The war for consumers’ hearts rages on. These days, it’s brick-and-mortar store owners facing off against two opponents on the retail battle field: mass merchants and e-tailers. But specialty stores, such as spa and pool businesses, still have an advantage. They can build value into the buying experience that can’t really be matched by the competition.
What is meant by value? “Price” is simply the money a customer pays for a product, but its perceived “value” is what the buyer sees as the product’s benefits, and the emotional connection they have to the product and the company, beyond the price.
When sales professionals build value into the in-store buying experience, products such as spa covers will shine. Yes, they can be bought online and at big-box stores, but a consumer is more likely to be happy with the purchase of a quality spa cover from a local retailer, says Ted Hebert, owner of Teddy Bear Pools & Spas, a Chicopee, Mass.-based retailer that sells and installs hot tubs and vinyl-liner pools, and provides service and repairs.
Brick-and-mortar retailers know how to meet a customer’s cover needs, Hebert says, and so can help them avoid the kind of problems that might occur if they simply go online or to a mass merchant and buy based on price.
In other words, they’re adding value.
When it comes to spa covers, brick-and-mortar retailers can add several small touches that enhance the purchasing experience and long-term satisfaction. They can offer personal guidance on choosing what’s best for a particular customer. “I offer good, better and best products,” Hebert says.
For instance, they can take more care to ensure the cover fits properly. “People say, ‘I can buy a cover online for $200,’” Hebert says. “But many times, the radius is different and the cover will not fit correctly, thus losing its insulation ability.”
Professionals also can help direct customers through materials choices. It’s very important that the topside of a spa cover is constructed of materials that are durable, have some kind of sun shield, and good UV inhibitors, Hebert notes. And the flip side of the cover, facing the water, should have a good moisture barrier.
“Salt, chlorine and other chemicals will harm the cover,” he says. “When a cover is rotting, it’s caused by condensation.”
And, of course, brick-and-mortar retailers can handle returns instantly. “If they buy a cover online, many times there’s no recourse on returning it,” Hebert says. “Or if they do return it, often they have to pay the freight and handling.”
All of these talking points can be used by a knowledgeable industry professional to guide a hot tub owner to the cover that’s right for them. If only there wasn’t that other factor. …
“Here’s the problem: Most Americans want price, price, price,” Hebert says. That applies not only to online shoppers, but also to those who visit mass merchants and buy store brands. Then they go to brick-and-mortar businesses when the product needs repairs, and the warranty is not valid.
A good spa cover costs three or four times more than many of the covers purchased online, Hebert notes. But that’s only in the short term, he says. “To buy a professional-fitting cover from a dealer does not end up costing you any more because you’re getting better value,” he says. “And, surprisingly, with a better fit, a better quality cover and someone to turn to, it’s worth a little more money.”
Because Hebert builds value into the buying experience, he enjoys the rewards. “I’ve got a great clientele,” he says.
As business experts point out, a company that adds value will benefit in several ways: It can charge a higher price; differentiate itself from competitors; protect itself from those trying to lure away customers by offering reduced prices; and focus itself more closely on its target market.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone.