Cramped. Outdated shelving. Plain walls. Tall racking.

All of these are mistakes that keep pool and spa retail stores from being modern, inviting environments.

After about 20 years with the same look, Jaymie Foxhoven knew it was time for an update.

The manager of Allpro Pool Supplies in La Mesa, Calif., brought in color and a new layout as part of a three-day remodel.

“It needed to be updated badly,” she explains. “It hadn’t been done in almost 20 years. We needed to give it a fresh look.”

Keeping the store up-to-date and easy to shop becomes challenging as the years pass and new products are introduced and added to the existing store layout. Much like in a home, a fresh coat of paint and some rearranging can go a long way toward rejuvenating a store.

The benefits of a sprucing up far outweigh the perceived negatives — such as remodeling time or customers needing to relearn the location of products. Stores that employ a new layout and décor often report that customers stay in the store longer and praise the changes.

The basics

Many shopping behaviors seem to be common knowledge — such as having the highest margin products at eye level so customers buy them the most — but just what constitutes “eye level”?

The rule is keeping the highest margin products at 48- to 60 inches from the floor to display them to the best advantage. But in a store less than 2,000 square feet, the guidelines get trickier and sometimes bend depending on the store’s needs.

For instance, in Foxhoven’s store, the product racks needed to be short enough for customers to see over so they can take in the whole store when they enter. That ideally means shelves that are between 52 and 54 inches.

“This way, customers can see every wall of the store and have a visual of where the counter is,” says Ted Lawrence, corporate retail category manager with Covington, La.-based PoolCorp.

One of the services PoolCorp offers its dealers is access to the retail expertise of the specialists on staff. This includes free floor plan reconfigurations for remodels and consultations on various changes they could make to their businesses. In 2013, the company did about 100 store layout drawings for remodels, but consulted with about 200 more retailers on smaller details.

These layouts are designed to counteract some of the mistakes retailers make when setting up their stores, including looking at the space from the perspective of the owner and not as the customer walking in the door.

Lawrence explains that retailers should think of two types of consumers shopping their specialty pool store: the new customer and the loyal customer. Each shopper has his or her own attributes. The loyal customer is generally there for a water test, chemicals and maintenance items. The new customer either is considering a pool or just recently bought one.

It’s important to note that setting up shop with the new customer in mind also benefits the selling relationship with the loyal one.

For instance, retail benchmarks dictate that there should be a decompression zone next to the entrance to allow customers to take a metaphoric breath after walking in, but many retailers go wrong by crowding that space. “Things are shoved right into the door or [retailers] … have very messy items right by the door,” Lawrence points out. That includes diatomaceous earth, sand or liquid chlorine. This makes it easy for the retailer to carry the items out to the car, but doesn’t entice the new customer.

To give consumers that sense of calm when walking into the store and leaving the busy outside world, retailers should leave about six feet of open space near the entrance.

And for retailers looking ahead for how that breathing space translates to sales, know that the store entrance is one of the highest dollar per square foot selling areas.

“If you have one entryway into a store, people have to go in that way and come back out that same way,” Lawrence says. That means high-margin, interesting products are exposed to customers twice each visit — as the first stopping point inside the store and on their way out. This could be nesting tables with new merchandise displayed or an endcap with a higher-margin, special shock treatment.

Another lesson in caution when catering to the new customers: Don’t make the chemicals the first section they see when entering the store. Chemicals and maintenance tools equal the perceived work of pool ownership, instead of the backyard fun their families will have.

“I always like the consumer to be exposed to fun, to be exposed to the lifestyle of owning a pool, not the lifestyle of working for the pool,” Lawrence explains.

The overhaul

When a retail store’s space is tight, such as the 880-square foot Titan Pool Center, configuring a way to prominently showcase the enjoyable aspects of owning a pool can be difficult.

That’s why owner Dale Jochims re-evaluates his Anaheim, Calif. store’s look and layout every few years to determine any needed changes.

The store underwent a complete overhaul nearly five years ago, which included tearing out the ceiling and flooring. The recently completed refresh just involved a sprucing — rearranging to allow more product to be displayed in the space and altering the look.

“We changed almost all of the shelving,” Jochims notes. “… We looked at ways to increase our inventory area.”

