Computers and technology. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, computers affect us in this industry every day. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard someone in our office say, “It was so much easier before we had these things!” I have been in the pool and spa business for more than 25 years now with the same company and can tell you from experience that technology has helped this industry far more that it has hurt it.

In the beginning, there was the three part, handwritten invoice (and don’t forget the carbon paper). Adequate for its purpose and high tech at the time, it now looks as efficient as a shovel compared to a backhoe. No matter how frustrated you get with Bill Gates, you can’t tell me you would really rather still have trash cans full of carbon copies, spending hours trying to read your employee’s handwriting so you know what you sold that day. (Not to mention the customers who used their own carbon paper to change the price they paid so they could rip you off, or that 100-pound drum of chlorine that was sold for $10.80 because the cashier wrote down the wrong price.)

The first point-of-sale software with some semblance of inventory control came to our business in the early 1990’s. It was clumsy and slow compared to today’s systems, but still light years ahead of where we were before. When a customer called to get a price on that obscure part we sold once every two years, we could look it up right there without having to walk all the way across the store to the parts wall and back. It even gave the staff a chance to work in a sales pitch while scrolling through inventory instead of leaving the customer on hold. 

Better inventory tracking and reporting led to better inventory control — software revealed there was a big difference between what most businesses thought they sold and what they really sold. This information and organization became critical for businesses — now you could really take advantage of early buy opportunities because you had accurate sales figures from prior years to go by. Inventory levels for each product could not only be set according to how much you sold during the entire season, but the specific part of the season an item sold best. Let’s face it. Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business, especially one as seasonal as ours. If you have never sold a single unit of Widget A until after September 1 of any previous year, why spend the cash to stock it in April?

So far, we have seen how even the simplest of point of sale and inventory tracking software packages improve accuracy at the point of purchase, save valuable time when assisting customers and help cash flow. All of these are on the back end and help you improve your business without directly generating new sales. Now how is this going to help get more sales?

We could spend hours talking about computers, the Internet, websites, Facebook, and blogs for lead generation and advertising ad nauseum, and many people have. Let’s just stick with our plain old POS software for now. How has this helped us sell more product?

First, it showed us who our customers were and what they were buying. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is very powerful information. When you know what they are buying, you’ll also know what they are not buying. Customer A buys salt and pH but not much else. You know he has a salt system but he isn’t buying the chemicals to clean it. Does he have a zinc anode installed to help protect his pool and equipment stay current on the new electrical codes? Now you have actionable intelligence. You can speak with Customer A the next time he comes in, put together a list of similar customers and target them with a direct mailer or try another one of the many methods we have to reach our customers. The possibilities are virtually limitless.

Newer POS systems have messages that pop-up as your salesperson scans a particular product. For example, you could program your POS system so a reminder pops up on any O-ring, prompting the salesperson to as about O-ring lube. Gaskets can have a reminder about silicone, impellers can have one about shaft seals and plumbing fittings can have one about glue and cleaner. Let’s face it: Employees sometimes forget their training. If a reminder comes up on the screen right in front of them, they can’t forget.

These pop-up messages can also be programmed for particular customers. For example, maybe one of your customers has a pet bird named Fred they adore. When that customer goes to check out, you can have a message pop up for the cashier to ask how Fred is doing. Another customer could be having a leaf problem with their pool and you could check up on that. Some businesses keep track of customer birthdays and send out cards with birthday specials.

Don’t be too nostalgic for the good old days when it comes to those things on your desks and counters. Properly utilized, they can be an incredible tool to help your business thrive.