Surrey, BC

Since 1997

Internet Vendors, Liquidation Outlets, Auction Sales and Big Box Stores

This is my least favorite page, yet I think it offers an important viewpoint to consider. People have thanked me for the warning but it has a cheeky, irreverent tone which might not be appropriate for this website. Let me know
what you think.

In general, I consider it ignoble and unwise to bash the competition, but when it comes to huge impersonal companies that we can’t really “hurt”, I’m not sure those rules apply…

Occasionally people tell me they wished they had read this rant before they bought their tub, because they regret having bought a hot tub online or from a big box store or from an auction sale or from one of those furniture liquidation outlets.

1. Auction Sale Story
The term “buyer beware” definitely applies when tubs at the auction Sale. If a hot tub is being auctioned off, it’s almost certainly being sold that way because it’s a problem tub.

Every time there’s a big hot tub auction sale, our parts & service department gets flooded with calls in the days to follow. Sometimes parts aren’t available and other times the repairs needed are very serious. There’s a reason why these tubs are being auctioned instead of being offered to their local dealers at a discounted price!

Early in my hot tub career, when I heard of how cheap tubs were going for at the auction sale, I thought I’d be smart to contact the factory directly to see if I could buy a truckload of tubs from them instead them auctioning them off. The lady on the phone replied, “Oh, believe me, you don’t want these ones”.

Twice I bought hot tubs from the auction sale and both times I regretted it. One of them needed extensive and expensive repairs on the plumbing and components before I could resell it, and the other turned out to be a lemon and bottomless money-pit, and I ended up having to buy it back from the client who had bought it from my store. I then literally chopped it up – the only thing I could salvage off it was one of the pumps and the topside control.

2. Big Box Store Story
At this time, straight across the board, any hot tub being sold at big box stores will be an inferior product.

We used to have a contract with a major big box store to do all their deliveries in the province of BC. The hot tub brand name they sold had a solid “9-out-of-10” rating online, but we always suspected something fishy about the reviews because they were very poorly engineered, sloppily-built tubs, prone to all kinds of problems (when you run a repair shop, you “know the dirt” on everyone in the business).

People in charge of the stores were incredibly disorganized and careless. One day we did the calculations to find that 42.3% of the time, the tubs would arrive with some sort of cosmetic damage, 23.3% of the time with significant damage. Roughly 17% would be mislabeled in such a way to warrant serious concern (wrong address, wrong color, wrong tracking number, etc.). Delivery time was supposed to be four to six weeks, but it would sometimes take several months before they arrived. After installing the tubs, a disconcerting percentage of people (we don’t have access to exact figures) decided to return the product because they didn’t like it (weak jets, factory flaws, leaks, something not working, etc.). We got so tired of dealing with impatient and hostile clients that we stopped doing their deliveries. That’s not the funny part yet…

Parts and service were never part of our contract but we started getting inquiries for missing and broken parts. People said that they got our number from the store’s website. It was frustrating because try as we may, we could not find parts for their tubs. The stores wouldn’t help us (“We don’t do parts”), and the manufacturer wouldn’t respond to our insistent emails and phone messages. When we finally got through, we’d get, “We don’t deal directly with clients – please talk to the store”. So we asked to please have our contact number removed from their website – but no matter how many times we were assured it would be removed, the calls kept coming in week after week.

Funny part coming up…

After literally dozens of calls and emails, we finally got through to somebody who claimed they could give us the email address of “the person with the highest authority” in this area – they assured us that if we emailed that address, that person could get us parts and help us with the service end of things. Relived and full of hope, our secretary composed a letter explaining our futile efforts and describing our frustration. The letter begged for someone to help us take care of the people who had bought their brand name tub.

When she hit “send”, a “new email” message popped up on the screen. We opened it to discover that our message had been forwarded to us and we had emailed ourselves – I guess it so happened that WE were the “ultimate authority” they were referring to! We laughed and laughed. What else could we do?

It’s been ages since we’ve quit dealing with that big box store but we still occasionally get calls and emails from frustrated people asking for parts or asking why the [bleep] we’re so late in delivering their tub. To this day we still haven’t been able to have our number removed from their website, and we still have not been able to get one single part from the store or manufacturer!

3. Online Vendor Story
We’ve had several calls from people who bought a hot tub online. Every single time, the tubs were terribly-built spas from China with ridiculous engineering, obscure parts and inferior materials. But they looked nice enough!

Almost always, there were no parts available to do the repair(s). In these cases, the only way to fix them was to retrofit a completely different system to “make it work”, which of course is time consuming and expensive.

