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What's working for businesses in 2021?
With stay-at-home orders in place throughout Atlantic Canada last year, residents spent their time and money investing in their own homes and backyards.
For many, this translated into purchasing pools and hot tubs, and for businesses like Holland Home Leisure in New Minas, N.S., it resulted in a high-volume sales year.
“Our sales did increase last year - we were very lucky to be in an industry that was booming,” says Liana Rhodenizer, a backyard fun specialist with the store.
Although they ran into challenges in operations, as did every business, Holland Home Leisure still had a great year and saw growth in both pools and hot tub sales.
Jane Smith of BayTub Softubs in Mahone Bay, N.S. also experienced growth during the pandemic, with a big increase in orders and sales, "as staycations are where it's at," she says.
There has been so much demand for pools and hot tubs, both stores had to readjust their orders.
Rhodenizer says they were very lucky to be able to maintain supply throughout the 2020 season. As soon as manufactures began to slow down production, months in advance, the company started to make additional orders to prepare for the anticipated demand.
Softubs - which sells soft, round, fully-portable, squeezable polypropylene foam-based hot tubs - wasn’t as lucky.
There is an issue with the manufacturing of raw materials needed to build the Softubs, and supply can't keep up with the demand. The factories are also still dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020, which also slowed down production, says Smith.
"It is a worldwide issue to get enough materials to build Softubs," Smith explained.
"This is also the same problem and issues in many other industries like lumber, or anything to do with the home improvements."
Softubs’s national sales representative, Skye Lagace, explains the company is encountering issues beyond its control. With the long list of supply chain issues, their industry is still being impacted, she says.
“We are hoping things will turn around soon,” says Smith. “The industry is trying very hard to catch up, and we are hopeful soon it will.”
Smith says the whole situation is frustrating to local dealers - in hindsight, if she had known of the impending delays and increased popularity last March, she would have pre-ordered thousands of Softubs and says she would have sold them all.
Local or online?
It's anticipated that pools and hot tubs will continue to be a hot-ticket item in 2021. Because there is currently a six-month waitlist for the Softub, Smith says some customers are turning to ordering online so they can get one sooner. She cautions about doing this, however.
"If you're ordering a hot tub online, who is going to help you when something breaks down, as it inevitably will," she asks. "Do you have customer support? Who's going to help you when a pump or motor breaks down?"
People need to look for not only a good quality hot tub but also local support from their dealers, urges Smith.
"People buy hot tubs online, or from a not-so-great manufacturer, and have a broken hot tub in less than a year and cannot get parts to get it fixed," she says.
Smith has already put in her order for the upcoming year and hopes she will be able to increase that order in the future. The priority, however, is to ensure that each dealer can first fill last year’s sales.
“We hope production will be able to keep up with the demand again and things will get faster for orders,” says Smith.
Rhodenizer says Holland Home Leisure is also seeing shortages in the industry across the board and COVID-19 is still creating delays in manufacturing.
Like Smith, she says all they can do is plan as much as possible and do their best to make sure they have the stock their customers are looking for.
Busy year anticipated
Both companies are preparing for another busy year ahead. Even now, Rhodenzier says they are experiencing increased traffic during the off-season as people plan ahead for another year without travel.
Rhodenizer has already done the majority of the ordering for pools, hot tubs, and swim spas for the upcoming 2021 season. Without preplanning the year, she says they wouldn’t have stock because of the delays.
“We really had to be smart on how we planned for the upcoming 2021 season so that we weren’t stuck in a position without stock,” says Rhodenizer.
If customers are looking for a specific product, they should be prepared for a potential wait. If they are more flexible, they can usually have a tub in their backyard in three weeks with an in-stock model.
Smith says they are still readjusting to operating their business in a COVID-19 world. This time of year, she says, they would normally be getting ready to do home shows and trade shows. It’s a mixed blessing, she says, because they can't get the inventory yet anyway.
“Things are all a little crazy,” says Smith.
Despite the frustrations in getting stock, Smith is still excited about the upcoming sales year.
"We have no idea what it will bring," she says.
Legace expects the upcoming season to be busier than ever. With the growing industry, she says they’ve had to make adjustments to their business plan and are excited about what is coming at Softub Canada.
One thing is for certain, says Smith, people are still realizing that staycations are the way to go, and they want to make their homes a sanctuary, complete with their own backyard and oasis.
Although she feels guilty saying it, 2020 was the best year they ever had - and not just because of sales, Smith says.
"Because it slowed us all down. It made us rethink the things that are important to us: family, health, and mental wellness, too. It taught us to relax a little more," she says.
"We love our work. We make people relax and feel good and that's a great feeling."