Vita Spa has been transformed in recent years with a manufacturing rebirth that has produced record UK retailing results. HTR investigates how this has impacted on dealers.
For more than three decades Vita Spa built up a quality manufacturing reputation for providing comfort and value hot tubs that resulted in constantly improving UK sales, thanks to a growing band of loyal dealers and a hard-working distributor. The wet leisure brand’s innovative influence in the industry was almost lost, though, five years ago when Opa Locka, Florida-based parent company DM Industries Ltd filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Having been founded in 1974 in Miami, DM Industries specialised in the complete manufacturing process of luxury hydrotherapy products for outdoor and indoor use with the Vita Spa, Vita Bath, xStream and Reflections Spas. Global dealer networks had been established in more than 40 countries, including the UK, which had resulted in tens of thousands of international customers that were loyal to the Vita Spa brand.
In its 35th year a dramatic collapse in the company’s financial fortunes, due to the squeeze on consumer spending and loan freezing from banks during the global economic recession, led to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the spring of 2009. This resulted in a change of manufacturing ownership and a ‘phoenix from the flames’ rebirth for the production of Vita Spa, by MAAX Spas Industry Corporation that is now part of a stable of hot tub brands owned by Brookfield Asset Management, a global enterprise with over $100billion in assets.
DM Industries had not been a victim of being abandoned by dealers or loss of customers due to poorly designed and badly manufactured hot tubs and swim spas, but of being too large a manufacturing operation to reduce its operating costs and downsize its running capacity quickly enough when the economic crash strangled revenue streams, while drastically hitting demand in the market.
Two years previous to the lifeline acquisition, MAAX Spas Industry Corporation had been ranked among the five largest North American companies in the industry, with 2,900 employees and 24 plants and independent centres. When the opportunity to expand its flourishing hot tub portfolio arose in 2009 the manufacturer reacted quickly and purchased the assets of stricken DM Industries and its Vita Spa brand, during the same year that it became part of the multi-billion dollar Brookfield Asset Management portfolio.
Originated in 1969 with the founding of Modern Fiberglass and Metal, the name MAAX was first adopted in 1987 ahead of the manufacturer acquiring Coleman Spas and California Cooperage ten years later. During its 40th anniversary year the manufacturer then became part of the Brookfield Asset Management portfolio.
Following the acquisition of DM Industries it was revealed by MAAX Spas Industry Corporation President and General Manager John Johnson that the Vita Spa brand would be receiving a new lease of life, after being turned over to the manufacturing facility in Chandler, Arizona.
“Financially it makes more sense for us to do business here, to run production here and to get the volumes through the plant and better utilisation of this plant before we start looking to expand to other plants,” he said.
Vice President of Sales and Marketing Emil Nygard highlighted that the move was a positive one for the manufacturer and the existing customers of the newly purchased Vita Spa brand, while announcing that the strategy was part of parent company Brookfield Asset Management’s desire to be among the lead consolidators in the industry.
“The stated objective of our parent company, Brookfield Assets, is to be one of the lead consolidators of this industry if they can,” said Emil; “We still have the manufacturing capacity and are still looking at what other deals can be made.”
Emil reported that at the peak of the marketplace, North American manufacturing made around 450,000 units and added: “Depending on who you are talking to, whether its suppliers or retailers, we made somewhere between 120,000 and 160,000 units. So we are thinking that many of the manufacturers that were in business aren’t going to be able to sustain themselves.
“We think that the industry is probably going to be going through some consolidation. Hopefully other manufacturers that are in a position to do so will look at the opportunities to consolidate. We don’t need all the buildings and plants anymore, but hopefully we can sustain the business through the brands and selling activities.”
A brief 12 month manufacturing reorganisation for the Vita Spa range resulted in the official return to the market in 2010 with the eco-friendly insulation system, Vital Energy.
Dealers who remained loyal to the brand in the transitional period have since been rewarded during the past four years with the manufacturer’s enhanced energy-efficient Vita Spa models in the 100, 300, 500 and 700 series. They have received cutting-edge functionality and major overhauls, in addition to their galvanised reinforced steel frames that have a lifetime-warranty, as part of the manufacturer’s commitment to a unique production line for Vita Spa.
“The MAAX process of manufacturing is a dream for us,” declared exclusive Vita Spa UK Distributor Richard Hart; “We have always had good value Vita Spa products in the past but the quality control has been improved tremendously and overall it is more of a slick manufacturing process than we previously had with DM Industries.
