With the recession well in the rearview mirror, distanced by several years of incremental success, pool and spa retailers can finally exhale. Things are looking up, including the industry's outlook on the future.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal income increased 2.6 percent from 2015 to 2016 and disposable personal income increased 3.9 percent, both of which are encouraging for the luxury good market. In all, the National Retail Federation estimates sales will increase 3.7 to 4.2 percent over 2016.

It's clear there's a lot to be optimistic about. In fact, many of the pros who took our 2017 State of the Industry survey think this year will be their best yet.

As one survey taker wrote, "After the 2008 recession and 2010 to 2015 drought, 2016 was a rebuilding year with a contentious election. We are starting 2017 stronger than all those previous years."

Confidence was a recurring theme in this year's SOI results. When asked to assess the health of their companies, we were pleasantly surprised to see 75 percent of respondents said they were getting stronger. Not only is that an 18 percent climb from last year — it's the highest in SOI history. (And for the record, the number of pros who indicated their businesses are weakening was at an all-time low of 5.7 percent. That's half of what it was last year.)

A trend among those with a growing business: keeping an attentive eye on consumer needs and shifting focus — and marketing — accordingly.

"We have spent our time since the recession started branding, expanding our after-sale marketing and building our service and valet care departments," one respondent wrote.

"We are moving towards being 100 percent omnichannel by 2019," another survey taker wrote. "Our position of having extensive ecommerce knowledge along with strong brick-and-mortar locations, coupled with staff that LOVES change, puts us in a great place for the future in retail."

With retailers feeling more empowered, 2017 holds a lot of promise. To learn more about our SOI findings, read on.


Industry Spotlight: Sponsored by RB Control Systems

Point-of-sale programs are like a Swiss army knife for retailers: it's one product that does just about everything and makes you more efficient as a result. Here, we chat with RB Control Systems about how POS software can help retailers in all aspects of the job, from increasing revenue to training staff.

AQUA: Many retailers are strapped for resources. What are some steps an overworked retailer can take to improve their revenue this year?

Rachael Pritz, executive director, RB Control Systems: Dealers should have tools within their point-of-sale system to assist employees with upselling. Imagine if seven months out of the year, dealers sold an add-on item with a $6 profit to 12 customers a day. They would increase gross profit by approximately $15,000! That's an enormous increase in profit without an increase in expenses.

AQUA: Many retailers focus on customer service to differentiate themselves from competitors. What would you suggest retailers do to improve their customer service?

RP: Many of our customers have created employee sales incentive games to keep staff inspired to do their best job. Games could be as simple as rewarding the employee who sells the most cover cleaner during an opening event with a movie theater gift card. Using POS software that allows dealers to track the sales games makes implementing and tracking totals for games simple and quick.

AQUA: This year, retailers reported their biggest concern is hiring and training new staff. Are there ways today's technology can help?

RP: Absolutely! Today's technology makes it possible for companies to establish a direct connection to the customer's computers to assist them in real-time. Live webinars make it possible for one or many employees to learn software features in a seminar type setting.

Video tutorials are also a great online tool for training new staff. Having a practice program where new staff can ring up pretend sales and walk through scenarios without impacting live company data is essential.

AQUA: How do you think technology will advance and improve over the coming years to make day-to-day life easier and better for retailers?

RP: We are seeing more and more mobile technology allowing dealers to maintain access to business information while not in the office. Taking payments in the field from customers' houses is becoming the norm. Utilizing technology to optimize service routes saves fuel expenses and wear and tear on the company vehicles.

On the retail side, there are programs that allow dealers to send coupons that customers can redeem from their cell phones or business apps. Utilizing lead tracking services similar to what you see in multi-touch marketing allows dealers to see when potential customers are visiting your website, and provides the potential customer's information to the business for immediate follow-up.


Cailley Hammel is Managing Editor of AQUA Magazine.