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Here's some good news: The hot tub industry has finally regained some of its swagger.
"What is this?"
"Is this an aboveground pool or an inground pool?"
"Did you screw up?"
According to Andrew Apple, general sales manager at Islander Pools (Albany, N.Y.), these are just a few ways customers have reacted to Radiant Pools' Metric Freeform. And it's an understandable response — an aboveground freeform pool is a striking turn from the standard models that have dominated the category for decades.
While the Metric Freeform is pricier than the traditional aboveground, dealers say the product has helped them uncover a new audience of buyers that fall in-between the traditional inground/aboveground dichotomy. To learn more, we chatted with two dealers about their first impressions, their sales strategies and the results they've seen from the new model.
Islander Pools has been around for 40 years and inground pools were its specialty until 2000, when the company changed gears to focus on aboveground pools and hot tubs. Apple says the change happented for two reasons:
"One, we noticed we could deliver three spas a day and bring in the same dollar figure it takes for three weeks of building an inground pool," he says. "And two: The number of prospective buyers that were heading toward that $20,000 to $45,000 figure was getting smaller."
But when he first got a look at the Metric Freeform, Apple had his reservations.
"My first thought five years ago was, 'Are you guys crazy?' It's an awesome-looking concept, but who's going to buy an $11,000 aboveground pool?"
As it turns out, such customers exist. One reason: the Metric Freeform can be sunk to whatever depth the homeowner requests, which means that Islander can cater to anyone who walks through the door.
"I never have to say no," Apple says. "'Do you sell inground pools?' 'Yes.' 'Aboveground pools?' 'Yes.' 'Can you do an inground pool on a sloped hill?' 'Yes.' 'Do you do a deep end?' 'Yes.'"
According to Apple, Islander can offer flat-bottom inground pools for as low as $12,000 with the Metric Freeform — and do so without the lengthy time commitment of a traditional inground pool.
"What it allows us to do is hit an inground market that's never been touched before," he says.
Gunite pools may rule in Texas, but Jerry Perryman of Swim Planet Pools (Robinson, Texas) has found success in the aboveground market. With the Metric Freeform on hand, he says he's able to target a niche within his niche.
"We have a lot of customers come through and look at it. A lot of them aren't ready to go on the price, but we do have the certain customer that wants something really nice," he says.
"There are basically three kinds of customers that walk into a pool store here on the East coast. The first one is obvious: 'I want an inground pool and I want it to work.' And they'll spend 50 grand," he explains. "The second customer says, 'I have four kids, I make $41,000 a year and I have a mortgage. I need something for $3,000.' That's the standard aboveground guy. Well, this pool is for the guy that comes in and says, 'I don't know. What do you got?' He wants something unique and different."
For this type of customer, quality trumps price. They want a sturdy, durable feel to their pool, which fits well with the construction techniques used on the Metric Freeform. During the installation phase, a concrete collar is poured around the base, making for a more solid foundation than the patio blocks traditionally used in aboveground installs.
"It's a rock. It's stronger than any pool I've ever sold," Apple says.
With that kind of strength, it's easier for customers to envision the pool as a permanent structure in the backyard; something they have no fear of investing in with accessories and landscaping.
"The cool thing about the Metric Freeform in general is that if a customer can at least succumb to the cost of a pool today, when they can spend that $10- or $11,000 to get the pool installed — the pool is a beast. So if it takes them three or four years to save up for the deck they really want on that pool, the end result's amazing, and we know the pool isn't going to have any problems," Apple says.
At Islander Pools, about 5 to 7 percent of total pool sales go to the Metric Freeform. Given the price point, Apple says they're doing well.
"If you can sell 20 Metric Freeforms in a year, that's a good sized dollar for a dealer," he says.
Apple also finds there's a cool little secret to being a Metric dealer — it's a great draw for your store.
"Customers may come in on the freeform, because we'll run advertising or a promotion on TV, but they may end up deciding on a round. It saves them $3,000 or $4,000. They love the Radiant concept, they love the idea of structural integrity and everything else they have to offer, but maybe it's not in their budget. What the freeform allows us to do as dealers is A) Offer a product no one else has, and B) keep that customer in our stores that may allow us to put them in something else.
"Without the freeform, we may not have gotten that shot."
In the past, customers with hilly backyards found they didn't have many options for an aboveground pool. Not anymore. The Ultimate Pool, a Fabcote pool made by Fox Pools, is specifically designed for sloped backyards.
"We had stopped selling and installing aboveground pools until this new product came on the market," says Dean Rice, owner of Rice Pools, Hermitage, Pa. "But this pool is made of 14 gauge powder-coated steel, the same material used for the Fox inground pools we build.
In addition to its strength, the Ultimate also boasts a quick turnaround from purchase to swim.
"We tell consumers they can have this pool in two days. And you can promise two days," Rice says. "It takes just a little more time to build than your traditional above ground pool. This is a big benefit to builders as well as consumers."
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