Veteran retailer John Paul believes that inside every aboveground-pool owner is an inground-pool owner waiting to get out. What he means is that just because someone is on a budget and can’t afford an upscale gunite installation does not mean he or she doesn’t still want lots of bells and whistles.
“My theory is that everyone wants an inground pool, but not everyone can afford one,” says Paul, vice president of Dover Pools & Supplies in Toms River, N.J. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t want all those extras to enhance [their aboveground pools].”
Over the past several years, product manufacturers have been more than happy to quench the desire of aboveground-pool shoppers. They produce a dizzying array of accessories, from automated cleaners and sanitization systems to waterfeatures and LED lighting systems.
Aboveground pool companies are producing a better quality and more aesthetically pleasing product. More shapes, sizes and styles are available than ever before. Plus, America’s backyards are shrinking, building codes are becoming more restrictive and rocky soil prevails on many properties. This makes aboveground-pool ownership more attractive to consumers.
“When I started 20 years ago, there were just a handful of designs,” says Tim Armstrong, a sales representative for Fiesta Pools & Spas in Tulsa, Okla. “Now they’re broader in what they look like. They’ve even come out with a stone-type top rail, so it looks like a rock feature. That has broadened the customer base that will buy [an aboveground pool].”
Despite whatever trends may be in play, there will always be aboveground-pool buyers looking to get the most for their money. The challenge facing dealers is how to convince shoppers that these upgrades are worth their consideration and won’t necessarily shatter their budgets.
Here are seven tips that retailing veterans say will help you do just that.
1. Get up close and personal with the product.
The key in upselling is the consumer’s perceived value. In other words, they may be willing to spend more than they intended to if they think the product warrants the extra expense.
“You have to show them the product in person,” says Fred Giametta, co-owner of F&G Pool & Stove in Newburgh, N.Y. “We show off all these add-ons in our stores. I have them available to show people what they are and what they do. They have to know about costs vs. advantages and how [the add-on product] will help them in their busy lives.”
Some of the technology and its value can be difficult to convey via ads or word of mouth. But once a person is in the store and can see and touch the product — and receives an educational demonstration from the sales staff — he or she begins to understand the product’s value from a pool owner’s perspective.
“You can show them a brochure all day, but if you don’t have the product to touch and feel, it makes it so much more difficult to sell,” Paul says.
Armstrong says he sets up the Fiesta Pools & Spas showroom to attract customers and draw attention to these special features. He presents eye-catching displays that are visible from the street from a variety of angles.
He also adds lighting systems for a more dramatic appearance and presents various upgrades throughout the displays. “We put the pools on display to play those aspects up,” Armstrong says. “[The displays] pull the people in.”
2. Make news.
How does a dealer reach out to a wider population? John Bullard, owner of Leisure Lifestyles in Columbus, Ga., keeps a database of aboveground-pool owners and shoppers, and targets them via a newsletter. The missive plays up all of the new aboveground add-ons, encouraging customers to stop by the store for a demo.
“In our newsletters,” Bullard says, “we talk about the newest and greatest stuff that will enhance their [pool-owning] experience — things such as pool cleaners, salt generators, slides and lighting.”
The newsletter is a way to present products to consumers without sounding like an aggressive sales pitch. Instead, customers feel more like they belong to an exclusive club whose members are privy to the latest information and VIP discounts.
3. Place accessories on sale.
If you’re trying to bring an entire product niche to consumers’ attention, what better way to do it than by putting it on sale? The aforementioned newsletter is a good way to nurture the idea of specialty sales for a target group of customers, but holding general sales for these new accessories also introduces them to the shopping public.
“We run discounts for the salt generators for aboveground pools all the time,” says Kenny Perry, owner of Perry’s Pool Shop in Seymour, Ind. “Since these are new [products], we send fliers out to pool customers, and they’ll come in and want to talk about it. It’s basically a direct-mail campaign, and we generally do it in the springtime — especially when it’s something new like this.”
Periodically, Perry runs sales for most of his aboveground-pool add-ons, including heaters, lighting systems, waterfeatures and automatic cleaners. The cleaners, in particular, sell well during these promotions, he says.
