The time it takes to open a new store varies, but it’s not usually a quick proposition. Even comprehensive remodels often shut down a store for a planned chunk of time during the offseason.

But one Arizona business didn’t have the luxury of taking a few months to launch a new location.

For B&L Pools in the Phoenix area, some issues with existing retail locations prompted the need to quickly open a storefront before the official kickoff of this year’s season.

“We were up against a wall,” says Dale Howard, owner. “We had a landlord that was not playing nice, so we were possibly going to lose that location Dec. 31. And then we had another location [where] the city of Glendale [Ariz.] was having issues with a building that we’d occupied for three and a half years, and they closed it on Jan. 9.”

The recent transition of the family-owned property management business from the father, who Howard had amicably dealt with for the 18 years B&L Pools had been in that location, to the son made the negotiation difficult. The landlord proposed a rent increase of more than 30 percent, which made it impossible to consider staying in that location.

Faced with the possibility of going from six locations to four, the company bought a new store. While Howard leases some of his locations, these days it’s his preference to own. The most recent lease renegotiation was the third time he had issues that could have put a store in jeopardy.

“You work hard and spend a lot of years establishing a location, and 10, 15, 18 years down the road, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Howard says. “When you own your property, you control your own destiny.”

With the current low cost of real estate in the Phoenix area, it was the ideal time to invest. That was the good news. The bad news: From the time Howard could take possession of the building he purchased until the scheduled soft opening on March 2, he had about three weeks.

Here, the retailer explains the build so others can emulate his results if they find themselves in a similar situation.

Opening quickly
How does a quick build happen? It takes planning, planning, planning.

B&L Pools didn’t take possession of the new building as early as Howard anticipated — a common occurrence in real-estate transactions. But the escrow time gave the company some breathing space to decide what to do and have everything ready to go so they could begin the build-out as soon as the company took possession of its new space.

That included procuring shelving — some for free from Grainger, a supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products; getting chemical displays from manufacturers; having the slatwall ready to build and labor ready.

“We were really prepared in advance,” Howard says. “So when we did get possession of the building, we could rock and roll and get it done quickly.”

Because it was the offseason, B&L had the manpower available, and Howard credits the management team with being able to schedule and track employees throughout the process.

Tapping his resources for designs also helped Howard in the planning phase. He got some ideas at the recent United Aqua Group conference, including ones from retailer Bob Goodall, who opened a new showroom for Goodall Pools & Spas in Harrisburg, Pa., last year using a new program from BioGuard that he helped develop.

“We really copied a lot of his ideas,” Howard says. “I contacted him because he’s a fellow UAG member, and he sent me some pictures, which we incorporated a lot of those ideas. That was our game plan: to utilize other people’s ideas.”

What it took
Taking possession of a new storefront means embarking on a remodel and all the work that goes into making the space ready.

New wall color, displays, signage, installing slatwall and building countertops were on Howard’s to-do list.

“It never goes as fast as you want it to go, but at the end, I was very happy,” Howard says.
But to get such a satisfactory result, the team had to constantly assess to make sure they were on track. “Every day, it was like, ‘We have to get this done; we have to get that done,’” Howard says. “I’m an optimist, but also a realist in understanding that construction projects don’t go as fast as you think they’re going to go. This went together pretty smoothly, but we were pressing hard to get it done.”

The new building also came with one big challenge: the existing carpet. The B&L employees and hired workers ripped it out and had to grind off the glue that had kept it in place. All that preparation led to the job of painting on the epoxy floor.

“Originally, we used to do gray,” Howard says of the floor color. “Gray’s just kind of gray, ugly. So we did a dark blue epoxy — that just shows the dirt too much. This is a light blue epoxy, and that was a copy of Bob Goodall’s store, too.”

Advice from the field
Going from remodel to operational in less than a month provides a lot of lessons.

Depending on the timing of the season in an area, the build on a store can take a bit more time. That wasn’t an option this time for B&L Pools, which was pushing for the store to be ready for the start of Arizona’s season.

“When you’re starting the season, it’s important to be open and get the cash register going and maybe do finishing touches later,” Howard says. “If it was October or November, and it wasn’t the start of a season, then I probably might get more done before I open prematurely. [Though] we didn’t have everything completed, I think the store looked good — it just maybe looked a little empty and not as finished as it could have.”

The soft opening in March took place without spas on display.

As with any action, practice makes perfect. Opening a new pool store location is no different.
“Each time you do a location, you get better at it,” Howard says. “Our first one was nothing like this one. You get your materials down. We’ve been putting slatwall in for a number of years, so we get better at hanging it and better at doing it.”

The escrow period was a boon for the new Bell Road store because it allowed Howard the time to organize the materials he would need once the real estate deal closed.

“We weren’t experiencing delays waiting for shelving or waiting for slatwall or waiting for different things, and that’s something we did differently this time,” he says. “By having it in advance, it made things go a little smoother because you’re always fighting delivery schedules.”

Keeping tabs on ideas from inside and outside the industry also makes the process easier.
“You’re always looking at your competitors and your friends in the business and looking at what they’re doing and trying to pick the good ideas they come up with,” Howard says.