Pulliam Pools had produced a quarterly newsletter since 1985.

But about a year ago, management at the Ft. Worth, Texas-based firm determined that the costs associated with printing and mailing the circular to a growing customer base had become “exorbitant.”

So they ceased sending out physical copies and took the operation online, making Pulliam’s “Pool Talk” strictly an e-newsletter.

“It’s just about keeping our name on people’s minds,” says Debra Smith, co-owner of Pulliam, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder. “I don’t want to bug them to death, but I want our customers to know that we’re here, and that they can rely on us for facts and education.”

In keeping with national trends, more and more pool and spa firms are embracing e-newsletters as an efficient, cost-effective way of staying in touch with customers.

Here, Smith and others offer five tips on how to produce a widely read e-newsletter that accurately reflects the company it represents.

1. Know the Basics.
  In addition to considering the content of an e-newsletter, experts recommend establishing basic parameters. These include tangible elements such as frequency of distribution (some prefer quarterly, while others go monthly or even bi-monthly), as well as more philosophical ones like determining objectives and strategies.

“Think long and hard about who your target audience is and what your agenda is with them,” writes Larry Chase, an Internet marketing consultant, in his Web Digest for Marketers. “Is this a customer-retention strategy for your existing clients? Is it a thought leadership gambit? Or is your newsletter designed to generate sales?”

2. Link to Your Website.
For Hauk Custom Pools, a design-and-build firm based in Dallas, the ultimate goal of its e-newsletter is to direct readers — primarily existing customers — to the company’s Website.
After all, the main intent of the publication is not to sell new pools, but rather to stay in contact with the homeowner after their pool is completed, says Rebecca Kopplin, the newsletter’s editor and owner of Dallas-based Right Words Communications, a firm specializing in marketing and communications for small and medium-sized businesses.

“The point is not to give people too many details up-front,” Kopplin explains. “Otherwise you’ll lose them. You always want to link back to the Website, because that’s where your meat and potatoes are.”

Blair Lynch, director of operations at Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio in Anderson, Ind., follows a similar approach with his company’s e-newsletter. If it’s too wordy, he says, customers simply won’t open it.

So he highlights three to four different topics in short bites, much of which also takes customers to the firm’s expansive site.

3. Provide Useful Content and Coupons. There’s no shortage of helpful information contained in Hauk’s newsletter. In fact, each edition of “The Splash” contains short pieces on topics ranging from pool chemistry to expanding the backyard environment.

A Q&A section addresses customer inquiries, while additional items include pool lingo, referral information, and even solicitations for pictures of pets enjoying their owners’ pools.

Because of the nature of the business, the content of Mermaid’s e-newsletter is largely dictated by the seasons. In February, for instance, Lynch will run information on an early buy water care sale; spring newsletters contain tips on pool openings, or may spotlight chemicals, cleaners and other products.

At All-Clear Pool & Spa in Elk Grove, Calif., retail manager Jimmy Jordan includes up to two-dozen coupons in each e-newsletter, which comes out every two weeks from March through September (and once every two months or so in the off-season). Coupons may cover specific products, or in-store services like cleaner or pump repairs.

The e-newsletter of Seattle-based Aqua Quip also links to the Website for more specifics, in addition to providing click-thrus on coupons for monthly specials.

“It’s very important to have coupons and sales items,” says Kathleen Carlson, vice president of the multi-store retail and service operation. “But we may also include a grilling recipe, as well as links of whatever we can find — a YouTube video, for instance — because that’s the fun part.

“You don’t want it to always be the same,” she added. “You’ve got to make it interesting to them, or they’re out of there.”         

For Smith, the e-newsletter is also an opportunity to let customers know about Pulliam’s various charitable pursuits. A recent edition featured photos from the company’s annual golf tournament, which raises more than $45,000 for a number of local causes, including the Shriner’s Texas Children’s Hospitals, United Way and Grace House Ministries.

“Our customers like to know we’re engaged in the community,” Smith says. “A lot of people here really appreciate that, and our e-newsletter can help let them know that we’re much more than just a pool company.”

4. Generate Carefully Targeted Information.
Gathering customer e-mail addresses isn’t as tricky as it may have been in the past. At Mermaid, Lynch explains, shoppers are greeted by staff with a standard request that essentially asks: “Would you like to sign up for our e-newsletter — it has valuable information on upcoming events, coupons, tips and more.”

Customers are further asked what type of equipment they have. From there, management breaks the addresses out into specific categories for more targeted content.

“Plus, our chemical manufacturer is working with us to figure out how our customers shop,” Lynch adds, “which will allow us to better tailor our e-newsletter to their particular habits. We’re trying to be more transactional with our customers.”

Other retailers place e-newsletter sign-up forms throughout their stores or on their Websites. And some solicit addresses at community events — All Clear’s Jordan collects e-mails at the local fairs and other events.

Meanwhile, every new-pool contract at Pulliam brings in another e-mail, which becomes part of the company’s database of e-newsletter recipients.

But that’s certainly not Smith’s only source. She also collects business cards at various networking functions, “so they come from business colleagues, friends, family and so forth,” she says.       

5. Track Your Results. Even the best e-newsletter isn’t worth much if no one reads it. Thus, it’s important to keep an eye on how many customers are opening each edition.  One easy, free way to do this is through Google Analytics ( http://www.google.com/analytics/), which displays how many people have viewed a given page online. After obtaining the number of views for your e-newsletter, divide that figure into the total number that were sent. This will provide an “open rate.” By monitoring their customers’ interest level over time, business owners can learn what type of approach generates the highest number of clicks and tailor their content accordingly.