What future for the role of the traditional pool and spa shop asks Christina Connor…
More than ever, traditional pool and spa businesses are questioning the wisdom of maintaining a shop or showroom location. With increased competition from on-line retail sales, for some, the burden of rent, rates, display stock and staffing costs is becoming more and more difficult to justify. But other retailers are turning a negative into a positive by honing in on the Internet as a crucial marketing tool that can drive visitors to their shop sites and vitally, once there, maximising the potential of that visit.
“Initially the Internet was a thorn in our side but now it is quite the contrary,” says Will Welch of Three Counties Pool & Spas in Hereford who has recently taken the wraps off a new 5,000 square foot show site. “The Internet is a great medium for people to research lots of different products from the comfort of their armchair but when it actually comes to the purchase of big ticket items, we are finding it is the personal face-to-face contact which customers are valuing,” says Will. “There are a lot of horror stories now about buying off the Internet. Customers like to see an established showroom as it offers peace of mind and re-assurance. “A lot of our products are bespoke and tailored to the clients requirements,” he says. “Being able to visit the showroom and see the different pool finishes available; touch the pool copings which can surround the pool and experience different types of hot tub therapy ensures that the client is fully informed of the options available,” Will adds.
Jo Harrigan of Pools and Gardens, of Worcestershire, agrees: “The Internet has certainly had a major impact on shop sales – especially of consumables such as chemicals and particularly on the low end ranges that are also very often available in nonspecialist pool and spa stores,” she says.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
“We do sell online, but it is not a priority for us, our website is aimed more at getting our customers to visit us in store,” comments Jo. “We try to maximise the best of both worlds with a website that is mainly aimed at driving customers to come into the store,” Jo explains. Pools & Gardens, a member of the National Leisure group of companies, has recently completed a major overhaul of its showroom just off Junction 5 of the M5. “Our showroom plays a major part in our business. It is where we make many of our initial contacts and is a vital part of displaying to both existing and potential customers, just what is available to them and what we are able to achieve,” says Jo. “It is our chance to put long term ideas to our existing customers by displaying demo items and display material of items that they may like to consider In the future. Not all sales are immediate but our long term customers that keep coming back to our store are our best ones and their word of mouth is our cheapest form of advertising.” Jo says the majority of Pool & Gardens’ customers would like to be able to see and touch items that they are wanting to purchase, especially the more expensive products.
“These customers like service, they like the personal touch, they enjoy being recognised and addressed by name when they come into store and they like to feel valued as a customer. They want to know that if and when they have a problem with their pool or spa, or any related products, there is someone there that can and will look after it for them. Pools & Gardens advertise locally in print seasonally and we produce our own newsletters and mailshots with product information and discount vouchers that can only be used in-store.” Jo says: “Our customers like to talk things through and get advice to make sure they are making the right choices, a lot are also happier to purchase from a ‘bricks and mortar’ store that they can visit and that they know will offer them some service if there is a problem with the goods. “These customers also like to be able to shop for their water leisure items when it suits them – such as on a Sunday afternoon when they have been out for lunch or a Saturday morning when the family are due round for a swim! If you are not open and available for them to shop with – then yes, they will go elsewhere.”
Three Counties Pools & Spas occupies a showroom just shy of 5000 ft2 in size. The showroom is separated into two sections – the first of which displays chemicals, pool and spa accessories. The second section displays eight hot tubs – two of which are full and ready for wet testing Products range from sauna accessories through to pool toys; deep leaf nets through to steam room essences, as well as all relevant water care products/chemicals. “We display all the necessary products for use in hot tubs, swimming pools, saunas and steam rooms to make it a safe, enjoyable and relaxing environment . “Our showroom is currently open six days a week, but during the summer months we will look to increase this to seven days a week. “Appointments outside showroom opening times and home visits are also an option if required.
