The wooden hot tub may have lost ground over the years, but it’s making a strong comeback, said Paul Wadding, owner of Sierra Southern & Prestige Hot Tubs in Azusa, one of a handful of remaining California makers of redwood hot tubs.
Figures from the National Spa & Pool Institute lend support to Wadding’s assessment. Although wooden tubs made up only 4.4% of hot tubs sold last year, that was a significant increase from just 1.1% of sales in 1986. (The term hot tub is commonly used to refer to wooden vessels as well as other types of tubs known in the industry as spas. The NSPI counts all of the products in one broad category.) “We’re getting more and more calls from people who are willing to wait for a quality product,” Wadding said.
For a time, Wadding said he sold acrylic spas for other manufacturers, but quit about eight months ago because of customer complaints about quality. People complained that the spas weren’t deep enough, that the vessels were too slippery and that some spas soon showed cracks in the material, he said. The wooden tubs pioneered the industry, he said.
After wooden tubs became popular, it was easy for others to come in and make spas of other materials and quickly surpass the wooden tub makers, he said. “They could make a mold that would generate thousands of products. It was easy for boat manufacturers and (makers of camping equipment) to do it. A mold is a mold, but with each (wooden) tub you start at the beginning,” he said.
Made Parts for Model Kits
Pat Ewing, spokeswoman for the NSPI, said spas also quickly dominated the market because consumers found materials other than wood easier to maintain. Some manufactureres now sell wooden tubs with vinyl liners for easy care.
Wadding has been making wooden tubs for 16 years. The company originally made parts for model railroad kits, he said. He got started in the hot tub business when his company was asked to build a wooden deck around a hot tub. “I decided to go along to see what this silly thing was,” he said. A longtime woodworker, he said he decided to build a tub for himself. “The first two tubs I made for myself got sold. I ended up with my 34th tub at my house,” he said.
The company has made more than 6,000 tubs that have been shipped all over the world. “We used to make a 120 tubs a month. But we couldn’t get redwood for a long time and had to cut our dealer outlets,” he said. The company, including a retail store at the Azusa site, now works with 25 dealers. Wadding requires, among other things, that dealers have been in business for eight years and are able to furnish him with financial statements every 90 days, he said.
The availability of redwood has improved considerably recently, he said, adding that he now plans to resume promotions that were suspended when redwood was scarce. Wadding said he cut back on promotions during the shortage because he feared he would be faced with a demand that he couldn’t fulfill.