Drive-In Service

Retailers reflect on curbside pickup hiccups, successes

In the world of social distancing, curbside pickup has been key to keeping the doors open for many spa retailers.

For Hans Kissmann, owner of Georgian Hot Tubs in Barrie, Ontario, adjusting his hours of operation and adding curbside options allowed him to continue services where others could not. The company sent newsletters to existing customers about curbside procedures, updating them about every six weeks. Others were informed by phone or by information posted on the business’s front door.

Kissmann’s company gained many new clients when other stores in the area closed or were only providing limited services. “Our existing customers easily transitioned to the curbside method, and to this day some still prefer that service,” he says.

David Isaacs, owner of Isaacs Pools & Spas and Bullfrog Spas of Tri-Cities in Johnson City, Tennessee, says both current and new customers are using curbside to purchase from his store. “The reasons varied, but the most common reason was older people who felt they were more susceptible to getting sick did not want to come into the store,” Isaacs says.

Isaacs’ companies aired a TV commercial and shared it to Facebook to inform customers of the new procedures. The response was overwhelming.

“The most challenging aspect for us was the fact that students were sent home from school toward the end of March in our area, so people were opening pools about two months early to give the kids something to do,” Isaacs says. “Because all of this coincided with the beginning of pool season in our area, our parking lot was full of customers for pools and spas, and the phone was ringing nonstop.”

At times, Isaacs says curbside customers would call upon arrival, and his team simply would not be able to answer. “What made it even more difficult was determining who was in line first: the customer standing in front of us with five customers behind him or the customer who just called in,” Isaacs says. “This was also true with the curbside water analysis. It became a logistics problem.”

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For Isaacs, solving this issue meant hiring temporary help. A company meeting got everyone on the same page to ensure customers were served in proper order. Crowd dividers, large signs and careful monitoring of the parking lot helped further.

“Ultimately, each company has to make the plan that makes the most sense to them, and have buy-in from all of those who have to execute and participate in the plan,” Isaacs says. “Your employees will have suggestions as they work within the new framework; listen to them and act on the ones that make sense.”

Chris Cavanaugh, owner of Cavanaugh Pool, Spa & Patio in Owensboro, Kentucky, says a new website, which includes e-commerce, played a big part in handling this uncharted territory. “Luckily we got [the new website] completed right before everything hit,” Cavanaugh says. When checking out, the customer can choose curbside pickup or backyard delivery. When the order is complete, the confirmation prompts the customer to call the store upon arrival so an employee can bring out the order.

There are still plenty of hurdles for Cavanaugh, however, despite the head start with the new website. “Quite a few days, we hit over 1,000 phone calls between both stores,” he says, adding that upselling also becomes more difficult because customers cannot pick up additional items when they are not in the store.

“The changes we made kept us from losing sales that we would have if we did not implement [curbside pickup],” Cavanaugh says. “A few stores around here really limited their hours, and one shut down temporarily.” Investing in a website is Cavanaugh’s top tip for adapting to these circumstances.

Kissmann says Georgian Hot Tubs has been handling the curbside process primarily by phone. Someone can contact the store ahead of time or directly from the parking lot, Kissmann says, and by phone only in each case. If the customer phones ahead, Georgian Hot Tubs asks for about 45 minutes to have everything prepped. Credit payments are handled over the phone. Customers making debit payments enter their pin number on the machine, which is attached to the opposite end of a three-foot stick the employee holds. Payment confirmation is sent by email. Kissmann says these processes can be time consuming, but that being present and understanding with staff alleviates most issues. Listening to staff concerns, he adds, may also bring about better solutions, and create even stronger customer relationships. “Most customers will understand,” he says, “and many will actually appreciate your efforts to keep them safe and keep your staff safe.”