For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the situation:

People who sell online and/or run those furniture liquidation places or big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot, Rona and Costco don’t know anything about hot tubs, and have no interest in the business whatsoever. Spas are just one more item that they stock. The whole idea is to find a manufacturer who will sell them the nicest looking tubs for the cheapest price. That’s pretty much it. The result is that they end up with hot tubs that are uncomfortable, inefficient, poorly designed and prone to problems down the road.

If you know someone who’s happy with their big box store spa’s seating, jetting and performance, it’s probably because they have nothing better to compare it to (after experiencing a high-end spa for an evening, their perspective will change). If you know someone who’s never had a problem with their big box store spa, it’s probably because it’s a relatively new purchase, or they lucked out on that particular spa (an exceptionally good day at the factory, maybe).

There is no real quality control or government standards for hot tub manufacturers – the only qualification for designing and manufacturing hot tubs is that they be “safe”, so it’s perfectly legal to sell extremely poor quality spas, as long as they comply with the country’s electrical safety standards.

Thus, there is a very significant difference between high-end and low-grade tubs! For instance it is possible for a thirty-year-old well built tub to be running on its original spa pack and have all the original jets in good condition, yet I have seen a one-year-old Walmart tub with all but two jets jet blown out – the jets were only warrantied for 90 days. And I once saw a one-year-old Home Depot tub needing a complete spa pack replacement. The non-transferable warranty was no help to the poor lady who had purchased it second hand three months earlier. 

It seems that these hot tub manufacturers spend their entire budget on cosmetics. Their spas look nice but they are uncomfortable and with the jets on, the user is pushed out of the seat and/or made to float away. The wood, plastic, fiberglass and glue are low-grade, the spa is badly engineered and the workmanship is terrible. They have poorly-applied insulation, Frankenstein plumbing and crappy covers. Their shell/skirting/shell are a sloppy “fit” and their warranties aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Please see the “beware of buying new” page of the website – these tubs often fail on almost every issue mentioned. 

These tubs look good, and the price is really low so the store sells lots of hot tubs. Since they are poor quality spas, the store gets a large number of returns and warranty claims but they’re selling so many tubs that overall they’re making enough money on sales to compensate for the problems. 

This goes on for the first two or three years, but in the fourth and fifth year, it starts to catch up with them and the tubs they sold in the first couple years start breaking down. The store starts getting lots of upset buyers contacting them. Conveniently, the warranty is worded in such a way that the most common problems are not covered after a couple of years, so the buyer is stuck with expensive or even cost-prohibitive repairs. If the problems are covered under warranty, the buyers have to wait a long time to be served because of the long line-up of others waiting their turn. Then they discover that the jets, motors and components have changed during that time and replacement parts are no longer available. 

Fed up, the store ditches that manufacturer and finds a new supplier. Then when new potential buyers say, “I’ve heard bad things about your hot tubs”, the salesperson (if you can find one who knows anything at all about the tubs) replies, “Yes, we were having some problems with that manufacturer – they started getting sloppy, so we replaced them with THIS manufacturer”. The truth is that the manufacturer wasn’t getting sloppy – they made a bad product from day one – it just took a couple years to become obvious. But their new product is no better than their old one, so the cycle begins all over again.

[note: since publishing the above paragraph, we’ve seen this thing happen several times, including Costco’s recent switch to their NEW “Evolution” spas in November, 2008]

These stores are so big and impersonal that they don’t really care about their reputation when it comes to their spas. Unlike a smaller business that needs to be concerned about word of mouth, a big box store can actually get away with selling junk. Obviously these stores don’t get repeat customers when it comes to hot tubs, but there are enough new customers to make up for that. For stores that sell everything from rice pudding to ceiling tiles, it really doesn’t matter. If spas become too much of a problem, they simply stop selling them altogether, and they’ll still have enough business to thrive. 

A few years ago someone said to me, “It’s easy for you to criticize cheap tubs because all you sell is so-called high-end stuff”. So right then and there I decided to also sell cheap tubs, just so I could criticize them with credibility. At first it was great because even if I was upfront about their inferior quality, they still sold like hot cakes because there’s always a market for the cheapest price in town.

But a few months into it, customer satisfaction dropped like lead and people would get really mad at me when things went wrong that weren’t covered by the warranty.

One day someone told me that they had heard from another store that we sold “junk”. It was true, but of course the “whole truth” was that we sold everything from super-cheap [junk] to super-high end, but it still felt yucky to hear that from a potential client, so we decided to quit selling the really cheap stuff.

We now leave the super-cheap-tubs market to the online guys and stores that aren’t concerned about reputation or company pride.

There. I’ve bled my venom. Now back to the more civilized pages.

Analysis Paralysis Why It Is Hard To Choose