Energy efficiency is becoming increasingly important to homeowners, and one of the ways the pool industry can turn that knowledge into sales is by approaching the concept in the best way. That means understanding what products are most in demand, how best to display them in a design center or retail environment, and how to have conversations with customers and clients that lead to sales.
As “green” and “conservation” and “environmentally friendly” have become watchwords in all aspects of consumption, the popularity of products that meet those ideals has also grown.
One reason is the savings a homeowner can enjoy over the life of the efficient appliance or product, which is often the motivation behind the expenditure.
But while some areas of the country are experiencing surges in sales of these products (think Florida, Texas, Arizona and California, with their long pool seasons), other areas (such as the Midwest and Northeast, especially) lag behind. People talk the green talk, but don’t necessarily walk the green walk.
Selling energy efficient products can be a bit of a long game. But when done effectively, any conversations and displays toward that end plant the seed in customers’ minds for an upgrade or later purchase.
What to sell
When talking about energy efficiency, the minds of consumers and retailers alike go to variable-speed pumps.
It’s no wonder: These big-ticket purchases present one of the most straightforward ways for pool owners to save on their electricity bills, and certain manufacturers make it easier on pool professionals by offering displays to help with the sales pitch.
But as several retailers have mentioned, shaving dollars off energy usage is of the most advantage in the Sun Belt states, where pool seasons are long or even year ’round, costing anywhere from $1 to $10 per day to run, depending on pool size.
“That’s a substantial investment per month to operate a pool,” says Ted Lawrence, corporate retail category manager for Covington, La.-based PoolCorp.
Coupled with the rebates some utility companies in these states offer, the switch can be an attractive proposition.
Swimquip Pool & Spa Supply Center in San Diego installs two to three new variable-speed pumps each week.
Some customers approach the company about replacing just the motor, which costs about half the price of scrapping the entire pump and changing it out with an energy-efficient model, says Swimquip owner Victor Castro. He tries to upsell these customers, explaining that the new pump doesn’t cost too much more but they’ll continue to benefit as they save energy.
“If you tell them that they’re going to get a $200 rebate from [San Diego Gas & Electric] and the average savings on electricity to run these pumps is around $50 to $100 per month, that’s a big selling point,” he says.
Of course, retailers should provide savings information based on local energy rates.
In northern states, the abbreviated season means the payoff from energy offsets takes longer, so the out-of-pocket investment doesn’t have the same lure, unless a customer is highly environmentally conscious. Still, some utility companies in the north offer rebates to offset stress on the grids, and in St. Louis, Prestige Pools and Spas benefits from that in more ways than one. A local utility, Ameren, offers a $350 rebate on eligible variable-speed pumps, and sends direct-mail fliers to its users to tout the rebate.
“That’s great that the electric companies do that because it’s bringing business straight into our store here,” says Prestige Secretary Mike Angelo of the rebate. “My customers, when they come in to get water tests, chemicals, stuff like that, they’re bringing it in and saying, ‘Hey, tell me about this.’ We get a lot of sales just because of what Ameren is doing.”
But variable-speed pumps aren’t the only option for energy-conscious customers. Recent advancements in LED light technology mean that these color-changing illuminators, which run on less wattage per light than their incandescent counterparts, are a neat feature to set different moods in a pool environment.
Big-ticket purchases of products specifically classified as energy efficient aren’t the only ones savvy retailers should highlight. Any items that would help a pool run to its best ability, extending time between repairs, servicing or material replacement benefits its efficiency, even if it doesn’t seem consequential. If equipment always is running at its optimal capacity, then there’s no need to operate the pool longer to compensate for out-of-balance chemicals or to heat water. For instance, automatic pool cleaners keep pool water circulating and maintain a more even temperature.
Reducing water evaporation also should be a goal, not only for the obvious reasons, but because it means less cost and energy needed for maintaining the water level. Products such as covers, salt chlorine generators and solar pool heaters help in this regard.
Presenting the energy-saving products to customers in a convincing way drives sales. This means placement, presentation and signage.
