• New year, new services: New England retailer Namco kept seven of its 19 locations open in the winter; the other 12 reopened in February for the season. This year, the locations will offer customers the option to order merchandise online for store pickup, and the ability to finance aboveground pool installations. The two New York stores, in Latham and Wappinger Falls (not shown), wont offer installation financing due to the states credit laws. An improved economy means more customers are qualifying for financing.
    New year, new services: New England retailer Namco kept seven of its 19 locations open in the winter; the other 12 reopened in February for the season. This year, the locations will offer customers the option to order merchandise online for store pickup, and the ability to finance aboveground pool installations. The two New York stores, in Latham and Wappinger Falls (not shown), won’t offer installation financing due to the state’s credit laws. An improved economy means more customers are qualifying for financing.

Namco, LLC, a New England retailer with 19 stores, has added two new options for customers in the 2014 swim season.

Beginning in April, customers will have the ability to order merchandise online for store pickup without a wait. Also new is a finance program for aboveground pool installation.

“We’re really trying to make the entire experience easier for the customers,” said Mark Scott, CEO of the Manchester, Conn.-based business. “We’re trying to maximize their free time.”

Namco emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last fall with a new emphasis on customer service. Seven Namco stores remained open during the winter, with the other 12 reopening in February 2014 after some off-season employee customer service training.

Online ordering with in-store pickup is common among retail giants such as The Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Sears and Best Buy, but it has not yet been extensively tested in the specialty pool retail market.

The idea to try the model at Namco stores popped up while officials were discussing how the retailer could set itself apart from the competition while better serving its customers.

“Our stores get busy very quickly when it gets warm out and rather than people having to wait in line, it’s a way for them to maximize … their time,” Scott said. “It’s just another element of customer service to differentiate us from everyone else.”

It’s not an instantaneous system — a customer can’t order merchandise from the parking lot on their smartphone and expect to walk in and have it ready — but it is same day. A shopper will get an email confirming their order is ready to pick up. Scott said the system’s slated to be up and running by April 1.

Other changes this season include payment options for customers. While Namco has offered financing for pool purchases in the past, this year marks several modifications to the program backed by TD Bank, N.A., headquartered in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Portland, Maine.

“The customers now can pay for their installations using long-term credit,” Scott said. “So if they want to pay over the course of two or three years, they can include their installations now, too.”

Namco has a $500 merchandise minimum for financing, but Scott said the stores offer promotional finance deals that change the minimums customers need to meet for zero interest paid over a certain time, from 12 to 48 months depending on the amount financed.

“Normally, we would offer 24 months [with] a $2,000 minimum,” he added. “There are certain times of the year that it’ll be 24 months lowered to a $1,000 minimum. … We have lower minimums than we’ve ever had. Our approval rating is going up because, obviously, the economy is getting better. It’s available to more people, and more people are getting accepted.”