When you get out of your hot tub, does your skin itch? This will solve it. This was the language Tom Shay had on a sign in his specialty pool store over a spa product that he doesn’t even remember the name of now, years later.

The brilliance behind that phrasing is that it addresses a problem spa owners have that they might not realize there’s a solution for, and it prompts a conversation with the sales staff without plainly saying “Ask Me About [fill in the blank].”

The formula clearly worked.

“The manufacturer told us of all his accounts, we sold more of this chemical than anybody else, and asked, ‘How do you do it?’” says the principal of Profits Plus Solutions based in St. Petersburg, Fla., a small-business consultancy firm. “I want signs that tell me why I want this product.”

SEE MORE:  Tips for Effective Pool Store Signs

The key to signs in a specialty pool and spa retail environment is viewing them as the invisible sales staff. Signing the store well from the outside to the inside affects customers’ perceptions.

First impressions
While the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is common, it’s the rare person who doesn’t make decisions based on looks. Knowing that will help retailers look objectively at the outside of the store — especially the signage — and evaluate whether it’s saying what they want it to say.

Rising Sun Pools & Spas in Raleigh, N.C., displays window wraps of lifestyle images featuring patio furniture, spas and pools on its three 8-foot-by-8-foot front windows.

“They’re just such visible windows that it was really a wasted opportunity not to have something in them,” says Tara Onthank, vice president of retail and marketing. “Our patio furniture business has doubled in the past year. Can I say it’s because of that? No, but we’ve had people come in and go, ‘I didn’t realize you guys did that.’ … It’s actually been a really good thing for us to do.”

The curb appeal of a business matters as much to a shopper as it does to potential homeowners. Keeping the front of the business tidy and the signage clean, modern and in good repair attracts consumers.

“You have to do something that, when people first see it from the road, it entices them with ‘This is a cool place,’” Shay says. “It’s a big impression on the customer. Broken sign, broken stuff in a store.”

But the customer isn’t the only party who needs to be addressed. Learning the municipal codes involving signage is a key step before changing outside signs, even window wraps. For instance, the city of Raleigh recently passed an ordinance limiting signage on windows to 50 percent. However, Rising Sun Pools & Spas has been grandfathered in with its current look for five years.

Shelf space
Is there a “right” time to think about the signs inside a store? Of course — all the time.

That doesn’t mean the signs should be changed constantly. “But it should always be a thought in their heads,” says Rudy Stankowitz, CEO/president of the Archer, Fla.-based Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants. “It’s part of merchandising. That has to constantly evolve.”

Rotating signs — as a retailer would switch products for the season — is a good starting point. In the spring, drawing attention to products customers would be browsing for pool openings is one tactic. Shocks, sales and new products are all top items ripe for signage.

“It takes constant evaluation,” Onthank says. “Walking up and down the store … I look at the signs and how the shelves are looking. People get complacent — especially with signs when you see them in the same place all the time, you just forget that they’re there.”

But no matter what products retailers decide to draw attention to, they need to be cautious about branding. Manufacturers offer a variety of options to highlight their products, including displays and shelf signs, but Shay warns dealers to be cautious of using what the manufacturer provides instead of creating their own materials.

“Then you start looking like a collection of manufacturers’ stuff,” he says. “When you walk in, all the signage I want selling my store, not the products.”

It isn’t only branding materials that can lead customers to have a claustrophobic feeling in the store. With signs, less is more. That’s why the staffers at Rising Sun Pools & Spas also are cautious about their signage, including manufacturer-supplied materials.

“We have reduced the amount of signs we have up, and really cut back on the amount of clutter at the counters ... because then it becomes overstimulating,” Onthank says. “If we put up everything that we were given [by the manufacturers], this place would just be floor to ceiling of random posters.”

While it’s true that consumers benefit from the information that well-executed signage offers, it must be balanced with a sense of order, which is an absolute necessity.

“Consumers want to come in, they want it to be clean, they want it to be bright, they want it to be orderly and neat, and they want to know where they can get the products they need,” Onthank adds. “Cluttering signs everywhere is just not going to work for us in the impression we’re trying to give the customer when they first walk in the door.”

There’s no benchmark for the number of callouts per shelf or foot, but minimizing the amount draws attention to the products that do have added interest.

“They should be easy to read; they should be easy to spot,” Stankowitz says. “Your message should be clear, and every sign that you place should have a reason for being there, more than just stating a price.”

See and say
As with the color scheme and layout of the retail store, the signs an owner adds to the mix should have a plan.

The logical presentation and style gives a professional look to the store, and can give the appearance of the business being larger than it is, “They’re clean, they’re neat, they have consistency, everything has their logo, they’re not all over the place with colors,” Shay says. “There’s a pattern to what they’re doing.”

There also should be a purpose to every sign a retailer chooses to put in the store. Regurgitating the information on the bottle or tub won’t win customers.

“They shouldn’t be cryptic so that you’re asking questions, but they should make the customer want to know more,” Stankowitz says. “And any time you can get a customer engaged and asking questions, that’s a buying sign. That’s an indicator that they’re interested in that product.”

In deciding what to say, tell a customer why they want the product: • This makes your water look pristine
• You don’t have to buy chlorine — you can make your own
• It saves you time
• It’s the best value
• It cleans the pool for you
• You can add less chlorine

Not all signage needs to contain text. Even just adding lifestyle images to the inside of the store could put customers in a better mood while shopping because they’ll start thinking about the fun part of the pool and not the maintenance that generally brings them in.

“They don’t need the body of water,” Onthank says of her customers. “They want the lifestyle and what they’re going to get out of it, the family time. Sometimes it’s the therapy as well, but a lot of times, it’s really an emotional decision.”

Because of the visual nature of the industry, Onthank will try a new tactic this season: science experiments. She’s recruiting customers to take before and after pictures of certain products used in their pools and spas and then will put the photos up near the items.

“If you can show them what this product does in a visual, that makes a big difference,” Onthank says.