By Connie Sue Centrella
It is an exciting yet challenging time for pool/hot tub retailers. 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.