River Rock Estate

How River Rock Estate invested in Stoked Stainless tubs to create an upmarket and highly profitable tourist experience.

For Graeme and Jan-Marie McDowell of River Rock Estate in Cromwell, Central Otago, the shift into the hot tub business was one born out of necessity.

Pre-Covid, their boutique vineyard accommodation was typically booked by international tourists, but as New Zealand’s borders closed in 2020 they were forced to think about how they could cater to the domestic market.

They already had two rather unique spas located inside grain silos that could be used by guests, so they decided to double down on hot pools and invested in a range of new Stoked Stainless spa pools and baths, creating different private areas for each of them. Now there are two outdoor hot tubs fitted with heat pumps (including one bespoke ‘super tub’ with a cooldown shower and a neck massager), as well as two Stoked Stainless bath tubs in a stables-style building.

Graeme says the pair first came across Stoked Stainless hot tubs at the Wānaka A&P show.

“We were quite taken with them. So when we decided to set up the hot tub business we wanted something that would last, was low maintenance, could be used inside or outside and wasn’t hard to clean. We have a quick turnaround of 90 minutes between bookings, so it had to be easy. And it is, because we just empty them, wash them down with a soft broom and fill them back up again. And we use the water on the vines and grass.”

They also wanted to create a premium experience and Stoked Stainless ticked all the boxes. 

“Having stainless and cedar is upmarket. As soon as people see it, they think it’s top of the line and that’s what we’re aiming to be.”

So far, the hot pool business has exceeded their expectations and has turned River Rock Estate into a more appealing proposition for domestic and international customers.

“It’s gone berserk, really. We’re booked every night,” says Graeme. “It was definitely a good decision. We should have done it years ago if we knew how well it would go. The pools are the main thing for us now and, unlike before, guests pay to stay and they also pay to bathe.”

Jan-Marie says investing in top of the line hot tubs was well worth the investment and she says they now get more accommodation bookings because they have the hot tubs there.

“Now people will come to stay for the night because it’s more of an experience,” she says. “And more people are now staying for two nights.”

At some other hot pool businesses or accommodation providers, “you’re not on your own, or you have to wait until someone leaves and you’re in full view of everyone else,” says Graeme. But at River Rock Estate, privacy is paramount.

“The pool is yours for an hour and half. And they’re all adults-only.”

He says the feedback from customers is that they love the experience because of the beautiful location, the unique spaces and the reasonable prices (each hot tub booking comes with a tray of cheese and crackers, chocolates and a complimentary bottle of River Rock’s boutique wine, which isn’t available at liquor stores or supermarkets).

He says a lot of customers don’t realise how good the Stoked Stainless tubs are because they haven’t been in anything like them before.

“But when they get in, they’re just amazed. Quite a few customers have gone on to invest in their own tub after coming here. And we’ve had people come here specifically to test them out and help make a decision on whether to buy one.”

When you’ve got forward bookings – “and we’ve already got bookings for 2023” – Graeme says you need the tubs to be available all the time. And because they’re so reliable and robust, “they’ve been able to handle anything customers throw at them”.

Staff shortages mean Graeme and Jan-Marie are extremely busy dealing with current customer numbers (guests who stay for a night also get a wine tasting experience). And, aside from one new hot tub area that will be set in an olive grove “and will also come with a few other amazing things to make this location particularly special,” Graeme says, they’re not planning to add any more tubs in the near future. But if they do decide to expand, they’ll be heading straight back to Stoked Stainless.

“I’ve checked all the opposition out. And they’re just not as good, they’re not as strong, not as durable and not as well-priced … And you just don’t get that level of customer service if you buy something from overseas.”

He’d tell anyone who was considering Stoked Stainless tubs – whether accommodation providers looking to stand out from the competition and get more bookings, or individual households looking to make an investment in family time – to “go for it”. 

“But come and try them out here beforehand,” he laughs.