“A big element in the downfall of DM Industries was the fact that it had taken on the production of so many aspects of hot tub and swim spa construction. It was such a big manufacturing operation that it couldn’t downsize quickly enough to cope with the economic downturn and financial difficulties that hit the USA and international markets.
“While many of its competitors managed to scale down their operations to survive, DM Industries became one of the many victims of the economic recession. Overall, though, we’ve now gained a much better service, plus the enhanced quality and efficiency from our new manufacturer that we can pass on to our dealers and their customers.
“It is also great to be able to tell people about the stability we’ve now gained from being part of Brookfield Assets. This provides us all with the peace of mind that there is no financial problems lurking below the surface to worry about with the Vita Spa brand.”
The 700 series includes the stylish WhatSpa? Best Buy award-winning Fontaine, which has been designed to accommodate six people and was dubbed by our sister publication as being ‘probably the hottest new product to hit the hot tub market in 2013 … guaranteed to impress everyone who encounters it’.
During the inaugural UK Pool and Spa Expo in 2013, the manufacturer’s design and production pedigree was showcased to the visiting trade and consumer audience with the exclusive launch of the Fontaine, which subsequently gained the WhatSpa? Best Buy Award in the £12,000 plus category.
The manufacturer’s dedicated production team in Arizona pulled out all the stops ahead of the exhibition to ensure that the new 700 series contemporary model could be shipped over the Atlantic in time to be unveiled in Birmingham on the historic first day of the UK Pool and Spa Expo hosted at the NEC.
“A delay in the shipping schedule allowed the factory an extra four days to put the final finishes for the Fontaine in place,” revealed Richard. “At one stage we were even talking about air freight because things were getting so tight. But they got it done in the end.”
Coming in at 232 x 232 x 81cm, the Fontaine’s cabinet has been meticulously manufactured with square shape cornering to provide customisation by owners. An exterior channel, with four backlit fountains and 34 LED lights, has been designed to provide unique customisation by allowing a myriad of different aggregates or synthetic grasses to be incorporated into the finished bespoke option.
With seating capacity for five to six people, the Fontaine boasts lighting from 34 outer LED’s and 24 internal LED’s and the manufacturer has incorporated two speakers and a subwoofer within its Bluetooth music system. It has been designed with 52 jets, two Hydrotherapy pumps and one Cascade pump, along with four external Cascades, but Richard stresses that the focus of this model is not primarily the jet count but instead it has been produced to redefine the term ‘spa’ and put the Vita Spa brand on the map.
“The Fontaine is a different and modern hot tub that is not about how many jets it has or what layout it has,” explained Richard; “It’s all about contemporary style and how it looks in your garden.
“Our intention at the first ever UK Pool and Spa Expo was to make a statement and put Vita Spa on the map. We achieved that with the way that we built up the anticipation for our exclusive launch. From the moment we unveiled the Fontaine it created a buzz on our stand and it helped to continue the interest throughout the show.”
The manufacturer’s USA-based Director of Business Development James McClure has been delighted with the response to the Fontaine from the UK trade.
“We’ve had a very good reaction to the Fontaine,” James told HTR; “It’s very nice to get some validation like this for all your hard work.
“This Fontaine model provides something different for dealers to display in their showroom. The 90 degree angle of the cabinet construction ensures that it has a lot more flexibility than traditional hot tub designs. It will help to attract customers who want their hot tub to also be an outdoor water feature and their personal Trevi Fountain.”
Stablemates of the Fontaine in the 700 series include the six-seater Mystique and Rendezvous models, which come standard with the Sony Marine stereo system and manufacturer’s Symphonic Wave seat that allows users to pinpoint the parts of their body in need of most hydrotherapy relief with accurate precision. The Cabaret and Nuage, meanwhile, provide seating capacity for six to seven occupants, while the popular Chateau has five to six seating options.
In the 500 series, which also has a music system installed as part of the standard manufacturing process, there is the top selling six-seater Prestige, a three-seater Trio, four-seater Joli, and six-seater Envie, plus the Grand, and Monarque, which both have seating capacity for six to seven occupants.
The manufacturer’s 300 series has also gained WhatSpa? recognition for its six-seater Elegant by achieving successive ‘Best Buy’ ratings during the last four years. It gained the Best Buy acclaim status for including ‘all of the goodies and gadgets that every up-to-the-minute spa buyer needs’ and also its ‘must-try’ lounger seat and deep and spacious bucket seats.
