Right now is generally considered to be the best time to buy a hot tub. To make that decision, many people like to go to their county fair. With the OC Fair going strong right now and the LA County Fair just around the corner, you know you’re knees deep into hot tub season.
Going to the fair makes a lot of sense; there are always a lot of hot tub dealers out there, so you can finally go out there and compare different manufacturers’ products directly. And since there are so many different dealers out there, they must be competing on price!
Unfortunately, that’s not really true anymore.
The Fair Is More Expensive
You would think that with all that competition you could find the best prices out there. Unfortunately, you’d be mistaken. The management teams who are behind these events are on to you; they know that there are many attendees looking to buy a hot tub. As a result, they charge about five times more for hot tub dealers than they do for any other type of vendor. This is important; the extra expense means that in order for it to be profitable the cost of the tub has to go up. You will likely get a better deal by going to their showroom than you will by buying at the fair.
The Buying Experience is Worse
One of the biggest problems that dealers have to address is that there often is difficulty getting water and electricity to their booths. As a result, it’s very common to have them demonstrating their spas dry. You can’t possibly expect to understand what kind of experience you will get out of it when it’s actually up and running, especially when you can’t even get a ‘drive-by’ and put your hand on a running jet.
But even if they do have running spas there, it’s still not going to be as good as an in-store experience. It’s impossible to properly balance the water when you have so many people running through the booth every day, so a wet test is inadvisable at best. How much can you enjoy an experience when there are hundreds of people staring at you?
There is Less Representation
This one may be the most surprising; you go to the fair expecting to see many different brands of hot tubs but you only find a handful. The last fair we attended, we saw about five different brands being sold. To give you a sense of perspective, we have seventeen different brands in our Oxnard store alone.
But even when that doesn’t happen, you’ll notice that the major brands generally aren’t well represented either. It’s very common to see a fair without big names like Hot Spring Spas, Dimension One Spas, Marquis Hot Tubs, and the like. These are the most common spas on the market, but they’re rarely found at fairs!
In some fairs, a single manufacturer will pay for such a large booth that it overshadows any other brands that may appear. One in particular fills their plot of land with what would appear to be thirty to fifty different spas, but there are only actually four or five different models - they are just presented with different colors and options. You might effectively see fewer models than we have at our smallest store.
The Salespeople are Terrible
Even if you are lucky enough to find a booth run by a local dealership, you’re not that likely to talk to one of their regular employees. You’re much more likely to talk to the industry’s equivalent to used car salesmen; people who travel around working on events like fairs and home shows. They will tell you that Brand A is the ultimate spa one day, then sometime next month you can find them at another show talking about how Brand B is the best and Brand A is for fools. They can literally say anything they want because by the time your spa gets delivered, they will already have their money and be out of town.
It’s actually much worse than that; these types of salespeople have every reason to outright lie to you. They get paid on commission; every spa they sell earns them money. Worse, they generally make an even higher percentage if they overcharge you for the spa – some make 50% or more from that overage! As a result, every single one of them will, at least, stretch the truth, or at most, outright lie to make the sale.
When we had booths at county fairs, we too tried using these “road salespeople” and found they were the biggest cause of headache – almost every customer that came through those spa sales had problems since they were promised the spa could do impossible things. We have vowed never to use these unethical road salesmen again. However these same salespeople are still around (probably at the fair nearest you), representing other companies like nothing ever happened.
Even if you do manage to find the salespeople who regularly work with the company, they will likely be using similar techniques. They will do everything within their powers to sell as many spas as possible because they are afraid of not selling enough to make up for the high cost of renting the booth.
Support May Not be Great
If you put much thought into it, the actual purchase is only a small part of owning a hot tub. Excluding the quality of the hot tub itself, the biggest component of your ownership experience is the support you get for it when you need supplies or if something goes wrong. When you buy from a local dealer, they will always be there to help you when you need to do simple things like balance the water chemistry or change the filters. Really great dealers will be able to service your spa directly when it experiences mechanical failures.
You would think that buying from your local county fair means that you are buying from a dealer who is within that county. For the most part, you would be right, but there are almost always a handful of out-of-state dealerships in the mix who may or may not offer any after-purchase support whatsoever. Some less reputable companies will not even deliver the spa to where you want it; instead they will hire a freight company who will just deliver it to your curb. Even if you do get a local company, you should make sure that they’re actually experts at what they do - We’ve honestly seen mattress companies spreading out into hot tubs before.