“Having an energy-efficient area is extremely important,” Lawrence says. “Signage and proper display is crucial.”
Letting the equipment speak for itself is one way Gohlke Pools in Denton, Texas, sells variable-speed pumps to its customers. The business uses a display from Pentair that showcases an interactive screen where pool owners can enter the specifications of their current equipment along with pool and utility prices. It then calculates the monetary savings that customers would experience from purchasing the pump.
“It’s a working unit,” says Nick Day, service manager. “It has a little tank of water, and you can turn it on and hear how quiet it is.”
Store position also can play a role in bringing the topic to customers’ minds. Prestige Pools and Spas’ display of its Hayward and Pentair variable-speed pumps at its entrance draws customer attention to the products.
“Definitely we’re selling a lot more energy efficient [equipment to replace] equipment that isn’t working,” Angelo says. “But … some people are pulling [out] a brand new, great single-speed pump only a couple years old and putting in a variable-speed, energy-efficient pump on their pool.”
Creating a special area to showcase all of the products in this category is a strategy that stores can utilize. Retailers can call attention to the display by painting it a special color — Lawrence recommends the popular bright green color used by the green industry — and adding a bamboo or similar flooring and maple-colored slatwall.
“Whatever you put on that wall will catch people’s attention,” Lawrence says. “I think it does really start with a display.”
Swimquip ensures customers realize the options available by grouping its pump display with other energy-efficient products, such as solar pool covers (physical and liquid forms) and LED lights. Informational signs explain what the products do.
Starting the conversation
Waiting for the pool owner to bring up the topic of energy efficiency could leave sales staff wanting. As with all sales conversations, employees should broach the idea first.
“Some may not want to invest $1,300 or whatever the pump may cost to install it right off the bat, but at least they’re starting to think about it,” Day says. “… We’ve been in business for 60 years and plan on being in business for another 60 years, so we kind of figure we’re going to get them eventually. We’re not too worried about pushing them into something.”
It’s always challenging to figure out how to start a sales pitch. The goal is to make customers aware, since it’s a long game.
Lawrence recommends that every member of a sales staff practice a greeting when a customer enters the store. The script can be something like, “Hi, my name is Ted. In the store today, we’re doing water tests over there at the counter, we have a sale on the toys on this rack, and we’re featuring our energy-efficient products in the area behind me. What can I help you find today?”
The greeting is designed to plant seeds in the customer’s mind and prompt a conversation that could turn into potential sales.
Talking to a customer about their energy options doesn’t always have to be a sales pitch, either. Customers often want to know what’s new in swimming pools, whether it be products or equipment. Knowing what options exist to save a little money could be helpful to them.
“When they come in the spring, they all ask the same question: ‘What’s new?’” Lawrence says.
Since color-changing LED lights are “cool” in addition to saving some energy, it’s a good conversation starter.
Relaying a personal experience with the products also can fuel enthusiasm and add a genuine feel to the sales pitch.
“I’m not going to steer any of my customers in the wrong direction, because obviously they know where I’m at. … I want them to continue to be my customers for as long as I’m there, and also I want to build that reputation and repertoire with the customer that they can trust me,” Castro says.
“With that all in mind, I tell them what I think of it, the pluses and minuses, and I let them make the educated decision. I really think this is a no-brainer, but a lot of times, it comes down to finances.”
Even routine pool store visits can be an opportunity to educate customers about the new options available. With the point-of-sale systems many stores use, all the pool owner’s information is in front of an associate during any transaction, making it easy to start a conversation.
“… [Our staff will] even bring it up when they’re testing somebody’s water,” Angelo says. “In our computer, it says what kind of equipment they have on their pool. If they see they have an older pump [they’ll say]: ‘Hey, have you thought about doing a variable-speed pump?’”
Utilizing these conversations and displays can keep the energy-efficient options front of mind for customers minds, if and when the information is needed. And it allows retailers to increase their bottom lines with opportunities for upselling products that save both energy and money.