The company has recently re-located to new showroom premises and the response from customers has been very positive. It is a very clean, welcoming, light and contemporary space which shows off the clean lines of the spas and their characteristics well. It is easily accessible to visitors with ample parking and well signposted. Three Counties run regular advertising features in the local glossy magazine to promote various in-store offers and are currently improving our website to encourage customers into the showroom. “Offering a friendly service with knowledgeable staff is paramount to keeping existing clients and attract newcustomers,” says Will. “This has worked well for us and seen a growth in our customer base year on year. “Visitors into the showroom can vary considerably depending on time of the year and the weather.
“Staff are always on hand to offer advice and this often leads to customers purchasing additional products. We also try to keep our stock turning over on a regular basis so we have the latest products and innovations on display for the customers to see first-hand.” Three Counties regularly review stock levels to analyse what is selling and what may be sticking and then address as necessary. “With our hot tub displays, we like to turn the stock over pretty regularly so that we always maintain a fresh look,” says Will. “Customers like it too – and ask to see what the latest innovations and technologies are being used in the hot tub industry. “Pool & Spa Gardens carry as full a range of products as we possibly can and try to cover both high end and cheaper options for most items.” Says Jo: “It is a little difficult to score your own showroom but we certainly get quite a few compliments from our customers on the current layout that we have, especially from our more long term customers that we have known for many years. “They like to be able to see our display pools and area through the double, glass doors and the easy access into this area. “It also makes it easy to demonstrate items such as automatic cleaners – they are working in a pool directly outside the store in an area that is very visible from the service counter and till.” Jo says visitor numbers are very seasonal and of course, hugely affected by the weather but on an average week day in the summer we can expect to have between 10 – 25 customers come in daily, in hot weather there would be an awful lot more. “Even in the coldest,winter months it is rare to have a day without any customers,” Jo says. “ I would say 99% of regular customers buy or order when they come in.
“New and potential customers are often looking for information on products and services and can be making very long term plans on a new pool build project, or a major renovation – however in general we do capture their information and get a chance to do a site check and provide a quotation for them. “We attract impulse buys by making sure that seasonal items are always on prominent display – ie toys and games in the summer, winterizing products in the autumn / winter. Likewise with extras and add-ons such as spa fragrances – they get moved around to various areas near to the till; there are usually testers open and available in places that customers are likely to be waiting to be served. Items such as test strips are always next to the till.” Pool & Gardens regularly overhaul its product stock – to keep the regular customers interested and seasonal items are moved in and out of store regularly to create more space. Suppliers are more than keen to help retailers maximise the potential of their shops and showrooms. Golden Coast offer a wealth of advice to its trade customers.
“Having attracted customers into your showroom, the next step is to give them a sense of the products – not just pictures, brochures and sales talk,” says Jamie Adams, Golden Coast managing director. Resources available from Golden Coast to enhance the customer’s experience include a very effective Tylö ‘virtual’ sauna display which gives a real flavour of the sauna experience without taking up valuable showroom space. Attractively priced, and measuring just 2.3m high and 1.5m or 2m wide (depending on whether you choose the single unit with one mounted poster or the double with two posters), the kit contains everything you need to set the sauna scene: from the shelving and furnishings to the heater, sauna stones, buckets and ladles hourglass and a collection of essential oils. Another showroom aid from Golden Coast is a demonstration unit featuring the Spectravision lighting system, which creates a variety of magical colours, and rhythmic colour changes, that instantly transform the atmosphere of any pool. The compact, water-tight unit, which is small enough to fit in a briefcase, is designed to show customers how the lights look, in and out of the pool, and to create a variety of moods in the display area. “We are always looking for new ways of helping our customers’ businesses to thrive – because our success depends on their success,” says Golden Coast’s Managing Director Jamie Adams. “We hope our online initiatives and other resources will help to drive many more customers into showrooms over the coming months.”
Those who continue to see the potential for their shops and showrooms should be using the quieter winter months to carry out an honest appraisal of their own display site. A good tip is to put yourself into your visitor’s shoes or get friends to give you honest feedback. Having worked so hard to get the visitor to your store, ensure everything is shipshape as you will not get a second chance to make a first impression.
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