• Credit: Mermaid PoolSpa & Patio

Pool owners have one major need during pool season: chemicals.

“It’s the engine that drives the retail car,” explains Ted Lawrence, corporate retail category manager for Covington, La.-based PoolCorp. But how to best display those wares to get the repeat business that keeps the engine idling?

Setting up the chemical display in a store should be considered from two customer perspectives: the regulars, who come in year after year specifically for chemicals; and the customers who’ve never been to a pool store and don’t know for sure what they need.

For both, there’s a common thread. Displays need to be accessible and well stocked, and signage should explain what the chemical does.

Location, location, location

Customers who keep coming back to the pool store are usually there for one reason: water testing. The chemistry could be a little off, the pool might not be so sparkly, or maybe there’s an algae problem.

In the Lawrence, Mass., location of Swimming Pool Center, the retail area is in three rooms, with the water test counter in the second room.

“There’s always going to be somewhat of a routine based on the water test station,” store manager Rick Varney says. “You go from your water test to your chlorine to your adjusters to your enhancers, row by row by row. That way, we have the customers walking up each and every aisle.”

That setup allows salespeople to take the recommendation from the water test and have a conversation with the customer while walking through the section and explaining what the prescribed chemicals do and how they benefit the pool.

“Now, if you didn’t have it arranged that way — and most retailers don’t — they’re running 10 feet, grabbing a bucket, running across the room and grabbing a bottle of algaecide or running to the back of the store and getting shock,” Lawrence says. “To the consumer, it just seems like confusion, like they’re not organized.”

Another strategy is to have someone from the sales team walk the customer over to the chemicals while passing through displays of other merchandise and product lines that the store carries.

“We found to get people to move around the store … we needed to move [the chemicals] away from our water lab to get people to look at products,” explains Brenda Murr, owner of Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio in Anderson, Ind.

Brand awareness

Brand loyalty is an aspect of shopper psychology that’s been proven time and time again. Customers develop a relationship with a particular brand and continue to purchase it — sometimes even at a higher cost than other available, comparable products.

Pool store shoppers are no different: They find a system that works and stick with it. To help facilitate their shopping — and buying — display the chemicals by brand, not type.

That also makes shopping easier for the customers because they already know what system they want. With it in one area instead of hunting for their balancers in one aisle, their sanitizing needs in another and their algaecide in a third — it makes the trip to the pool store less frustrating.

Plus: “It looks better,” Lawrence explains. “When you merchandise the brand fully out, it has a ... nicer look to it.”

Not all pool stores carry multiple brands, though. Some owners believe so fully in the superiority of a product that they only carry systems from one brand. Or, they have chemicals packaged in the store’s private label.

But even in those cases, there are still ways to display chemicals to the best shopping and sales advantages.

Mermaid is a BioGuard dealer, so the brand grouping philosophy doesn’t apply. However, Murr has found other ideas that work in the store, such as displaying the merchandise vertically so the customers can see the whole product line when scanning the shelf.

“We know some of the tricks, like most people are right-handed, so if you have two sizes, we put the larger size on the right,” she adds.

Beating the box store

Competing with the mass merchant is always on the mind of the specialty pool retailer. But how to do it when the mass merchant isn’t selling a chemical the retailer would recommend to customers?

Retailers who stock the same, plain tri-chlor tablet that the mass merchant sells often keep it in the back. Varney’s a prime example. He says he has it in case a customer asks for it, but he doesn’t want it to be visible. “It’s just not nearly as effective as our other chemical options,” he explains.

Just because you stock it, doesn’t mean you have to sell it, though. It’s an easy way to show that the pool store is competitive with the mass merchant, and you can start a conversation with your customers about why your other products are more effective.

“It will not butcher or rob from the consumers that are already buying the other brand,” Lawrence explains. “This brand is meant more for customers who are probably not shopping in your retail store now. They’re going elsewhere to buy a commodity-based or commodity-priced item.”

Bringing in the full line means gaining those customers who otherwise would be purchasing the chemicals, including chlorine tablets and algaecide, elsewhere without compromising profit margins on more expensive, effective products.

“Unfortunately, what we try to do in the pool business is take a premium product and discount it to the mass merchant price, and of course the retailer doesn’t make any money, which doesn’t help anybody,” Lawrence says.

Catering small

While some retailers insist that the worst setback to the pool industry is the cheap, inflatable family pool that’s a popular summer sale at the big box store, turning those pool owners into pool store customers often is an untapped market.

Manufacturers have specific store displays for that pool equipment — from filters to cartridges to hoses. That could easily be the base of a small section in the pool store catering specifically to these pool owners.

“Embrace it,” Lawrence encourages. “Bring in these products that are custom-tailored to these … customers because they are future big-boy pool owners. I always like to have that chemical and accessories area for them.”

Setting it up can be as easy as dedicating a 4-by-4-foot, four-sided island display or 8-foot linear shelf to the appropriately sized chemicals, accessories and toys that fit these smaller pools. That way, these pool owners have a specific area to shop without being overwhelmed by the many other products inground pool owners need.

Merchandising the chemical area

Because the chemical section of the store is the main reason customers are coming in, retailers can be savvy about adding merchandise displays to the area, including endcaps and clip strips on the shelves themselves.

“We try to keep, in many locations, what I call ‘grab items,’” Varney says. “Stuff that they’re not thinking of, and they see and grab.”

While pool floats and other toys and games can be included, the best sellers to break up the chemical displays for this type of merchandising tend to be items such as vinyl repair kits, lubricant for gaskets and o-rings, skimmer nets, safety products and even test kits.

Sparking a sale also can be as easy as showing the customer what they should be buying together.

“I have a lot of items that would go in conjunction with another item right by it,” said Nicole Ferroni, retail manager at Great Valley Pool Service in Frazer, Pa. For instance, displaying the chlorine floaters next to the tablets or having a tile brush next to tile cleaner can help boost sales of both items.

Modern shelving

Setting up the store is about more than displaying the products themselves.

It’s also about shelving.

“The first thing you want to do is the risk versus reward exercise,” says Ted Lawrence, corporate retail category manager for Covington, La.-based PoolCorp. “We want it to look nice, but we don’t want to spend a lot of money on it because we’re actually going to have chemicals that are corrosive and hazardous sitting on these things and possibly rusting and making them look bad in a year or two.”

That means picking durable shelving that will be resistant to spills. Stay away from anything chrome, which will corrode when mixed with chemicals or even the offgassing from the tubs stocked in the store.

Common colors for the popular grid-wall shelving system are white, black, gunmetal and gray, Lawrence says, but the most cost-effective hues are white and black.

Deciding between the two is easy — white will show the spills and wear in a way that black won’t.

Next you’ll need to decide if you want new or pre-owned shelving.

“Get a hold of your local fixture supply company,” Lawrence says. “… Not only do they sell a plethora of new product, but they also sell a lot of gently used shelving as well. They look virtually new.”

There’s also a major online fixture company, Store Supply Warehouse (www.storesupply.com) based in St. Louis, which ships all over the country.

Retailers also can contact the major shelving manufacturers, Terrell, Texas-based Madix and Omaha, Neb.-based Lozier, to have a sales rep come to the pool store and do a free consultation.