A swimming pool is a luxury item. Most people don’t NEED a pool in their backyard — they WANT one. We’re all aware of why people like pools: They allow us to make memories with family and friends. They’re used for fitness and summertime fun. So many of us are lucky to have cherished memories of time spent poolside with loved ones.

What consumers don’t want to do is spend precious time laboring over their pool. Pool owners want a consistent program that works well and requires the smallest possible amount of attention. Never once have I heard a consumer say, “I bought this pool so I can spend my weekends taking care of it.” 

Our industry has a real opportunity at hand. Pool owners choose to visit local swimming pool stores as an alternative to mass merchants for a few reasons:
1. Trade-quality chemicals and hard goods
2. Variety of products and specialized parts
3. Experience

What, exactly, do I mean by experience? I’m glad you asked! There are two parts to the meaning behind this word:

YOUR Experience

As a pool professional, you’ve no doubt spent many years perfecting your craft. You have your own secret recipes of what works for the pools and hot tubs in your area because, as we all know, every “body” (of water) is different. Does the big box employee who was just working in automotive and got the call for help in seasonal know what he or she is talking about? Does that person understand the variety of chemicals available or the pool cleaner that would work best in certain pools? Of course not! Consumers make the choice to visit a swimming pool retailer (or hire you as a service professional) to take advantage of the years of knowledge you’ve obtained in the store or in the field. When a consumer walks into your store, you’re the expert and your knowledge is of value.

THEIR Experience

Pool owners choose to visit a specialty store because they want to feel heard. They have problems needing specific solutions that far surpass just finding the chlorine in aisle three next to the toys. When a pool owner walks into your store, they should feel welcome and comfortable knowing they’ve come to the right place to meet their water care needs. Simply greeting customers with a smile and listening to their concerns goes a long way in the retail experience. 

Identifying the type of consumer you’re dealing with is also important. Many consumers prefer to be told what to do to their pool, without all the details of why. It reminds me of when I visit my auto mechanic. I don't know a lot about cars and I don't have time to learn, but over the years, my mechanic has built up my trust and I know he’s not going to “just sell me” anything he thinks I might buy. He just tells me what I need. On three different visits, I asked if my tires needed to be replaced — all three times he told me they were just fine. That approach earned my respect, and even more importantly, my complete trust in his recommendations. By the same token, some pool owners don’t have a ton of free time and may not desire to become a junior chemist. They’ll want a simple road map of how to fix the problem and prevent it from returning. These pool owners may not care for a detailed explanation of what went wrong and why.

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On the other hand, some pool owners may want to learn water chemistry for themselves. These consumers will need more of your time initially, but the residual sales will pay off as they become more and more self-sufficient and walk in to buy chemicals they understand or parts they’ve used before. They will be loyal to you, the expert, for teaching them some tips of the trade. These customers will look to you to keep them updated on current trends or what’s new in the world of swimming pools.

No matter what type of pool owner walks into your store, it’s important to remember that they have a choice of where they spend their money. Set yourself apart by offering value they can't find at a big box store: free (or free with purchase) water testing, expert advice and an overall positive shopping experience.

Pave the Path to Purchase

The purchasing experience no longer begins when the customer walks in the store. It begins when they have an idea, whether at 12 a.m. when they should be sleeping or 2 p.m. when they should be working. Once the idea pops into their head, they likely grab their smartphone to do some research. They may know of your store and go directly to your website. They may not know what they’re looking for at all and just type in “pool store” or “swimming pool” into the search bar. The purchasing journey begins at first contact, so this could be a web ad, an email you blasted out, or your website for the tech-savvy consumer. Make sure your website is user-friendly, your social platforms contain all contact information and that you're responsive to online inquiries. The journey continues when the consumer enters your store, and can be enhanced by how they’re treated, the quality of products offered and expertise provided by retail associates. But it usually begins online.

Create Advocates

We live in a world in which everyone’s voice can be heard if they have a Wi-Fi connection and a computer. Remember that social media allows everyone to be heard, so harness this opportunity to create advocates for your company using Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Also remember that bad experiences are even more likely to be shared than good ones. Be active and responsive on your company’s social media platforms. Join the conversation, whether it portrays your company in a positive or negative light. People tend to “watch” negative threads to see how they will play out, and a company will always appear in a better light if it responds to negative feedback head-on. A tip for de-escalating a tense situation is to ask the consumer to send you a direct message or give you a call at the store to find a solution.

You work hard to get customers to walk into your store, so it only makes sense that you’ll want your customers to have a positive shopping experience once they arrive. Use your expertise to differentiate yourself from other channels and then rest easy knowing your customers will have the most sparkling, clear pools in town!

Jamie Novak is a brand manager at NC Brands, parent company of Natural Chemistry, SeaKlear and Coral Seas specialty chemical products. She has over 12 years of pool industry experience and previously worked as a robotic pool cleaner specialist. Novak can be reached via email at jamie@ncbrands.com