For the past several months, Gigi Carder has been on a mission.

First, the key account manager for Lonza focused on helping retailers transform their store's appearance with fun, bright colors, splashy wall graphics and more. Now, she's set her sights on a new area of the store: the water-testing center. In her eyes, it's more than a service — it's an essential weapon in the long-running battle for retail customers.

"What is the one really great thing our independent mom-and-pop dealers can do to respond to the challenge of Internet retailers and big box competition?" she says. "Use their water testing center."

But Carder adds that many retailers don't promote this asset or make it noticeable to customers entering the store. They may have a flashy computerized water testing center hosted by extremely knowledgeable staff that can truly help a customer with their pool or hot tub, but it's often in the least prominent area of the store.

"As I'm talking to dealers, I say, 'Don't you think reminding your customer about how special this service is to them is a good idea?' And everybody agrees," she adds.

Here, we share six ways you can make your water-testing station stand out.

1. Make it a Focal Point.

Water testing centers all too often blend into the rest of the store, which is problematic for two reasons. First, it makes it hard for new customers to find their way to the water-testing center, which detracts from the customer experience. Second, and more importantly, a lackluster water testing station undermines the importance and value of what you offer to your customers.

To help with this, Carder is working with dealers to add pergolas and signage over the water-testing center. These pergolas quickly draw attention, which is helpful for newcomers, and also emphasize the outdoor focus of your business.

"It really just catches your eye," says Tonia Simpson, owner of Pool & Patio Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala. "All my customers go on and on about the difference it makes."

Lee Ann Fridy, manager of Pools and Spas Plus in Palatka, Fla., says the new look also sends a helpful message to her customers.

"I think it shows them that we want to keep getting better and better for them. We're not getting bored," she says. "When a customer comes in and sees that you're making the investment in your store, that gives them more confidence in shopping with you."

The pergola, as well as wall graphics, window clings and other promotional items, can be purchased through Lonza's cooperative.

2. Decorate with and stock the right items.

If your customer comes in each week for water testing, the time they spend at your counter really adds up. And what are they looking at? Many retailers stock filters, O-rings and other parts at their water-testing center, but Carder cautions against those items as they remind customers of the work involved with pool ownership.

"I tell people to make sure what they merchandise around the water-testing center is fun, interesting and eye-catching. Like toys and games, or if you sell lifestyle things like candles, make sure those things are close to water testing so customers have something else to focus on besides all the things that might go wrong with their pool," she says.

Instead of a pegboard of O-rings behind the counter, Carder suggests hanging a large image of a well-maintained pool, which serves as a reminder of why they're there in the first place: to enjoy a beautiful pool.

"I think you need to constantly remind people, 'Hey listen, you bought this pool for enjoyment. We want to help you have the best water and the most enjoyment you can have out of that pool. Not only are we going to help you do that, but we're going to do it because we're the best trained, best educated people and we've got computerized water analysis here to help you with that," Carder says.

3. Create a place to sit.

If you have room, adding a stool or two can really change the dynamic between you and your customer.

"I have my water station on one side and my cash register on the other. So people just grab that stool, sit down and they're comfortable to talk and hang out. I think it just looks more professional," Fridy says.

When you offer your customers a seat before you go through their test results, your time together feels more like a personal consultation, which customers appreciate.

"People feel like they're getting a personal prescription for their pool, and that reminds them of the value that it is," Carder says.

4. Incorporate high-end technology.

"Some dealers still feel like they need to have the old labs with the titration bottles — and that was very impressive for years — but if you think about what people look for now in technology, they want the latest and greatest. We live in the world of Apple where every year the new thing is coming out," Carder says.

For that reason, Fridy upgraded to the ClearLink system. The system combines LaMotte's SpinLab technology with Lonza's software and runs 10 tests in just 60 seconds.

"On Saturdays in the summer when it's hot and you've got people lined up at the lab trying to get their water tested, you can do it a lot faster now and not give up any accuracy," Carder says.

Fridy finds the system is winning over her customers.

"They go 'Wow, this is state of the art.' It's been a pretty impressive lab to have," she says.

5. Promote it.

To put it simply, looks only go so far.

"Putting up a big structure with new signage on it is nice, but it's what else you do there that's important," Carder says.

It's important to keep your testing center clean — don't let it fall prey to clutter. When regular customers visit, give them one-on-one attention. And when new customers walk in, roll out the red carpet and make them feel welcome.

"People shop with specialty retailers because they want to be treated specially. That's why they shop with you, so make the experience special, and make sure they understand the value of what you're doing for them," Carder says.

Cailley Hammel is Managing Editor of AQUA Magazine.