Other models in the 300 series include the five-seater capacity models Intrigue and the round Cirque option, as well as the manufacturer’s provision for space-saving requirements in the form of the two-seater Duet and the Amour.
Providing Vita Spa dealerships with more affordable options, the new 100 series has been developed by the manufacturer’s Chandler-based design team to target budget-conscious potential customers with three options that are easy to maintain and durable with modern acrylic construction.
The trio of initial launch models in this series include the four-seater capacity options of the Image and Forte, while the five-seater Voeux is the largest 100 series model, coming in at 211 x 187 x 87cm. All have been constructed with eco-friendly Thermo-Plastic Siding and include the Vital Energy Insulation System.
To cater for the warm water fitness market, the manufacturer has also produced the new xStream models for Vita Spas dealerships to promote the combination of the best elements of swimming pools, hot tubs and home gym workouts.
The XSL comes in at 501 x 228 x 135cm and has a capacity to hold 5,678 litters, with a wet weight of 6690kg. It has a single seat option on the Sun Chaser Wet Deck and has been designed with four Turbo stainless steel swim jets and six Trevi Fountain jets.
An XSP incorporates two spa seats in the design and comes in at 501 x 228 x 135cm. It has a wet weight of 7167kg and 5956 litter capacity. A separate seating area, to accommodate two people, is available in the XSD that comes in at 501 x 228 x 135cm and has a 5956 litre capacity and wet weight of 7167kg. Both models have 30 Hydrotherapy jets, six Turbo stainless steel swim jets and six Trevi Fountain jets.
Within the design of the XSR there is a high seating capacity focus, with the capability to accommodate seven people. It is the smallest option in the xStream range and comes in at 366 x 228 x 127cm, with a 5968 litre capacity and wet weight of 6717kg. The design incorporates 70 Hydrotherapy jets, six Turbo stainless steel swim jets and four Trevi Fountain jets.
Options in all four models include the Ozone and CleanZone II, plus the Floating Remote and Sony Stereo System. Within the designs, the manufacturer has also incorporated six PowerSwim jets in all of the models that have the capability to match the user’s ability levels and resistance with variable levels of intensity. A complete resistance pattern can be created by the deep water jets, which produced a smooth stream of water throughout the depth of the xStream models to enhance the aqua-jogging and swimming experience.
While Vita Spa dealers have gained a host of hot tub options and features to promote from the manufacturer as part of the recent production enhancements, a key element for the sales pitch is the ‘peace of mind’ lifetime warranty of the galvanised reinforced steel frame and the Vital Energy Insulation System.
The steel structure design in the Vita Spa 700 and 500 series models has been proclaimed by the manufacturer to be ‘appliance grade’ due to the fact that it provides the capability for it to be completely serviced, along with all the mechanical parts, and restored to factory specifications.
Although it is 40 per cent lighter that a traditional wood frame, an important benefit is that the steel frame is 250 per cent stronger, weatherproof and corrosion free. The ABS Sealed Base, meanwhile, is also an integral part of a Vita Spa hot tub and its one-piece construction provides a durable foundation that seals the bottom of the spa. This aspect of the manufacturing process helps to lock in heat and seal out moisture.
To replace conventional urethane foam that produces as much as 22.5kg of volatile organic compounds (VOC’S), the manufacturer has additionally introduced the eco-friendly Vital Energy Insulation System that is made from recycled natural fibre and is approved by the United States Green Building Council.
It has a Class A fire rating and is treated with a borate-based solution to prevent mildew, mould and pest infestation. The advantage of this revolutionary energy system, which contains no chemical irritants, is that it provides easy service access to ensure it can be taken out and replaced to factory specifications.
Vita Spa has maintain its status as a pedigree manufacturer and grown its global dealer network with a number of exclusive features, which have been included during the latest production process to help the brand stand out from the hot tub crowd.
AquaGlo technology, for example, has been installed by the manufacturer to differentiate the 700 series from an average spa. The components of AquaGlo include illuminated controls, standard on 700 and 500 series models; the Trevi Fountain feature, which is standard on the majority of 700 and 500 series; as well as lighted cup holders.
SenFlo Therapy is another Vita Spa exclusive that utilises Sen modules in the manufacturing process to provide a dedicated massage for hands and feet. This compliments the manufacturer’s creation of a hydrotherapy design to deliver a complete back massage that would put a specialist clinic to shame.
