot tub manufacturer. It has been rumored that one of every four spas sold comes from corporate advertising. They also have the largest footprint of dealers across the United States. I can almost guarantee that if you are researching local dealers in your area or visiting hot tub stores then you will run into either a Watkins Brand or a Jacuzzi Brand hot tub. These brands are prolific even in the smallest of cities. Hotspring Spas is the most prevalent Watkins Brand and Jacuzzi Hot Tubs is the most prevalent Jacuzzi Brand. The compelling thing about these two large and very successful conglomerates is that between their marketing efforts and extensive dealer network they are able to convert sales very successfully in almost every market in the United States. Additionally and equally important is the brand loyalty amongst their dealers/retailers. Watkins dealers and Jacuzzi dealers do not change lines very frequently. They are long standing, loyal dealers which is a testament to the manufacturers they represent. If you are a hot tub dealer (and I was one for nearly 15 years) then there is always a more enticing offer to switch brands be it cheaper wholesale prices, better value, more cutting-edge features and innovation, more variety of hot tub models, better coop dollars, and the list goes on. These brands do an excellent job of retaining their dealers despite their competition and if a dealer decides to venture outside of their brand then they might split the showroom floor with another brand to provide consumers with another option rather than leave Watkins or Jacuzzi entirely.
Furthermore, these brands are successful with their dealers because they provide excellent back-end support and customer service to their dealers. Things like simple order entry, short manufacturing lead times, good communication, turnkey marketing programs created for dealer(s), promotions, consumer financing, dealer financing, warranty support, and sharing best practices between dealers are all ingredients that make these premium brands extremely successful. It’s amazing how many manufacturers in the hot tub industry lack in so many of these areas.
With that said, there are some drawbacks to these big behemoths. Big infrastructure costs and big marketing budgets mean big prices. You’re average Watkins Brand hot tub and Jacuzzi Brand hot tub is around 20% higher on the wholesale side (what the manufacturer charges the dealer) and by the time that translates to a retail margin (what the dealer charges the customer) then you’re looking at a substantial difference in price between one of these brands and another reputable manufacturer. It’s also interesting because both of these large conglomerates were the first to move their manufacturing to Mexico to increase profits even further which has come with its own share of scrutiny by competitors and discerning consumers.
Another drawback is lack of innovation. I’ve been in the industry now for over 17 years and these brands have always built what I would consider to be reliable but very boring hot tubs (the simpler the tub the less things go wrong). They’re always the last to adopt new technologies, features, and designs. With that said, they’ve gotten better at being innovative and reaching out of their comfort zone in the last 5 years with the addition of swim spas, WiFi technology, model variety, and more.
Drawbacks aside, in the end, these companies are very well run and very profitable which isn’t a crime. The lesson learned is that there is no replacement for great marketing as that drives sales which is the lifeblood of any company. As long as these companies continue to dominate in the marketing department and take care of their dealers (who in turn take care of their customers) then they will continue to widen the gap in the hot tub industry between themselves and their competition.
There are some great manufacturers in our Top 10 Hot Tub Manufacturers list that are making strides to deliver excellent value, quality, rich features, state of the art technology, and strong customer service/support that are closing the gap on companies like Jacuzzi Brands and Watkins Wellness.
For more information on how to research and compare hot tubs before purchasing please visit our hot tub buyer’s guide pages. You can also click on the pink boxes at the top right of every page to get a free local quotes from dealers in your area.