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Let’s Get Visual

Selling to people of all ages

On Nov. 1, I’ll be speaking at the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in Las Vegas at the semi-awake time of 7:30 a.m. My topic is pool/spa/patio store visual merchandising for people of all ages. When you design, renovate or just freshen up your store, it pays to think of what will work for customers of all ages, as well as how to set yourself apart from your competitors.

We’re all animals — with cellphones. We each have a reptilian brain that is made up of our most basic survival instincts: flight, fight or freeze. That brain notices two things as we enter a store: light level and smell. No matter how young or old we are, we want to know we are entering a safe space. But the older we get, the more cautious we become, as a fall can cause much more damage than when we were younger.

Any store design must first look at the needs of people over 55. This is for several obvious reasons: Older people buy a lot of spas; their eyesight isn’t as good in low light; they may have accessibility issues with floor level changes or narrow aisles; and they need stairs with a bannister to safely and comfortably get in and out of a spa.

Selling to people of all ages begins with understanding the needs of each age.

The Silent Generation are the survivors of the Great Depression and WWII (1928–1945.) The oldest of this generation is 90 and youngest 72, which can be a huge difference in mobility. Two things they all have in common are the inability to easily see floor level changes or small print in your informational signage. During the depression, many people had little food or possessions. There were many times during World War II when there were severe rations on food, gas, firewood and coal. This generation learned to make do with what they had. A hot tub wasn’t in the equation. During the economic boom in the 1950s when the United States produced a huge number of products to sell overseas, things turned around for many people and luxuries became more desired and available. The Jacuzzi brothers developed the first hydrotherapy pump around 1956, and this was the first generation to purchase hot tubs generally for the relief of aches and pains. In the swinging ’60s, wood hot tubs based on the traditional Japanese bathing tub became popular starting in California. These were more social than health related. The trend moved across the country, thanks to the hydrotherapy tubs being featured as prizes on some game shows.

Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are the first officially named demographic. The youngest boomer is now 54 while the oldest is 72. Impaired vision is becoming similar to that of the older generation as are mobility issues. There is an epidemic of surgeries for hip and knee replacements among my friends aged between 64 and 72, where I live near Portland, Oregon.

If you have in-store music, for both boomers and the older generation, its volume is an important consideration. If it’s too loud, it can be irritating and make communication difficult. As we age, and if our hearing isn’t great, it becomes very difficult to separate sounds, so speech and music meld together — not ideal when you’re trying to make a sale.

Gen X’ers (1965–1980) range from 38 to 53. They grew up living with the fear of AIDS, the Iran Hostage Crisis, Persian Gulf War, the dot-com bubble (and crash), MTV and the beginnings of the internet and video games. This generation embraces change, seeks balance in their lives and tend to be highly educated, active and family-oriented. Some are starting to feel their age in aches and pains, while others still feel young. Many are starting to either wear readers or have been wearing them for awhile. This means they, like the generations before them, need better lighting to read your sales materials.

Gen Y or millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, with the youngest starting at 22 and oldest 37. They comprise a hard-working generation, and it’s generally important to them to “make it” — and make it big. Many appreciate quality, and while affording the best isn’t always easy, they strive for that. They also like bells and whistles.

Gen Z or TBD (born 1995 to present) are not exactly customers yet but will be eventually. If they shop with their parents, engage with them to introduce your company. This generation is inheriting everything previous generations have failed to take care of: global warming, inflation, pandemics, violence and more. This generation respects a company that helps take care of its community and the earth. If you want to attract and retain younger customers, this is an excellent place to start. Let them know what steps you are taking to make the world a better place.

In my seminar, I’m going to cover first impressions; making your focal areas work for you; floor plans; lighting for all ages; signage; basic design and display techniques; adding digital tools; your visual manual standards; and 10 things you can do right now to make your store friendly to people of all ages. Below are some ideas from the seminar from each category.

First impressions start in the parking lot or on the street and continue into the front door area.

Cleanliness matters as do working lights. Healthy greenery flanking the front door adds softness, and a sense of pride and caring to your company.

Our visual sense goes on high alert when we encounter level changes, low lights, darker areas and narrow aisles. Our sense of smell kicks in with mold. Most people can navigate each of these things without a problem, but we become more aware. Mold tells us the space isn’t good for us for any length of time, and that you’re having plumbing issues. If you can’t fix your own, how good will you be dealing with the plumbing of a spa?

Focal areas are seen next as we scan a store. Your focal areas give important visual clues to your customers about what you value and how you take care of your business. Messiness equals a lack of caring about your merchandise and your customers. Older customers may be put off as clutter in aisles can be difficult to navigate.

Younger people can pretty much read in the dark, but your informative signs should have high contrast between the words and paper, simple/clean fonts and be large enough for people to read without having to put on glasses. For the partially sighted that means 10- to 12-point type.

While changing or updating the lighting can be the most expensive thing you do in your store, it can also be the most effective thing you do that changes the look, mood and feel of your space. If you switch to LEDs, many states and counties offer rebates to defray your costs. If you want to make a huge difference quickly, use LED spotlights to highlight prime focal areas. Your entire store will instantly look more appealing and interesting.

One of the easiest basic design and display techniques is color-spotting. This involves using one bright color to lead the eye around a display, a shelf, a department or the entire store. Another is using basic balance. Heavier, darker items are shelved low with lighter, small and brighter items above. Very large and/or heavy pieces should never go above eye level in case it falls.

Adding digital tools is an excellent way to keep your younger customers involved. This can be as simple as having iPads attached by a security cord at the end or in the middle of some aisles. On the front page are photos of the shelved or standing products surrounding that pad. Clicking on the product gives further information to the customer. This information can be supplied by the vendor. Make sure you have your store name or logo on each page.

If you have more than one store, creating a visual merchandising standards guide/manual for the stores is essential to keeping your image/brand intact, fresh and vibrant. It can be digitally generated and accessed, which keeps your costs down and makes it easy to update. A clean, organized and interesting store appeals to people of all ages.

I hope to see you at the Pool | Spa | Patio show on Nov. 1 in Las Vegas, or The Pool & Spa Show on Jan. 29 and 30 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Please introduce yourself and say hi.


Linda Cahan, principal of Cahan & Company, is an internationally recognized expert in visual merchandising with over 35 years of marketplace experience. Linda’s breadth of experience has included all segments of retail including: fashion, technology, surfaces, tools, gifts, accessories, furniture, independents and corporations.

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