At Chesapeake Va.-based Aegean Pools Inc., 90 percent of the 300 new pools built each year include salt chlorine systems.
In addition, 10 percent to 15 percent of the customers who initially bought a pool without one are converting to salt chlorine systems within a year.
This ongoing growth has translated to retailers as well.
“I tell people it’s kind of like having air conditioning in your car: Once you have it, you won’t want one without it,” says Jim Garrison, retail store manager of Aegean.
But selling these systems on the retail side may be a little different than discussing their merits in a homeowner’s backyard. Many retail customers come into the store with misconceptions about salt, and it’s important that staff members understand how to talk about the product. Here’s what you need to know to hit the right points.
Misconception: “A salt system is too expensive.”
The cost of a salt chlorinator often is easier to swallow when it’s incorporated into a new pool project. That’s because the $2,000 price tag is an easier sale when it’s rolled into a big number and is part of a monthly payment, says Keith Beebe, co-owner of Dunrite Pools in Bohemia, N.Y.
Retail customers tend to be less willing to drop that much cash for a single item. “When you’re at the store, putting it on a credit card makes it a harder sell,” Beebe adds.
You’ll find helpful tips that can make a big difference on the following pages.
Work within budget: First, determine how much the customer is willing or able to spend. Some retailers carry basic as well as high-end units. Then it’s just a matter of finding the right fit.
When appealing to the cost-conscious, the key is to mention long-term chemical savings. Talk in terms of annualized expenses.
Switching from traditional chlorine products to a salt system could save the client upwards of $300 a year, says Michael Shammas, president of Aegean Pools.
He explains to customers that in six to eight years, the system pays for itself. It’s a compelling argument when someone is hesitant.
Other retailers opt for discounts. Arthur Edwards Pool & Spa Centre in Miller Place, N.Y., hosts a customer appreciation weekend sale. The store cuts 15 percent off the price of all major pool equipment, including salt chlorine generators.
These account for 60 percent to 70 percent of the store’s salt-chlorinator sales, says Robert Schmit, retail manager.
Savings in algaecides: Local climates can be another selling point. In the South, where heat and humidity reign, conditions can bring an abundance of mustard algae.
Extensive shock treatments and algaecides can cost $600 to $700 a pop. Factor in multiple visits to the pool store to check water samples, and you’re talking considerable costs, says Matt Crunk, sales associate at Adcock Pool, Spa & Billiards in Hattiesburg, Miss.
A properly maintained salt system and steady circulation will help ensure the pool is constantly chlorinated, making algae largely an afterthought, he adds.
Promote convenience: Though the initial investment can be higher, salt systems save owners time and energy. For example, they handle much of the work of weekly shock treatments, removing the hassle from manually adding chlorine.
“Instead of having to get more tablets or sticks, or mix chlorine, you just adjust a dial on the salt system,” Shammas says.
Because the systems don’t require storage or handling of toxic chemicals, retailers such as Hampe have begun marketing salt chlorinators as a “green” alternative to traditional chlorine products.
Misconception: “It will make my pool too salty.”
Common consumer questions invariably include at least one about salt content. Some may even wonder whether their water will taste like the ocean. Fortunately, this can be addressed several ways.
Try a taste test: Adcock Pool, Spa & Billiards has a working salt chlorinator on an aboveground pool displayed in its store. Crunk allows his customers to test it — and some even stick a finger in and touch it to the tips of their tongues.
Beebe likes to inform shoppers that most systems operate within recommended parameters for salt content, generally 2,500 to 3,500 parts per million. This, he explains, falls well below the range of human taste — and nowhere near sea water, which has a salinity of 35 parts per thousand.
Soft on skin: Salt-chlorinated water can feel nicer against the skin. Again, this is where a display pool comes in handy. Crunk lets customers experience the sensation.
“Not only is it less abrasive on your skin [than traditional chlorine], but it’s more pleasant to swim in because salt is a natural water conditioner,” he asserts.
Misconception: “A salt system will make my pool chemical-free.”
Some customers don’t realize that salt systems create chlorine.
“I hear this a lot. Customers think the salt itself is going to keep the pool sanitized,” says Bob Kennedy, buyer at Paddock Pools, Patios & Spas, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Some people might say, ‘I’m allergic to chlorine, so therefore I’m getting a salt pool.’”
The problems begin when builders advertise a salt system and install it, but fail to explain how to operate and maintain it, Matheny says. “They’ll just tell a customer to go down to Lowe’s, buy a 50-pound bag of salt and throw it in the pool,” he says.
That’s why Matheny talks to customers about water chemistry. Before adding salt and activating their systems, they must make sure their pools are properly balanced, and that pH, alkalinity and calcium levels are appropriate.
Customers also need adequate amounts of stabilizer or cyanuric acid to protect chlorine from being consumed by UV rays.
These steps are critical to maintaining the system’s longevity. So make sure your retail staff knows the product. At Aegean Pools, most sales associates actually own salt systems.
“After living with pools without salt systems and then trying them, these salespeople know firsthand how to sell the product,” Shammas notes.
Aegean sales staffers who don’t own such systems may accompany service technicians for plumbing and installation of salt chlorinator on new pools.
For more technical questions, some retailers turn to members of their service departments. A tech may be better able to explain problems that could arise from an unbalanced pool: why metal components become corroded, or why hard water causes calcium buildup in the salt system cell, and scaling on the pool surface.
“But, generally, people don’t like to listen to the [minutiae of] how it happens,” Shammas says. “If you start to explain the electrolysis, how the sodium chloride is broken down, you kind of lose them.”
So he encourages his salespeople to keep things simple. Instead, they focus on end results, such as which chemicals customers need to buy and how much money they’ll spend.
Misconception: “A salt system means no more maintenance for my pool.”
Customers often think that once they’ve installed a salt chlorinator, the pool can be left alone. But factors such as too high or too low salt levels, as well as mineral buildup, can prevent it from working properly.
“If you just dump the salt in, you can potentially end up oversalting the pool, which can be a big problem,” Garrison says. “Some units can’t accommodate over 4,000 parts per million of salt in the water.”
If oversalting does occur, one of the only ways to lose salt is to drain and dilute the pool with fresh fill water.
On the other hand, if salt levels are not replenished, the system may stop producing chlorine, allowing algae to bloom.
Thus, Garrison’s salespeople make sure they discuss the pool’s capacity, or gallonage, at the outset.
When it comes to maintenance, retailers should ask customers how many hours a day they run their filters, or how often they clean their skimmers or backwash. These factors help determine water flow, which affects production of chlorine, Schmit says.
And in areas such as the Southwest, where city water has high mineral content, pool owners would be well advised to check the blades on their salt chlorinators for calcium buildup, which may even require an acid wash.
Make sure pool owners understand the importance of water temperature. Salt chlorinators generally shut down at around 50 degrees because lower temperatures make the titanium blades self-destruct and shed their ruthenium coating.
Finally, talk to salt customers about replacement cells. Cells typically last three to five years, and a replacement costs around $600. Customers appreciate knowing about these costs ahead of time, Shammas says.
Aegean Pools mails promotional pieces on these cells to its customers. Even servicing parts and honoring warranties for salt chlorinators bought elsewhere can generate business for replacement cells.
Build a positive relationship with your salt customers over the years and when it comes time for a replacement, there’s a good chance that sale will be yours.