A Symphonic Wave seat is another key element of the Vita Spa production in Arizona and provides users with the capability to target the parts of their body that require relief. This is due to the zone-by-zone design of the Symphonic Wave seat that sequentially produces a vigorous massage to specific areas of the body.
Zone A of the Symphonic Wave seat targets the neck and shoulders, to relieve stiffness; while Zone B is responsible for directing a vigorous massage to the upper back. Strained and sore muscles in the middle of the back, meanwhile, are targeted by Zone C; and finally lower back pain relief is provided by Zone D.
A dedicated configuration of jets are incorporated into the Vita Spa designs by the manufacturer to provide the five key elements of effleurage, with a flow of water upwards along the back; petrisage, with larger swirling jets; tapotement, with jets that pulse the water; circular friction, with powerful and precise circular jets; and vibration/shaking, with the Champagne Air system option that vibrates the water around the hot tub user.
Included in the Vita Spa designs are a full compliment of jets, to provide light, swirling massages to deep tissue penetrating therapy. These are promoted by the manufacturer as being ‘made for healing’ and include the Select-A-Swirl, an adjustable jet providing a kneading massage or invigorating deep tissue option; and the Vortex Stream Plus, a powerful jet that produces strong streams to ease overworked muscles.
There is also the Twin-Spin Pulsator; Turbo Whirlpool; Cluster/Acupressure; and the Tension Ease, which provides a targeted massaging action to penetrate deep into the upper back, neck and shoulders.
During the manufacturing process, specially designed jets are also installed to create the ability to infuse the air with fragrance. By using the extracts of pure essential oils from flowers, herbs and plants, Vita Spa owners can gain the health-promoting qualities of aromatherapy within the VitAroma air massage therapy. A choice of four fragrance canisters is available to insert into the specially designed VitAroma dispenser, which then fills the air with the fragrance.
The manufacturer has recently received celebrity endorsements from athletes and celebs including Big Brother winner Josie Gibson, which provided invaluable marketing opportunities and helped boost sales for its UK network of dealers.
Josie is among the current crop of reality TV stars who have adopted a healthy lifestyle with the help of an Image hot tub from the manufacturer’s new Vita Spa 100 series range.
According to James McClure, this enhanced brand recognition is providing dealers with the capability to justify, and even increase, their Vita Spa price points.
“The Vita Spa brand has really grown in recent years and it has given us a great foundation for the future,” declared James; “Once you achieve good levels of brand recognition it helps to elevate price points in showrooms.
“You can then attract customers who are purchasing their second or third hot tub and are looking for a quality product at a proper price point. These consumers are not interested in just a box of hot water. They also want hydrotherapy technology and water features.”
For more than a decade AquaWarehouse Managing Director Richard Hart has been instrumental in building up momentum for the Vita Spa brand in the UK. He is currently building up for an appearance at Piscine Global in Lyon, from November 18 to 21, on Stand 4C52; and his third stint as an exhibitor at the UK Pool and Spa Expo in Hall 10 at Birmingham NEC on Stand 435 for the two trade only days on January 22 and 23 and Consumer Day on January 24.
In recent years he has provided his dealers with the extra dimension of assistance from seasoned hot tub specialist Graham Message who, as the dedicated Vita Spa Dealer Manager, has been involved with high-profile trade and retailer events, including a special Open Weekend hosted by Doncaster-based Hydro-active Pools & Spas this summer, while enhancing the promotion of the manufacturer’s high-value models and assisting with product training.
Annual growth has been achieved by Richard’s Chelmsford-based exclusive distribution operation, despite the financial constraints of consumers in recent years, and this includes a stunning sales performance that was recorded last year for the manufacturer as Vita Spa celebrated achieving 40 per cent record growth on these shores.
In a competitive market, and throughout the economic downturn, Richard has maintained a stable platform to allow Vita Spa dealers to continue to thrive in the UK by not stretching the supply operation beyond its capabilities.
“Like our manufacturer, we are financially sound and for successive years we have achieved growth,” divulged Richard; “We have not overstretched ourselves or tried to grow too quickly beyond our capabilities. That’s why we have been able to successfully service the demands of our dealers and their customers even during the recession.
“A lot of dealers are now savvy about this market and are in it for the long haul with brands they can trust. They have told us that they are keeping an eye on us, though, and I’m sure if they did get to the stage where they had any negative issues with their suppliers then they would turn to us. That’s because we have built up our own network of loyal dealers and actively promote our services to illustrate that we are doing things right.
