October 1, 2013
By Connie Sue Centrella
There is a feeling of hope for the aquatics industry as there have been many signs for a rebound. Yet, the economic crisis created fear, anxiety, frustration, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of both industry professionals and consumers alike. Recovering requires looking at new ways to sell pool products and services. How businesses choose to revolutionize their operations to meet the demands of the consumer will ultimately determine their future. Practicing sustainability can help revitalize a business, but first it must be understood, and embraced.
Consumers have changed their buying habits over the past few years. Now they are looking for ways in which to modify their lifestyles yet still enjoy the pleasures and benefits of their own swimming environment. It is vital for pool/hot tub businesses to acknowledge this change and embrace what is attractive to consumers—energy-efficient, money-saving ‘green’ products.
People are looking for ‘green’ benefits, for example, where the products come from, how energy-efficient they are, and how they can improve health. In this regard, sustainability strategies are emerging as the new business mantra, and the future of the aquatics industry will depend on everyone’s ability to accept ‘green’ as a new way of thinking. Care for the environment is on the minds of many industry professionals, as well. In fact, all facets of the industry are in the midst of changing their strategies to foster this movement. Therefore, to gain a competitive advantage a new set of rules will need to be adopted. For instance, products not only need to offer consumers a ‘greener’ value, but also greater energy efficiency benefits that send a strong environmental message showing the business cares about the future of the planet.
To seize this competitive advantage more businesses will focus on new technology, while the attributes of environmentally friendly products rest on energy consumption, carbon footprint, toxicity, origin, and payback.
First in the pool industry’s ‘green’ revolution was the implementation of variable-speed pumps (VSPs) to reduce energy consumption. A number of regions are implementing energy codes that require a reduction in swimming pool electrical usages; changing over to two-speed and/or variable-speed pool pumps is one example. In fact, some municipalities have or are offering rebates and energy reduction incentives. Reducing toxic and often hazardous chemicals that ultimately reach lakes and streams must also become a priority. To meet this challenge, consumers are learning about electrolytic chlorine generators (ECGs), ultraviolet (UV), and ozone as alternative methods of killing bacteria without harming the environment.
Further, consumers are conscious about the cost of energy to move products along the supply chain; therefore, manufacturers are also working to retrofit their plants to be more energy-efficient when it comes to tooling, recycling paper and vinyl, and/or implementing solar heating to reduce carbon emissions. Distributors are looking for ways to change their shipping habits to reduce gas consumption, thus lowering their carbon footprint. To find new ways of bringing ‘green’ products to market to meet consumer demand, the industry must first create an energy lifecycle footprint of all the products being sold.
Retailers and contractors also need to get on board with the ‘green’ revolution. Not by ‘greenwashing’ their marketing, but rather taking it upon themselves to modify their stores and building habits to recycle, become paperless, and retrofit trucks and equipment in the field to achieve energy reductions.
Adopting a set of green initiatives will spark this revolution—everyone in the industry must get lean, smart, creative, and engaged.
Efficient management of internal business operations related to energy costs is key to profitability in the new ‘green’ revolution. This starts with an internal audit. Industry professionals should review their income statement and identify expenses that relate to energy consumption. Gas reductions and changing out office/store lighting to reduce electricity are two examples; slashing just one per cent off each will enhance profits. Utility companies offer monitoring devices, which can be placed on meters to determine high- and low-energy usage periods. These changes take careful planning and execution and require a shift in employee behaviour. Employees like to stay in the present; execution of a get lean strategy will take effort, but challenging team members to take small steps toward sustainability will give them a new co-operative spirit. Getting lean also requires setting aside dollars to invest in updated office equipment and transforming internal functions to improve energy efficiency. Internally, getting lean requires measurements of electricity, paper, and computer usages in addition to completing a financial analysis. What gets measured gets done.
Innovative, energy-wise equipment requires new learning. The ability to design an energy-efficient pool environment calls for additional training in hydraulics and electricity. Knowing the science of hydraulics and electricity (total dynamic head [TDH] and Ohm’s law) is mandatory with today’s energy-efficient technologies. Knowledge is required to get smart; therefore, going ‘green’ requires pool professionals to change their long-standing guesses as to the right pump and filter applications.
Calculating TDH is the only method to achieve maximum flow with smaller pump sizes. The technology behind VSPs requires the study of hydraulics and electricity. Calculating the amps, watts, and volts of each proposed pump is the only way to explain what the payback on new equipment will be and what it means to the customer. Retailers must become knowledgeable about all aspects of any new equipment they are promoting to the customer. For example, heat pumps and solar panels demand certain flow rates; therefore, the ability to install an appropriately sized system takes new education.
Consumers are looking for payback, i.e., the amount of time it will take to recover their investment in new equipment through energy savings. They are motivated to upgrade to greener products, but only if they can see the cost savings in addition to the environmental benefits. Each industry professional should be prepared to have that understanding and be able to effectively communicate.
Creativity is free and becoming more creative will enhance the bottom line. Surviving and rebounding from the economic crises takes a strong commitment to creativity. Today’s marketing strategies demand new ideas and creative ways of delivering the ‘green’ message to the consumer. For instance, examining how the company’s web marketing and direct mail programs relate to the consumer are important steps to helping them understand the company’s commitment to environmental consciousness.
This is a great time for innovation. Rethink how the company is delivering its products and embrace ideas such as solar and geothermal as alternative methods of heating. The consumer will be attracted to those pool professionals who are making innovative moves. Systematize any innovation by watching for trends in the marketplace and wrap them into the marketing program.
Changes in behaviour are another freebie as this only takes a little bit of effort. Training employees on the benefits of energy-efficient equipment will give them a sense of purpose and a new involvement in the company. Engaging employees in steps to improve energy performance and involving them in writing a sustainability policy are all ways to bring team members into the effort. Employees are motivated for change they are involved in such as energy budget items where they can see decreases in expenditures and increases in energy efficiencies partly due to their efforts.
A profitable plan to achieve a healthy green revolution for the aquatics industry takes everyone’s involvement and commitment. From manufacturer to distributor to retail store to service, renovation and construction—everyone must join together to build a solid, energy-efficient, sustainable future. Each link in the chain influences the others; ‘greening’ together is the industry’s golden opportunity for a sustainable environment and a brighter future.
Connie Gibson Centrella, MBA, is a professor and program director for the online Aquatic Engineering Degree Program at Keiser University eCampus. She is also the director of education for Team Horner as well as a sustainability officer, having been certified in the principles of ‘green’ and sustainable business practices. Centrella, an industry veteran with more than 40 years of experience in the aquatics field, is a five-time recipient of the Evelyn C. Keiser Teaching Excellence Award ‘Instructor of Distinction.’ She is also a former pool builder with extensive knowledge in pool construction, equipment installation and manufacturing, and a National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) certified pool/spa operator instructor, having trained more than 1,850 pool service technicians, retailers and instructors worldwide in the past 10 years.
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