Getting Down to Business with Wolfgang’s Spa Works

577ec2448fe86.imageIt’s hard to think of hot tubs without also thinking of Wolfgang’s Spa Works. Neil Collins, part owner and son of the business’ namesake, sat down with The Taos News to talk about the business of hot water, why people hot tub and protecting brand integrity in the face of planned obsolesce.

Let’s start with the “who” behind Wolfgang’s Spa Works.

I was born in Santa Fe, but I was raised back and forth between there and Taos a lot. I used to remodel homes in Albuquerque. Wolfgang’s my dad, and he needed a manager about 10 years ago, so I moved my family up from Albuquerque. I have two kids, and they have a mom here in Taos.

What’s the history of the business?

It started off in 1997 when Carl Fritz told Wolfgang they should start a company. They called it A1 Pool and Spa. It started growing and growing. Wolfgang met his wife, and they bought Carl out and changed the name to Wolfgang’s Spa Works around 2001. I bought her out a few years back, so now it’s me and my dad.

You primarily sell hot tubs?

We’re a full-service dealership. We sell hot tubs, maintain and repair them and sell accessories and chemicals.

Calling it a “dealership” makes it sound like you’re selling cars over here.

In a way. We’re a little less like a handyman place and a little more like a dealership. We have a lot of factory parts, and our technicians are factory trained. We have exclusive rights to the Hot Springs and Nordic brands, which we feel is the top, and we get to pick any brand we want because no one else has a dealership up here. We’ve chosen the brands that perform the best, have the lowest repair needs and are the most energy efficient.

How many employees do you have?

With me and Wolfgang, there’s eight of us. It’s big for the town, that’s for sure. Our guys do repairs, maintenance and installs. They end up doing the Enchanted Circle almost every day.

What’s the farthest they have to go?

Probably Alamosa and Albuquerque. We draw the line at Farmington.

What’s your demographic?

It’s the locals that are actually the bulk of the business. Of course, there’s quite a few second homeowners in Taos, Red River and Angel Fire. A lot of people have bought homes here to use as an income stream, and the hot tubs are part of that. It’s just one of those appliances, like a dishwasher, that people want to have as an amenity.

Besides marketing their rentals, why do folks get a hot tub?

The marketing of your rental home is a side benefit. The primary reason people have one is just to feel better. You can have the large TV or another toy in your driveway, but that’s not going to make you feel better on a daily basis. Especially our older customers, their backs feel better, their joints feel better. In the 1970s, hot tubs were marketed as a party thing. That’s not the primary reason anymore. It’s for your health.

Give me the skinny on hot tubs — cost, maintenance, etc.

A hot tub runs anywhere from $3,500 to $36,000 for an athletic, swim spa — which is still about half of what you’d pay if you built a pool. It’s not a sexy comparison, but I like to compare hot tubs to a dishwasher. You could build one from scratch and be scratching your head when you go to the hardware store and are wondering what Joe the handyman did to put it together. Or you can just get the dishwasher – and if a part goes out, then we know what it is, can order it up and install it for you.

It’s good to keep them going. Even if you keep them hot all the time, the average cost to run them is $10 to $30 a month, depending on the model. A lot of people have bad experiences with low-efficiency hot tubs — word gets around they’re energy hogs, but they don’t have to be.

Is business fairly consistent?

We don’t know what’s going to happen. Some months, we can sell no tubs – and other months, we can sell a bunch. The service and maintenance help us plug along, and we constantly put money back into the business to make sure that if things go south, even in a good year, things will still be OK. So [if] it’s a slow month, our employees are all still going to get 40 hours a week and it’s all going to be OK.

What’s the biggest mistake people make with their hot tubs?

In terms of how they’re maintained, the biggest mistake people here make is trying to get away with using absolutely no sanitizer. People are suspicious of chemicals, and it’s good to be suspicious. Our recommendations are industry standards. It’s not a conspiracy of chemical manufacturers. With most of the tubs we sell, you can get away with a teaspoon to a tablespoon of chlorine per week, which is a little more than our drinking water here in town. You’re not bombing it like a commercial pool. There are a lot of alternatives, too, like saltwater systems or commercial-grade hydrogen peroxide.

Are hot tubs susceptible to planned obsolescence, like so much else we buy?

We try to carry tubs that don’t have planned obsolescence, which I personally hate — we don’t need more junk, and we should just have to buy a thing once. In that way, we’re a little unusual. At dealer conferences, that’s not the industry attitude. Hot Springs, our top brand, still carries parts for every tub they’ve made for 20 years. It used to be that they made all the parts for all the tubs they’ve ever made.

Do you think Taos has a hot springs culture that boosts your business?

There is a hot springs culture here. Hot tubs don’t detract from that. Hot springs are a different experience than having your own tub. Like, I’m a morning hot tubber. When I wake up, I make my coffee and head out to drink my coffee in my hot tub while the sun comes up. That’s a really good, peaceful way to start my day and gather my thoughts. You can’t really do that at a hot spring because that’s a destination thing. But the hot springs are cool because it’s more of a social environment. If people want the hot springs experience, I tell them they can get the tub and walk around their house a few times to feel like you’re hiking in.