Graham Message is also a firm advocate of the pedigree credentials of the manufacturer and the UK Dealer Manager has highlighted the efforts of Richard to maintain Vita Spa dealer loyalty.
“Our current Vita Spa range is light years ahead of what dealers previously had to offer in this country,” enthused Graham; “Now we have a very competitive range of models, with strong design qualities, which we can promote and support to our dealers and their customers.
“Richard has done a great job over the years and, remarkably in this industry of ours, he has never lost a dealer. There have been decisions to part company with one or two dealers, for whatever reasons, but among the established and loyal dealers that Richard has worked with over the years none have ditched the Vita Spa brand.”
Surrey-based Vita Spa dealer James Whiteley has been so impressed with the manufacturer’s products and support that he has chosen to become a specialist ‘single brand’ retailer at his Pools and Spas Direct showroom.
“We are selling off our stock of other brands and then we are going to specialise in a single brand by exclusively providing the Vita Spa range from the rest of this year onwards,” reported James;
“There is a strong range of quality Vita Spa products from just under £4,000 to £14,000 and we are confident that this will help us to target a big spectrum of consumers. We believe that the Vita Spa products provide our customers with better value for money than the brands that our local competitors are currently supplying.
“Our strategy is to grow by increasing customers that will want to come back year after year and we believe we can do that with Vita Spa. It is important to have a pedigree manufacturer and reliable distributor supplying your products. The status of the Vita Spa brand is a big part of our presentation to prospective customers, but the service they will receive is the number one priority, ahead of a good price levels and quality products. The last thing that a customer wants is a headache with their new hot tub.
“Consumers as a rule are not aware about many, if not all, of the established hot tub brands. In general they are looking for a complete package of quality product and exceptional support and that is what we get from Vita Spa.”
James also believes that the high-calibre manufacturing credentials of Vita Spa are matched by excellent distribution to the UK dealers, who gain leads through pro-active marketing and high-ranking online status.
“With Vita Spa in the USA and Richard Hart as distributor in the UK, we know that they are on our side and there are very good communication lines that are always open to us to help us quickly resolve any issues we may have,” enthused James; “There is also a ‘family feel’ to the Vita Spa dealer network in the UK, which you often don’t get with other suppliers.
“Due to Richard’s retailing experience he can provide advice about generating sales and we also find that other Vita Spa dealers are very willing to provide support and answer any questions we may have. We also appreciate the fact that Richard is working hard to gain high rankings in Google searches and has created an online presence for the dealer network that provides us with internet leads.”
Vita Spas will be exhibiting at Piscine Global in Lyon, from November 18 to 21, on Stand 4C52; and the UK Pool and Spa Expo in Hall 10 at Birmingham NEC on Stand 435 for the two trade only days on January 22 and 23 and Consumer Day on January 24.
HTR spoke to Vita Spas Distributor and AquaWarehouse Managing Director Richard Hart to discover how the Vita Spa brand is performing in the UK and how the latest manufacturing technology can help to secure sales.
How many Vita Spa dealers do you have in the UK?
RH: At the moment we have 13 dealers and we are aiming to expand this total by targeting other geographical areas.
What is the most popular Vita Spa model?
RH: The Prestige in our 500 series is currently our most popular model. It has an inclusive music system and seating capacity for six people, including a lounger seat, two water features and 52 jets.
What design features help to secure sales?
RH: The steel frame design is certainly a key element of the Vita Spa sales pitch, along with the totally sealed and weatherproof reinforced ABS plastic Sealed Pan Base, the appliance grade qualities of our models, plus the Vital Energy Insulation System.
Why should dealers consider becoming Vita Spa stockists?
RH: As a Vita Spa dealership you will gain spas that sell themselves. You will also receive support like you’d never imagine, plus customers driven to your door.
Are there any parts of Britain you would like to target?
RH: At the moment we are especially looking to attract additional dealers in Scotland, Cheshire and Gloucestershire.
What advice would you give to dealers?
RH: As a retailer, you have to learn your products inside and out. You also have to take a fresh look at your showroom, as well as providing a makeover for your dealership’s website every two to three years.
Vita Spa will be exhibiting to a predominantly British audience at the UK Pool and Spa Expo 2015 in Hall 10 at Birmingham NEC, on Stand 435, for the two trade only days on January 22 and 23 and the Consumer Day on January 24.