“We hit them early in the spring with all kinds of promotions [for aboveground- pool accessories],” Perry says. “We’ll have things such as ‘Buy a pool, get a free automatic cleaner.’ We start with our own flier and then follow it up with the manufacturer’s flier. The next thing we know, we have this big follow-up [from the customers].”
4. Add a touch of class.
Another way to draw potential customers into your store is to provide classes and workshops that illustrate how the add-ons work.
Perry’s store offers a chemical school to help pool owners balance their water, as well as deal with sanitization issues. He uses these classes as a way to spark discussion about salt chlorinators and other aboveground pool add-ons.
Once the level of customer interest is determined, classes on specific products sponsored by the manufacturer are scheduled.
“The customers come in and the manufacturer displays the product and shows them how it works,” Perry says. “It always looks better when [the manufacturer] is there.”
Perry notes that salt chlorinators are popular in the Midwest right now and customers long to learn more about them. But once they’re in class to discuss the sanitizing system, he turns them on to even more cutting-edge aboveground-pool accessories.
“We can also talk about pool cleaners and all kinds of other things,” Perry says.
5. Play up safety and convenience.
It’s all well and good to show curious customers the new products and explain what they do, but you still need an angle that will hook them. Remember the aforementioned perceived value idea? Nothing says “value” about a pool product better than safety and convenience.
Bullard notes that “whether they’re budget-conscious or Donald Trump, they want their life to be easy.” So the idea of covers, alarms and lockable ladders will always entice pool owners.
Tom Fecteau, general manager of Budget Pools in Peabody, Mass., agrees with Bullard. Convenience is a nice selling point, he says, even for those who are bargain hunting.
“They love the convenience stuff,” he says. “They like automatic cleaners and sanitizers — anything needed to care for the pool. If it’s automated, they like it.”
Fecteau says he promotes safety and convenience in all of his advertising and marketing efforts “because we know that is what they’re after. Most of our ads are in the local papers and spring fliers, and we play up the time-saving convenience of these products, along with the safety issues. We tell them, ‘You don’t have to put your hands on it and the kids can’t get at it.’”
6. Sell “bundles of joy.”
One way to sell aboveground-pool accessories is by rolling them into various packages. You can combine them with a specific pool model, and then sell everything for one discounted price. This strategy, also known as bundling, has been successful for many dealers.
“We have a price for a completely installed aboveground, and the package we like to start them with is a little above average as far as the quality of the pool and number of accessories is concerned,” says Bob Sullivan, owner of 21st Century Pools in Vestal, N.Y. “We also have fully automated packages.” Those bundles include items such as automatic sanitizers and cleaners.
The system has some flexibility, Sullivan notes. If a bundled package is still too expensive for a customer, his staff is able to remove products. “We can unbundle and use a smaller filter, but we prefer to work up and add on stuff,” Sullivan says.
His store also boasts a well-trained, professional sales staff. “They’re not just clerks behind a counter,” he says. Thus, he allows them discretion when it comes to how the bundles are configured.
“I let them have some latitude and include what they want,” Sullivan says. “They are professionals and I trust their instincts. Each salesperson is different.”
What are the most popular add-on items in his bundles? Sullivan says they’re the new, heavier beaded liners and underwater in-wall lighting systems. “These are the things the customer should have anyway,” he says.
7. Give them credit.
One way to sell an aboveground loaded with upscale accessories to a budget shopper is to use credit terms.
“How do you make it affordable? Through financing,” Bullard says. “They want the add-ons and to enhance their pool, and you can do that through financing — on the initial package or for add-ons they may need farther down the road.”
Bullard’s store uses several programs, including Aqua Advantage (financed through GE) and the Wells Fargo Splash card. “We always have customers in the store flashing their cards,” he says.
One way to convey affordable financing to budget shoppers is to tout low monthly payments on various packages. “We advertise monthly payments,” Sullivan says. “We place an ad in the paper that says something like, ‘You can buy this pool for just $99 a month,’ with a general description of the features that come with it.”