By John Bereza
Specialty retailers continue to report strong growth in the pool and spa sector — from pool and spa sales to accessories and outdoor living products. However, one of the biggest challenges to specialty retailers continues to be the sale of chemicals — or the lack thereof. How can specialty retailers sell pool and spa chemicals at a profit when they are competing with big box retailers and online merchandisers. Retailers finding chemical sales success bring additional business to their store by customizing, specializing and personalizing the water treatment experience, ultimately building customer loyalty and profits.
Developing ways to distinguish your business from competitors is key to avoid competing on price. One long time retailer in New Hampshire has a customized approach to water treatment that has successfully increased its spa chemical sales while also bringing the customer back in to the store on a regular basis. “We noticed a lack of consistent growth in our water care business, even through our customer base was growing with each sale,” says Steve Lopez, owner of Oasis Hot Tub and Sauna in Nashua, New Hampshire. “The customized water treatment program we developed gives our customers a reason to return to our store to purchase water treatment products as well as other products and services.”
Oasis Hot Tub and Sauna started with a simple discount bag program, which began in conjunction with the company’s green initiative of supplying reusable bags to its customers. The Oasis team decided to take the reusable bag a step further and offered savings on water care products and filters when they brought in their Oasis Spa bag.
Lopez and his team are also very conscious of using the term ‘water care products’ rather than calling them ‘chemicals.’ It is important for retailers to do everything possible to set their product offering apart from competing products in the marketplace — especially those offered by big box retailers and online merchants. Using water care product directly reflects the fact that spa hydrotherapy is a part of an overall wellness program for consumers that want to be kind to and take care of their bodies. They do not want to soak in a bath of chemicals.
“We very quickly identified our Simply Soft product as a unique water care product that not only helps to maintain the proper pH balance and prevents scale buildup, but also makes your skin feel good when you leave the hot tub,” Lopez says.
Pool Mart & Spas in Clarkston, Michigan, has been in business for 36 years and has become a specialist in the area for water testing, water diagnosis and chemical sales.
“People come to us because of our reputation for providing accurate water diagnosis and water treatment solutions,” says Jim Bishop, owner of Pool Mart & Spas. “Our water testing area is really a diagnostic center that develops water treatment solutions and builds customer loyalty.”
Pool Mart uses this specialized water diagnosis service to distinguish itself from big box and online retailers. “This is the part of our business where we really take care of our customers,” Bishop says. “We diagnose the problem, we don’t just provide a band-aid solution. We pride ourselves on getting to the source of the issue.”
Pool Mart does a complete analysis with 12 different tests in about 10 minutes — far more than can ever be done with a home test kit — testing not only for pH/alkalinity, chlorine and metals, but also performing filter testing for water clarity and to get a sense of how well the filter is performing.
“We recently had one customer drive 40 miles to our store to get to the bottom of a problem,” Bishop says. “She had white flakes in her pool water that no one could figure out. We got to the bottom of it and found it to be a rare problem in our area known as white mold. We diagnosed, provided a treatment plan and the customer is very happy and loyal. We don’t see her often, as she is 40 miles away, but she checks in with us every year.”
PoolMart & Spas also specializes its approach by selling, whenever possible, products that are made in the United States and, more specifically, in Michigan. “It’s very important to our customers to buy from local suppliers and gives us a huge advantage,” Bishop says.
Personalizing the water treatment solutions for your customer is another way to ensure the profitable sale of pool and spa chemicals. The Oasis Hot Tub & Sauna staff took the time to develop a comprehensive questionnaire for customers so they could personalize which water care products to sell them, fixing not only water clarity, water balance and sanitation but — more importantly — water wellness for customers.
An important part of selling spas is to take the time to discuss spa water treatment early in the sales process. This discussion will also help spa retailers distinguish themselves from mass-merchandisers, ultimately allowing spa retailers to charge more and profit more when selling water treatment products available through other sales channels.
“We always take the time to find out what the customer’s previous experience has been with hot tub usage and what they liked or disliked about it,” Lopez says. “This is the starting point for us to tailor a Simply Soft program specific to their needs that might also include a salt water system, chlorine, bromine or ozone depending what they are comfortable with.”
Taking the time to guide the customer through the options available is another way to set your retail store apart as an expert supplier of spas and spa knowledge. It will likely also lead to additional up-sell opportunities for products other than spa chemicals.
Keep Evolving and Improving
It’s important to continuously improve upon your current water program. By embracing today’s water testing technology, retailers are able to incorporate it with their knowledge to provide a personalized water treatment solution, making it easier to sell the chemicals in the store.
Additional revenue streams can develop as a result of a customized program. “It was during this customization process that we developed our valet service in which we provide the drain and refilling of the spa for our customers,” Lopez says. “It’s a very profitable service that keeps our customers very loyal.”
Author Bio: John Bereza is Haviland’s marketing manager, directing all marketing for all industries served by Haviland including pool and spa product brands such as ProTeam, SpaPure, Caribbean Blue, DuraChlor and others. Bereza has worked at Haviland since 2003 as a sales and marketing representative and since 2010 has been the company’s marketing manager. He can be reached at JohnB@havilandusa.com.