Trish Kobylarz reminds Splash Pools customers to add algaecide when rainwater brings bacteria.

Matt Giovanisci provides online links to the latest ads, sales, coupons and specials for Niagara Pools & Spas. He also offers advice on winterizing, and suggests solar pills and blankets to keep pool temperatures warm.

And Lynn White posts pictures of Water Works Pool & Spa employees, as well as informing customers of seasonal store hours and manufacturer rebates.

Welcome to the world of Facebook, retail-style.

“I just want to be on the cutting edge of things,” says White, whose store serves Tuscaloosa, Ala., and the surrounding area. “I don’t want to be the one that’s left behind. Plus the pool and hot tub industry is very visual, and this [medium] plays right into that.”

By fall 2009, Facebook, the online social networking phenomenon, had attracted upwards of 80 million users in the United States alone, with thousands more joining each day. Analysts believe nearly 25 percent of the American population currently subscribes to the free service.

And it’s not just the younger, computer-savvy generation — it’s seniors as well. Consider this: In the first six months of 2009, the number of Facebook users aged 55 and older grew by 513 percent, according to analytics company iStrategyLabs.

With millions of potential consumers accessing so much information in real time, the marketing possibilities are endless. And a small but growing group of pool and spa retailers already have embraced the mechanism. Whether it’s used to keep customers informed, share tips and advice, enhance an online presence, or simply foster a sense of community, Facebook has evolved into a powerful business tool.

Why they use it

Kobylarz, co-owner of Splash Pools in Horn Lake, Miss., created her store’s Facebook page in summer 2009. Actually, her daughter did most of the initial work. But from that point on it’s been all Trish.

“For me it’s great,” she says. “I can just put a quick note up there, and it allows for a lot of communication with my customers.”

The Splash Pools page had just over 200 “fans” (similar to “friends” on an individual’s page) by fall 2009. That means whenever Kobylarz updates her store’s page, those 200-plus fans are e-mailed instantly about what she’s added, provided they opt in to notification.

The next several months should see The Pool & Spa Store’s Facebook page expanded as well. Management at the Fayetteville, Ark., store launched their retail page in early fall, and sales associate/office manager Kim Cox is eager to connect with her network of customers.

But first and foremost, she says, it’s about telling folks where she is.

“We’re a new store,” Cox explains, “and we’ve only been at this location since July. So we’re trying to let people know we’re here and that we offer pool and spa supplies as well as a focus on service.”

A Facebook user herself, Cox invites her personal friends to join her store’s retail page. And she sees a developing relationship with her company’s more traditional online presence.

“Our store Website has more of a business focus, whereas Facebook is somewhat of an ongoing thing,” she says. “It’s more for people who already know about us — a way for us to speak more personally to people … You know, we are very social people here in the South.”

How they use it

Niagara Pools & Spas in Blackwood, N.J., has served the South Jersey area since 1957. Marketing director Giovanisci, who maintains the company’s Facebook page, plans to begin building it with 52 years worth of expertise.

And he feels that gives Niagara an advantage over fellow retailers in the area.

“Our competitors definitely aren’t on it,” he says. “I imagine they don’t have the people to do it. But if we’re providing information to customers and nobody else is doing it, they’re going to trust us.”

Nor is updating the page time-consuming, Giovanisci says.

“The only part that takes any time is thinking about what you’re going to say — and if people get engaged and you get overloaded with questions or requests, that would be awesome,” he adds. “Every question is a sale, or an opportunity to push them to the store.”

In fact, one of the keys to success, experts say, is not allowing social networking sites to dominate your time or attention.

Another turn-off can be too many posts, or irrelevant ones that clog up your connections’ feeds, or stream of updates.

“If you put too many ads on there it’s going to nauseate them, and they’ll drop you,” says White from Water Works. “I may put some specials up, or post a picture of a hot tub I’m looking to move, but you don’t want to alienate people because you’ve bombarded them with information.”  

And then there’s perception.

White says updating the store’s Facebook page can get tricky, especially when she reminds employees not to manage their own pages during business hours.

But there’s another school of thought that holds if you’re not updating the page regularly, it tends to grow stale.

Blair Lynch, operations manager at Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio in Anderson, Ind., updates his company’s page every few days. He believes that should be increased to a daily pace.

He also sees Facebook as a way of re-energizing the business, where he can post specials with discounts that drive customers to his store during slow times of the day or week.

In the offseason, he posts recipes for customers of his store’s grills and barbecues, as well as promoting charitable ventures.

“They’re going to come to the Facebook page to see what’s going on with us,” he says. “And sometimes it’s not as much telling them to buy as it is giving them information that’s relevant to them and the industry. It puts us out there in a different way.”


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