California Hot Tubs’ Bruce Gold said demand for hot tubs surged in April and stayed that way until October.

California Hot Tubs’ Bruce Gold said demand for hot tubs surged in April and stayed that way until October. Photo by Thomas Wasper

When Dana Camarillo realized her family wouldn’t go on their usual summer vacation because of the pandemic, she looked to create a relaxing getaway in her West Los Angeles backyard. 

Camarillo installed a hot tub, and industry experts say she is not alone. 


Hot tub and pool sales nationally are up about 25% on average, according to the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. 


Hot tub manufacturers and dealers in the Los Angeles area say they are experiencing a surge in demand, with one dealer reporting that sales in 2020 have tripled compared to 2019. 


But with the jump in demand has come longer-than-usual wait times for customers and a nationwide shortage of supplies for manufacturers. 


The problem is not unique to the hot tub industry. Sports and recreational products like bicycles and golf clubs, along with supplies for home improvement projects, have also experienced heightened demand.


At the same time, manufacturers of those products, including hot tubs, are battling a shortage of labor and materials as people hunker down in their homes and turn to outdoor exercise.


Tracine Andrus Marroquin, North America bath and spas vice president of marketing, product and channel at Jacuzzi Group Worldwide, said in an email that new orders are slated for production next summer. 


Most dealers have preordered spas, so consumers “are not experiencing the full brunt of our extended lead times,” she said. And Jacuzzi, which is headquartered in Chino Hills, hasn’t seen orders slow down.

Strong sales


When the pandemic first hit, it wasn’t clear how the economic shutdown would affect the hot tub industry.


Bruce Gold, owner of California Hot Tubs Inc. in Santa Monica, said “everything went dead” for the first month after stay-at-home orders took effect in March. 


“As it started to go on, we started to think maybe people are going to want stuff for their home,” Gold said. “But it did (happen) much harder and quicker than I thought.”
Sales started to pick up in April and stayed that way until October, Gold said. 


Jim Ferguson, southwest sales manager for Utah-based hot tub manufacturer Bullfrog Spas, said the pandemic has led to a reduction in workforce because companies have had to implement social distancing rules on assembly lines. 


Suppliers have also had trouble hiring workers to catch up with the demand because in some cases, people are earning more by collecting unemployment than if they were to get a factory job, he said. 


And as you go down the supply chain for materials, the problem becomes compounded.


“That’s why this whole supply and demand is actually flipped upside down,” Ferguson said. “There’s a significant demand and an inability to supply the demand.”


Ferguson said Bullfrog sales are up about 35% over 2019. 


Sabeena Hickman, president and chief executive of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, is well aware of the increased interest among consumers. “Hot tubs are definitely in hot demand,” she said. 


Hickman added that people are likely choosing hot tubs for their homes because they’re not as big of an investment as a pool, although pool sales have also increased during the pandemic. 


“I do think just Covid and the fear of travel and the need for a more controlled environment, and wanting to get out of your home and go into your backyard, and having something to relax you,” are some of the reasons consumers are choosing hot tubs, she said. “I think that the whole Covid pandemic, unfortunately, has been very beneficial for our industry.”


Hickman said the surge in demand was “completely unexpected.”

Health and wellness


Aside from the social entertainment hot tubs can provide, they also offer physiological benefits as many people are paying more attention to their physical and mental wellness during the pandemic.


“The warm water can help muscles relax from either sitting on a Zoom call or just stress in life,” said Beth Scalone, a physical therapist at the North County Water and Sports Therapy Center in San Diego. 


Being submerged in water can also have a calming effect on one’s nervous system and help relieve chronic pain, Scalone said, though she cautions against people with extremely high blood pressure or cardiac issues using a high-heat hot tub.  


Even Hickman bought a hot tub for her backyard during the pandemic. She thought it would be strictly for enjoyment, but she has found it helps with relaxation. 


“There’s just something about water,” she said. 


Camarillo, on the other hand, had her teenage daughters in mind when she decided to get a hot tub. 


“I thought, ‘How am I going to help these girls survive mentally without seeing their friends and not going to school and not socializing?’ So, a hot tub was the first thing in my mind,” Camarillo said. “At least it would provide us a little outlet, something to look forward to at the end of the day.”

Hurry up and wait


Camarillo did experience a longer wait time than usual when she ordered her tub from Gold at the end of May. 


Typically, it takes three to four weeks for a hot tub to be delivered, but Camarillo didn’t receive hers until July. 


Gold said wait times have been reduced since the rush of orders slowed down. The industry’s typical busy season is October through March. 


Camarillo splurged on a bigger tub so that her daughters’ friends can come over with their masks on and be socially distanced outdoors.


There is one rule that Camarillo imposed when it comes to the hot tub — you can only talk about “happy” things. Talk about Covid, work or school is not allowed.


Hot tubs have been a symbol of California leisure since the late 1960s when Jacuzzi created the world’s first integrated jet whirlpool bath called the Roman in Northern California after a family member was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  


In the 1970s, the company invented larger tubs to accommodate groups of people. Pomona-based Cal Spas entered the market in 1978. 


Although there have been challenges as the demand has increased, Jacuzzi is staying optimistic.  


“There seems to be another side to the social distancing coin, where people are finding ways to improve the time they spend with those closest to them,” Marroquin said. “We are pleased to be a part of this increase in demand to help people enjoy their family and their home, even in this pandemic.”

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