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By Dan Schechner
November 28, 2008

The hot tub industry has a new trade organization.

The International Hot Tub Association was established in early November by Andrew Tournas, president of ThermoSpas in Wallingford, Conn.

Several other manufacturers are backing the effort.

IHTA was created in response to new government regulations affecting spas, and association officials hope it will “protect and promote” the industry.

“Now more than ever, if we don’t have a group that’s 100 percent focused on hot tubs, we’ll never have the kind of voice we need in terms of shaping legislation and protecting the industry,” said Tournas, who also serves as IHTA president.

“When you have a singular focus, you’re always going to be able to do it a little better,” he added.

Leading the organization’s charge are representatives from Watkins Manufacturing, SunStar, Pleatco, Spa Manufacturers Inc. and ThermoSpas.

The group is open to manufacturers, suppliers and retailers nationwide, and officials are aiming for aggressive growth, stateside and internationally, in the coming months.

“Ultimately, my concern is not how well the [IHTA] does; it’s how the industry as a whole is doing,” Tournas said. “Nobody who joined this organization did it on their own behalf — they are all legitimately concerned about the industry.”

However, some industry members questioned the decision to launch a new trade organization.

In particular, the move comes at a critical time for the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, which has been working to garner support for a broad-based promotional campaign designed to help the flagging spa industry.

“We really don’t know the motivation behind what [Tournas] is doing,” said Lauren Stack, APSP’s director of public relations and industry promotion. “APSP has had great success in dealing with various agen-cies on hot tub regulations. If [IHTA] is focusing on protection and advocacy, it’s going to overlap with what we’re doing.

“There’s nothing this new organization can bring to the table that we don’t already,” she added.

Dues for IHTA’s participating spa manufacturers and suppliers now stand at $5,000, while companies whose primary product is not hot tubs are charged $2,500. For their part, retailers are assessed $500 for their first location and $200 for each store thereafter.

Among the group’s stated goals:
• Hire lobbyists to work solely on behalf of the hot tub industry
• Join ANSI to enable unlimited IHTA members to attend their meetings, present arguments exclusive to the hot tub industry, and influence ANSI decision-making
• Create proper definitions that differentiate hot tubs from pools and jetted bathtubs
• Promote standardization of a single energy protocol across all 50 states
• Reach out to the insurance industry to secure coverage for spas purchased for medical reasons.

Mike Dunn, vice president of sales and marketing at Vista, Calif.-based Watkins, said he was contacted by Tournas in early October. By then, Tournas already had laid the foundation for the new group and was seeking start-up support.

Dunn envisions IHTA as an independent group working cooperatively with others in the industry.

“We see this as complementary. It is in no way meant to be competitive [with APSP],” he said. “What spurred this, I believe, were all these regulatory issues coming down right now. It’s really coming at us from all directions. And we liked the premise of what Andy brought us, which is more focus on protection than promotion.”

Watkins has no plans to abandon its membership in APSP, Dunn added.

“I’d really like to see our group and APSP working together,” he said. “It’s certainly not an either-or proposition.”

The new group has signed an initial four-month contract with Visioneering Consultants Inc., an association management company known for its work with the Florida Swimming Pool Association, the Genesis 3 Design Group and the National Plasterers Council. Mitch Brooks, who heads up NPC, also is president of VCI.

As for whether IHTA could co-exist with APSP, Brooks was optimistic.

“We need to come up with a game plan, and I’m sure part of that’s going to be cooperation and collaboration with the other associations in the industry,” he said. “That’s just common sense.”

His sentiments were echoed by Jonathan Clark, president/CEO of Jaccuzi Hot Tubs and Sundance Spas Inc., based in Chino, Calif.

“With the difficult circumstances the industry is facing with a tough economy, we need to go forward with one voice,” said Clark, who also serves on the APSP Board of Directors. “I would hope that IHTA’s mission is aligned with APSP’s for the betterment of the industry.”