A man walks into a pool store.
(Don’t stop reading — this is no joke. And you haven’t heard this one before.)
He’s trying to decide what to buy for the home. And he’s got a few options. Having come straight from the local mall, our shopper has just been wowed by a salesman pitching the latest high-definition plasma TV. But, you discover, he’s also considering an aboveground pool.
What do you do?
“It’s all about speaking from the heart and telling the truth,” says Pat Walsh, president of The Above Ground Pool & Spa Co. in San Antonio, Texas.
With consumer dollars at a premium, it’s critical for any seller of aboveground pools to know how to close a big sale when the opportunity arises. After all, those occasions are becoming less frequent in many parts of the country.
Walsh sells anywhere from 150 to 200 aboveground pools per season, which in South Texas typically runs from April to mid-October. His numbers for 2009 are about on par with last year’s, perhaps because of Texas’ weathering the economic storm better than most regions.
As for his approach, the first question Walsh poses to prospective buyers is whether they have kids. If they answer in the affirmative, the pitch is on its way.
“I say to them, ‘Let me tell you a story,’” he says. “When my kids were younger, every day before I came home from work, I would get a phone call from one asking when I would be back so we could all go swimming together. It got to be an established thing — it was something we scheduled.”
When kids become teenagers, he says, they may not consider it ‘cool’ to hang out with the parents anymore, at least outside the home.
“But all that pretension goes away when it’s your own backyard,” he says.
It doesn’t end there, though. Consumers now want value, Walsh says, and that leads to the second phase of his delivery.
He continues by explaining that, with a backyard pool, the kids may use it from 10-10:30 a.m., take a break, have some lunch, wait a while, and then jump back in around 3-3:30 p.m. Then, after another break, they’ll go back in the pool, maybe with the parents, around 5-5:30.
“So you turn around and realize the kids are there three to four times a day,” he says. “You’d never use a public pool that way.”
At Central Iowa Pool & Spa in Des Moines, general manager John Mosher installs each one of the aboveground pools his store sells. At an average price point of $6,000 to $7,000, they account for approximately 40 percent of his business in a given year.
Mosher’s pitch is not overly complex, but it is highly effective.
“You’re talking about years and years of enjoyment,” he says. “It’s an outdoor activity that’s fun for everyone, including the neighbors. And it gets the kids active and out of the house vs. being indoors all the time.
“But the one thing I always tell customers is, ‘When it’s 90 degrees outside, that water [in the aboveground pool] feels exactly the same as it does in a $1 million inground pool.”
Company president Mario Alba begins his wind-up similarly, asking how big the customer’s family is, as well as how they plan to use the pool. If the aim is recreation, Alba will direct them to an oval pool. If they’re on a budget and the pool is mainly for the kids to splash around in, it’s likely going to be a round one.
Because of their installation service — and free preliminary site visits — Alba and Mosher often ask potential customers if they can take a look at the yard. Once that happens, the product is usually as good as sold.
“We spray-paint a few lines in the yard and they start to imagine that pool and where it’s going to be,” Alba says. “They can literally envision the pool standing there.”
It’s likely no coincidence that his company’s aboveground pool sales are running 5 to 10 percent above last year’s figures. In fact, Alba has a waiting list of two-and-a-half to three weeks for installation. Last year he could do it the next day, he says.
Apollo Pools & Spas in Reading, Pa., carries a wide variety of aboveground pools. However, the market hasn’t sustained sales as well as other parts of the country like Texas and the Midwest, says company president Kathy Milbrandt.
But Apollo refused to sing the blues, as Milbrandt puts it, and instead developed a unique and bold campaign to give its bottom line a shot in the arm.
“We’re looking to spin this around,” she says. “People are still spending money — it makes them feel good in a sense. And you want them to spend it with you.”
In honor of the business’ 40th anniversary, the store in August and early September held a sales event Milbrandt referred to as “40 days of savings at 40 percent off.”
Starting in late July, all existing customers received a personalized letter informing them that for 40 days ending on Labor Day, a different item would be marked down by 40 percent.
The letter includes a calendar indicating which items are on sale on which days, as well as an entry form for a chance to win a 40” flatscreen TV.
Current customers actually received a flat discount on everything in the store, and were given the opportunity to pre-purchase before the sale went public Aug. 1.
In the weeks prior, Milbrandt advertised the event in newspapers, on billboards and over the radio. She concedes it’s a rather unorthodox approach, but feels it’s one worth taking.
“There’s not one consumer in my market that will be able to escape my sale,” she says. “They will be inundated. I just came to the conclusion that you can’t fall into the doom and gloom.
“And I thought to myself, ‘I have to get out of this,’” she added. “I have to advertise a positive notion, and that’s what we did. My whole store was on sale!”