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The passion for saunas continue to grow in North America

By Rick Mouw

Woman entering a sauna in residential backyard.
Saunas help to promote leisure, relaxation, and personal wellness.

Depending on the homeowner and what type of lifestyle they live, it might not be immediately apparent, but sauna use and ownership continues to increase in popularity. In fact, many retailers may be surprised to find out just how many people have a secret passion for sitting and sweating on a wooden bench in a hot room.

The growth in sauna awareness can be attributed to a number of factors, including self-educators who are into researching the health benefits of traditional sauna use. These small rooms or buildings, designed as a place to experience dry or wet heat sessions, also tend to have a devoted following who are not shy about sharing the experience with anyone who expresses an interest.

Long traditions

In fact, saunas are nothing new. Nordic and eastern European nations have enjoyed a vibrant sauna culture for hundreds of years—especially Finland—the de facto sauna heartland. By extension, the sauna bathing practice is not actually as brand new to North America as some may think.

It is definitely growing, but it is not necessarily new. For instance, in regions with certain immigrant communities, the sauna is no novelty. For example, in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern Michigan, one will likely find masters of heat and steam with generational ties to Nordic Europe. This goes to say, sauna use is not a transient fad, but rather a time-tested practice that has crossed many borders and cultures and, yet, remains intact.

The use of these products are here to stay, as an increasing number of people in Canada and the U.S., continue to realize the possibilities this tradition offers. As a result, this presents numerous opportunities for industry dealers.

To take advantage of the situation, grounding in the best practices of sauna sales is essential. To sell them successfully to a growing market, retailers will need to know and be able to explain how they differ from other similar products, basic operation, and what their benefits are to consumers.

Know the differences

When a customer enters a retail showroom and expresses interest in purchasing a sauna it is great, but does he/she understand what they are asking for? To be able to answer this question, retailers must have a solid understanding as well.

At its most basic definition, a sauna is a wooden room with a high-performance heater. The heater has a cavity—in or around it—that holds stones, and when it is operating, it heats the stones, as well as the air inside the sauna. At the desired temperature, putting water on the heated stones generates a burst of steam. This is an important distinction: a true sauna can produce a dry heat or a humid heat (called a wet sauna). Temperatures can be as mild as 65.5 C (150 F) or as hardy as 93 C (200 F). It is simply a matter of personal preference and comfort level.

Perhaps the customer has heard about a product called an infrared sauna. Strictly speaking, these are not considered a traditional sauna. Yes, it is a wooden room with a bench and heaters, but it uses infrared panels to raise the body’s temperature without significantly raising the air temperature inside the room. Infrared heat also tends to be milder, and the bather cannot use water to generate steam. It is solely a dry-heat, low-temperature experience.

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