In the beginning there were pool leaf nets. Affixed to the end of really long poles, these were the only tools that homeowners had to clean out a seemingly never-ending supply of leaves, debris and dead insects that congregated in their backyard pools. They ran on manpower and took, well, way too long to do their jobs.

Automatic pool cleaners soon followed. But early versions were cumbersome and kind of funny looking — creeping around the edge of the pool and often getting stuck in the skimmer. Then the industry built a better mousetrap, so to speak, and the modern, compact robotic pool cleaner was born.

But selling automatic cleaners sometimes requires employing special tactics to really make the products fly off the shelves. Here you’ll find some of the best tactics to make 2017 one of your top years for automatic pool cleaner sales.

The Display
It’s a widely known fact that even the most mundane products in the world can be turned into must-have money-making items if they’re properly packaged and displayed (Remember Pet Rocks?). So it’s imperative to put your pool cleaners under the very best spotlights you have.

Joe Cimino, owner of Dolphin Pool Supply in Long Island, N.Y., gives his pool cleaner inventory an edge by giving it prime real estate. “They are the first thing [customers] see when they walk into the store, and they’re the last thing they see when they walk out,” he says.

He gives these products the first-in-last-out treatment because he believes they’re the best piece of equipment his customers can buy for their pools.

His display features either an actual pool cleaner or a dummy, made of an outer shell but no internal operating parts, presented on top of their boxes. This makes the products seem more tangible, as opposed to “an imaginary thing in a box,” he says. While customers would rather see the real thing up-close, Cimino leans toward using a dummy. This reduces the chances that a real cleaner could end up shattered on the showroom floor in a million little pieces. It also prevents retailers from having to sell the show floor model at a discount.

This attention especially makes sense for robotic cleaners, considering that top-of-the-line models can hover around the $1,000 mark. “Every customer wants them; you just need to make it easy and comfortable for them to spend [that kind of money] in your store,” says Ted Lawrence, corporate retail category manager for Covington, La.-based PoolCorp.

Creativity can be one of the best tools in your merchandising arsenal.

Linda Cahan, a retail design consultant in West Linn, Ore., recommends first taking the weight of the product into account. Automatic pool cleaners can weigh in at around 40 pounds, and the last thing you want is to create a beautiful display that crashes to the ground under the strain. Besides creating a big mess on the floor, such a mishap could pose a potential hazard to employees and customers.

Cahan recommends showcasing them on a wide, low ladder-like structure using white PVC piping and shelves found at a local hardware store. Each shelf could feature one or two cleaners, and two structures can sit side by side up against the wall. For even more impact, take a picture of the product in a pool, and place a blown-up image on the wall behind the display. Enlarged photos can be purchased for less than $100, Cahan says.

Movement is the No. 1 thing that people notice, followed by color and angles, Cahan says. This explains the effectiveness of the next tried-and-true merchandising technique for automatic pool cleaners: showing the product in action.

Brian Quint, president of Aqua Quip in Seattle, recommends filling a lucite tank with water, along with some leaves and other small objects, and putting one of the cleaners in the tank so customers can see how it works. “It’s a conversation starter that could lead to a sale,” he says.

He also recommends placing the display in a high-visibility spot, like the water-test area. While people are waiting for their pool and spa water test results, the cleaner may catch their attention. Now, in addition to a chemical sale you may also have a pool cleaner sale.

If you’re in the market for an automatic pool cleaner-worthy tank, you might want to contact a manufacturer who could point you in the right direction — perhaps toward a plastics company that would sell one to you or make one for you. Quint, however, advises against simply running to the local pet supply store and purchasing a fish tank. You’ll need something more sturdy and less cumbersome.

But if you’re wary of having a $1,000 piece of merchandise floating around in a water tank, there are other ways to incorporate the all-important eye-catching movement in a display. Lawrence recommends running a promotional video nearby to attract attention and show the product in action. Many manufacturers provide these videos to dealers, Lawrence says, yet they are widely underutilized. There are even video monitor systems that feature a motion detector, so the video only plays as the consumer approaches. That way, it’s not running all day long and won’t drive your employees crazy!

The Pitch
Once the displays have done their jobs it’s time for staffers to move in with their sales pitches — a crucial part of shielding brick-and-mortar stores from losing sales to the internet.

Zac Nicklas, president of The Pool Boys in League City, La., reports that automatic pool cleaner sales in 2016 were not very strong. “We lost a lot of sales to online stores selling items for less than the manufacturer’s minimum advertised price or lowest acceptable advertised price,” he says.

These issues can be circumnavigated with the right sales pitch. Cimino instructs his staff to sell the company in addition to the product. “We want to give them the comfort and security of buying the robot from us versus the internet,” he says.

His team always mentions the fact that Dolphin Pool Supply covers the warranty of every automatic pool cleaner they sell. He explains that customers who purchase cleaners online sometimes have to wait weeks to get their products back if there’s an issue with the warranty.

Another key aspect of the pitch is to address issues with the cleaners before the customers even experience a problem. Purchasers sometimes complain that the cleaners don’t handle 100% of the pool, so his staffers typically go over best care and maintenance practices, such as how to keep it clean and how and where to store it, to ensure optimal cleaner operation.

If a customer still isn’t convinced that an automatic pool cleaner is the right way to go, then it’s time to turn to the “free sample” sales tactic. Cimino offers rentals of his automatic pool cleaners to potential customers. If they decide to purchase the cleaner he reimburses them the rental fee.

“I don’t think I’ve had a single [rental] robot not result in a sale,” he says.

But if you’re looking to move more high-end robotic pool cleaners out the door, Lawrence recommends implementing a trade-up program. “[Give] customers a one-season trade-up guarantee on all pressure or suction side cleaners to a robotic cleaner,” Lawrence says. “If they like their pressure-side or suction-side cleaner, then they will love the robotic cleaners.”

But what are you going to do with all of those pre-owned cleaners? Well, this is a great opportunity to get creative.

Lawrence recommends demoting the preowned units to rental model status, and using them in display pools, or simply selling them as “pre-owned.” If the store has a service department, they can be used on service routes. And pool builders can use them as giveaways to customers who just purchased a new pool.

The Internet
Perhaps the best way to beat the internet is to offer something that it can’t.

To combat the dismal cleaner sales of last year, Nicklas plans to kick off 2017 by offering only cleaners sold exclusively through brick-and-mortar operations. You won’t be able to find cleaners there that can be purchased from the internet. He plans to focus on pushing these models along with their added benefits, such as color changes, extra bags, brushes, extended warranties, and sometimes rebates to the consumer or dealer.

Vendors offerfvuqexdwdvttz an increasingly large selection of brick-and-mortar-only products from which to choose, he adds, and manufacturers are starting to limit or void manufacturer warranties on products that were purchased online. In fact, he once found a brick-and-mortar-only pool cleaner for sale online and emailed the page link to his local manufacturer’s rep. By the end of the day, that page had been removed. “This shows how serious the manufacturers are getting about helping retailers,” he says.

Quint has taken the brick-and-mortar-only concept a step further by selling only one type of pool cleaner. He’s chosen this particular model for a number of very simple reasons: It’s a good product and he gets good support from the manufacturer. This clearly has worked well: Last year, Aqua Quip set a record in the sale of automatic pool cleaners, Quint reports.

Having such a scarce product selection in any one category might not work for every store owner, he admits. His business is located in the Pacific Northwest, which doesn’t have as much competition as stores in the Sunbelt. He recommends familiarizing yourself with your competition to see which merchandising supply route is right for you.