It is an exciting yet challenging time for pool/hot tub retailers and servicers. Challenged by the rising influence of Internet resellers, it has now become critical for businesses to transform and confront typical strategies of how to survive, succeed, and thrive.
In the current retail climate, it is almost unthinkable for a pool/hot tub retailer not to have an Internet presence to compete for attention. However, at the same time, beefing up customer interaction is just as critical. Profit margins on traditional pool items such as chemicals are decreasing. As a result, products that will produce higher margins must be sourced. Historically, toys, pool games, floats, automatic cleaners, and replacement items provided higher margins. Now, almost every swimming pool/spa item can be purchased online at prices below traditional margins. Therefore, surviving this retail change will depend on how the business is positioned to do what it does best—build relationships with customers to keep them returning for industry expertise. Doing this, however, involves ongoing staff training on different ways to identify customer needs and wants by developing a strong communication outreach.
What is a savvy pool and spa retailer to do?
The key is focusing on customer loyalty. This means operating the business from the customer’s point of view. Perhaps some may think they already do this, yet customers are not always coming back. Instead, many are buying from click-and-order websites and big-box stores, rather than from reliable, local, brick-and-mortar pool/hot tub stores.
Specialized pool/hot tub stores offer a live retail environment where customers can visit and become familiar with staff, not to mention the ability to touch and feel the products. Customers also have the benefit of speaking to experts with a range of specialists on hand, including those who can troubleshoot by phone and/or online.
Typical online resellers cannot provide customers with the personal attention they desire, nor can an emotional bond be created. Consumers want to be a part of something—they want to belong to a retailer they can trust and who becomes a part of their family.
When it comes to advice and technical expertise, big-box stores, like most Internet resellers, do not have educated staff on the floor to answer technical questions and/or solve water quality issues. Further, these outlets cannot provide customers with water testing services or give them a water treatment ‘prescription.’
Achieving repeat business requires new rules. Instituting a global approach to customer care is the key to success. One way to do this is training all store staff on the elements of customer loyalty, which include positive attitudes, establishing goals, listening and understanding customers, pride in the business, building relationships, and embracing change. In doing this, not only will customers return to the store, but the business will also be more likely to earn higher profits.
Establish and maintain a positive attitude
There is no better way to feel than positive. Customers can sense the culture of a business by the way its staff greet and interact with them. Simple body language can present a positive, negative, or blasé feeling to the customer; therefore, staff should be trained to be positive at all times. Training is a direct proportion to how the business owner presents themselves. If the business atmosphere is positive, the staff will act in similar fashion.
Competition among staff can be constructive if handled in a positive way. Set small goals for sales; create a matrix for teamwork activities to produce positive sales outcomes. Constantly review sales goals with staff and ask questions as to how they feel they could improve and what their ideas are for improvement.
Understand the customer
The ability to achieve positive sales first requires an understanding of the customer. Therefore, it is important for staff to personally interact with them in a warm, friendly manner. To perfect this, consider ‘role playing’ during training sessions. Continuously educate staff on new technologies and trends in water chemistry and water safety, and train them on building rapport through productive conversation, whereby greeting customers on a first name basis as soon as they enter the store.
Company- and self-pride
The outward appearance of the retail store says a lot about the business. Michael Levine’s book, Broken Windows, Broken Business, which discusses business management, provides an excellent discussion on what happens when the small details are ignored. Customer perception comes from maintaining good housekeeping, clean shelves, spotless water testing station, and legible signage. Most importantly, all staff members should always be organized, neat and presentable; shirts with the company’s logo are a must in today’s pool/hot tub retail store. Further, half-eaten meals on top of desks and/or counters are not acceptable.
Listen with the intent to understand
Customers want to know the staff member they are dealing with is truly interested in what they are saying. For example, should a customer arrive to the store with a water sample in hand, it should not be assumed that is all they are interested in. In many cases, they are there for much more. By listening carefully, staff members may discover the customer is interested in other products, e.g. toys and games, or possibly even a new pool cleaner. Therefore, staff should be trained to listen and ask questions while they are performing the water test as a way to fact-find and uncover what is important to the customer.
Establish, build and maintain relationships
Retailing today is all about building relationships—people caring about people. The store staff’s ability to acknowledge customers, learn their names as well as remember their pool history is what builds lasting relationships, as well as customer loyalty. Keeping the business top-of mind with customers is also important. E-mail marketing that not only includes product sales but also pool care advice is another way for a business to show customers it cares about them. Other examples include: calling a customer when they are ill or have experienced a tragedy in the family, or simply sending a card to congratulate them on a special day.
Embracing change as a natural progression
When taking a photograph, it is easy to focus solely on the subject; however, by stepping back far enough, the subject becomes one small part of a larger landscape. This same principle can be used when being optimistic about company growth. Many tend to focus on a particular problem in order to develop a solution; therefore, always remember to take a step back to look at the bigger picture.
Moving forward, to be successful in retail it is important to be able to accept change.
The days of people driving out of their way to purchase what they need from one particular retailer are almost gone. Thus, establishing strong customer relationships, setting goals, adapting to different business climates, and listening to customers with the intent to help will ensure the success of any pool/hot tub retail store.
This article was written by Connie Sue Centrella and originally appeared on Pool & Spa Marketing [link].