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Credit: GRAPHIC BY NICK ORABOVIC

 

George Catelli knows he’ll probably never manage a business with 17,000 locations in 50 countries.

But when the owner of Sunshine Pool & Spa in Santa Rosa, Calif., recently decided his retail operation needed a jolt, he took some cues from a certain coffeehouse next door.

“It was apparent to me that people who walk into a Starbucks are going for more than just a cup of coffee,” Catelli says. “So when we remodeled the store, we tried to create a look and feel that was similar. Obviously we’re not a big business, but we had to ask ourselves, ‘What are some of the things they have that we can incorporate to try to help enhance the experience of the people who come in to see us?’”

Catelli’s renovation project wrapped up in late May, and aesthetically his showroom did come to resemble the nearby Starbucks: A video screen now greets customers as they enter, and colors tend toward warm earthy tans and browns.

Even the water lab, which was previously no-frills, has been converted into a bar-like setting, complete with stools and a glossy countertop.

But it didn’t stop there. While planning the redesign, Catelli took the time to study his customers’ shopping habits. He discovered that consumers viewed Sunshine as a place they could get in and out of quickly — certainly a compliment, but not exactly conducive to browsing or impulse buys.

“Of course that’s always nice, but hey, we want you to hang around and maybe look at that new product that’s over there on the shelf, or ask us about changing out your spa,” Catelli says.

“Starbucks is very friendly and very welcoming,” he adds. “And I think we lose some of that in our industry because we tend to be more repair-oriented, or we have a whole line of people standing there with water samples who all have a problem.”

Starbucks may be the 800-lb. gorilla of coffee sales, but it got that way based in part on a brand strategy that embraced both customer intimacy as well as an “experience” that extends far beyond just a good cup o’ joe.

“Every interaction we have with our customers — in every place, in every product, in every moment — is an opportunity to connect with them, and we always strive to inspire and nurture the human spirit,” says a Starbucks spokesperson.

That methodology is a crucial component of delivering value, as intimacy and a friendly staff are two big indicators of customer satisfaction.

For the pool and spa industry, capturing loyal customers is one of the biggest challenges. Today’s temptations — from the cut-rate pricing of big boxes to the 24-hour access of Internet-based sellers — make return shoppers more valuable than ever.

Addressing his patrons by name, and encouraging his employees to share theirs, is one way to build a connection, Catelli says, as is expressing appreciation for their business.

“Always show gratitude,” he adds. “Be grateful that they’re in your store. If you show that and you’re in that mode, it’s a very welcoming feeling. Philosophy-wise, those are things I’ve tried really hard to push here.”