Growing up, I have great memories of visiting my local pool store. In my head I still remember what it looks like, where all the products are located, how it smells and how I could not wait to get out of the car to race to the toy aisle to grab a new goodie for the pool. Each time I ran to the toy aisle, I found a selection of cool, fun and exciting stuff I could use to splash, throw, squirt and just have a good time with. Not only did they have cool toys, but they also had arcade games for sale. I never wanted to leave that store! Those moments, those experiences, are among the reasons I joined this industry 24 years ago.

Today I coach and design hundreds of specialty swimming pool stores in a variety of capacities, but there is one question that I get constantly: "How do I create consumer loyalty and become a destination?" Luckily, the answer is simple: Start with your surroundings and create an in-store environment that people want to come visit, shop in and have fun in!

The best retailers I know are great at this: Bass Pro Shops, Wegmans Supermarkets, Whole Foods, Lexus dealerships, Lululemon and of course Apple, just to name a few. These retailers concentrate on the total consumer experience, and the top priority is to make the experience fun or cool.

While the big retailers make fun a priority, there's one big thing I've noticed in the pool industry: Somewhere along this post-recessionary journey, a lot of specialty pool stores lost their fun and cool factor.

So take a cold, hard look at your store. Do you have a fun store, a cool store or a boring old pool store? If it's the latter, it's time for a change.

From the moment the consumer walks through your door, their in-store experience begins. This is where the consumer makes the transition from "the real world" to the one you create for them. Consumers are very judgmental and critical in this time, judging you and your business on how cheap, expensive and organized you are. Even how the store smells and sounds is a factor to the consumer! All of these things set the stage for what they are about to experience and encourage them to step in and explore — or run back out.

If you're looking to boost your store's cool factor, try some of these ideas.

Start with a theme

Do you have a theme for your store design? Many pool businesses don't, so they choose to paint the pool store blue or do something worse: leave it a vanilla box with white walls and white ceilings. That's why I suggest a theme, which starts with a color palette that corresponds to the theme you're trying to create. A couple ideas:

Beach Party: Use a color palette consisting of bold colors like yellow, green, red and yes, you can even use blue. (Just avoid blue by itself since it comes across as bland. You need contrasting colors to liven up the store.) Use at least two or three colors and add a border of those colors around the perimeter to tie it all together. Some store owners take this to the next level with themed décor throughout the store, like signage and photography. Even carrying the theme to the checkout counter helps carry the theme through the entire purchasing experience.

Focusing on Neutrals: Bold colors aren't required for a specialty pool store. It's okay to go neutral and create a palette of earth tones like muted gray, brown and khaki — but by themselves, they're boring. Mix in Pottery Barn-style colors like rust, mustard, avocado and powder blue to offset the color and attract the consumer's eye throughout the store.

Create Your Own! Some store owners like to get creative and create a look uniquely theirs. For inspiration, try thinking local: New England style for those in the Northeast, adobe and Santa Fe for the Southwest, etc. Whatever you choose, the point is to carry the theme throughout the entire store.

Bring on the Holidays

Changing up the store doesn't necessarily have to be drastic. Doing simple things like sub-theming the store during holidays, showing your support for the local sports team with team colors and signage, decorating for local events and even your own sales events is a great way to make the store look different and fun for the consumer. Window clings, floor graphics and themed signage are easy ways to decorate the store for local holidays.

Looking for a fun example? Try a Christmas in July theme complete with Christmas trees, lights, photos with Santa (decked out in beach attire, obviously) and refreshments. Schedule it for the last two weekends of July and make a point of inviting your customers to join in. You'll find this popular and profitable!

Another example would be to hold your very own rib burnoff with a barbecue theme. Create a menu of food you'll cook each day (which also serves as a handy demo of your grill line, if you have one); you could even invite a local chef and have a competition to see who can cook the best wings, ribs, etc. These types of events not only make your store the center of attention, but also help build brand trust, loyalty and community involvement.

Special Sections

I love doing special sections, end caps or walls in a retail store highlighting new, special or different products. The first section I would create would be a "what's new" or "what's cool" section. Place some fun and unique products in this section that would appeal to a wide variety of genres. You can even divide the section by price, such as under $5, under $10 or four for $5 and so on. Other sections could include:

Night Zone: Include all products and toys that cater toward nighttime fun. Think LED pool lighting, lighted toys and games, landscape lighting and so on.

Splash Zone: Anything that makes a splash! Squirt guns, water balls, sprinklers, you decide!

Fun Zone: Basketball, volleyball, underwater toys, remote control products and drones, simply anything you think is cool and fun.

Relax Zone: This section is specifically catered toward mom and dad. Include items like lounge chairs, floating mattresses, coolers, waterproof speakers and other outdoor entertainment items.

You get the drift. The important part is not to just put the items a shelf; make sure to separate these items and create the proper signage to make it look fun.

Atmosphere

How does your store smell? What does it sound like? Is the lighting dim or too bright? Retailers spend millions of dollars each year to tap into the minds of the consumer to figure out what motivates them to buy. And you know what? Adding the right scent and sound to your retail environment not only makes the consumer stay longer, but gets them the buy more.

Silence is always awkward. Restaurateurs understand this — have you noticed how loud some of the fanciest and trendiest restaurants are now? The reason is threefold. First, a louder environment draws people in because it's perceived as lively and more successful than a quiet one. Secondly, we eat faster in loud environments, which turns tables quickly. (The more people a restaurant gets in and out, the more revenue the restaurant takes in.) Thirdly, when we are exposed and surrounded by sound, our brain chemistry changes and other senses are measurably enhanced. That is why it is extremely important to have the right sound in your store.

Take a tip from the grocery industry; play top 40 music from the '80s '90s and 2000's. Experts find this music gets people to stay longer and buy more groceries.

Finally, how does your store smell? Three quarters of your daily emotions are determined by what you smell, not what you see. So how do your consumers fell about the way your store smells? Are they left with a positive or negative emotion? Research indicates a 40 percent positive improvement in mood when we are exposed to a pleasing scent. And study participants are willing to pay 10 to 15 percent more in a scented environment as opposed to one that is not. So choose a scent that will stimulate the consumer to stay longer and buy more. There are many scent consultant companies such a ScentAir that will do a scent sampling in your store and will help you choose the right scent and mood for your location.

So make your store fun! Invite friends and family to give you their honest opinion and gauge the coolness factor of your location. You'll know you're on the right track if you start seeing kids race through your doors, just like I did as a kid.

Ted Lawrence has served the specialty swimming pool industry for more than 24 years. With his experience and proven methods, Ted coaches hundreds of small independent as well as large multi-store chains on how to skyrocket revenues, increase consumer loyalty and plan for the future. He is an award-winning international presenter at dozens of industry events globally.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail editors@aquamagazine.com.

Ted Lawrence is AQUA Contributor of AQUA Magazine.