The store’s color palette remained blue and white with the travertine floor that was installed in the previous remodel. The main goal of the refresh was to create the illusion of more space — which was a success with customers.

“We were actually quite surprised,” Jochims says. “You know people pay attention, but it’s just one of those things that you’re always going to get comments when you make changes, but this time, for some reason, it was just a lot more.”

Favorable opinions aren’t the only positive results of changing a store’s look.

Because Allpro’s remodel let the store double its product offerings without expanding square footage, the shopability of the space increased. The store’s new layout also has contributed to the increase to Allpro’s bottom line.

“I’m having more people browse now, so they do a full circle around the store,” Foxhoven says. “Before, they used to go directly to where they knew the product was. Now they actually have to go and look at everything.”

Her customers see the tablet special when they first walk in, with the toy section on their left and the chemical section to the right of the entrance. Placing the two sections across from each other is especially beneficial for toy sales because it puts that section in front of more eyes, leading to twice as many sales.

“They’ll go over and pick up their chemicals, turn around to come to the counter and notice the toys there and walk right over and look at them,” she adds.

Choosing the décor

Much like a house remodel, renovating a store means mock-ups of floor plans, deciding new flooring and choosing wall colors from paint chip after paint chip.

Unlike a house, where personal preference rules, there is expert research and guidelines to help decide what the best décor for the store should be. Even small details might have a big impact on sales.

“When you’re selling a high-end product, like a spa or grill island, displaying it in an area is one part to exposing a customer to it,” Lawrence says. “The second thing is to make sure it’s lit well. [For example] warm incandescent lighting gives the illusion of it having higher perceived value.”

Retailers can install standard fluorescent lighting in the store and then add additional incandescent lights to display high-end areas they want to feel especially warm and inviting.

Color is another easy way to create the right environment for customers. The hues on a wall evoke certain emotions — whether in a home or in a store — and understanding how this works can help retailers choose the right color scheme for different areas of a store.

“A spa area can be a lot of different colors,” Lawrence explains. “It could be blue; it could have a calming effect and be fresh. It could be green because green is the color of money. It symbolizes prosperity and it also engages the intellectual side of our brain to make a rational decision.”

Retailers who have implemented Lawrence’s color palettes haven’t always been convinced about his recommendations when the paint roller hit the wall, but have raved afterward. “You spice it up with some of the color, and it becomes energized and feels completely different,” he adds. “Color’s a really important factor.”

Paint the counter area with the brightest hue from your selected palette to indicate that it’s a focal point in the store. Areas that are less trafficked also can be colored to attract attention. Use a more muted shade on the sides of the store with the racking to help product stand out rather than the wall color.

A good rule of thumb when choosing a color palette is to have two vibrant, or statement, colors with one neutral, such as maroon, mint green and tan.

Only two colors adorn the walls in Allpro. “My two sidewalls are blue and my other two sidewalls are yellow, so they offset one another,” Foxhoven says. “The blue walls are my maintenance and my toys, and behind the counter.”

The paint scheme there follows another benchmark: Always try to start and end a new color on a corner, just as you would in your house. It’s easier to paint different walls as accents rather than adding two shades to the same wall.

Of course there are exceptions, and sometimes a retailer needs more than one color on the same wall. “If you have to make the transition on a straight wall, then do it at an angle so it’s not linear,” Lawrence says. Another strategy is to change the color as the eye moves over a door.

The selected color palette also encompasses the chosen flooring when doing a full store overhaul. For stores 2,000 square feet and smaller, the floor should be a neutral shade that’s durable in case of chemical spills.

Current trends in flooring include faux wood plank linoleum that’s attractive and durable, or gray or tan flooring, Lawrence says. Colors that are too light or too dark show dirt easily.

In addition, culture, region and personal preference all play into a store’s color scheme. Lawrence recalls the time he suggested orange for a store in Alabama, which didn’t go over well because of the Crimson Tide’s intense rivalry with the Florida Gators in the SEC.

“My big thing is, I always want to keep the customer focused on the product,” Lawrence explains. “I don’t draw their attention away from the product itself. The color really should represent the feel, but it shouldn’t be the focus.”