When he was 15 years old, Ted Lawrence needed a summer job. Even though his family didn’t own a pool, he applied at a local pool and spa retailer because the business always supported the sports that he played in school.

He eventually earned a degree from Penn State and took a job with an accounting firm. But it wasn’t for him. He had such fond memories of his summer job that he “came running back” to the pool industry.

“Although my time [at the accounting firm] was great, I just was not passionate about it,” Lawrence says. “Then I would reflect back to all the great times I had working in the pool business, [and that’s] when I made the commitment to leave.”

On the forefront
More than 25 years later, he’s still in the industry, currently serving as the corporate retail category manager for Covington, La.-based PoolCorp and a frequent source for Pool and Spa News. In his role, Lawrence gets a firsthand look at stores and retail practices across the nation. He wants to use his position to raise the bar industry-wide.

“I still wake up just as excited about our industry as I did my first year in the business,” Lawrence says. “I am honored to work with the individuals I [see] every single day.”

Over time he’s witnessed many of the industry’s ups and downs, but he still sees a bright future ahead — that is, if retailers can see their way clear to adapt to the current retail market. And the No.1 thing he believes they need to do is embrace the internet.

“It’s not going to go away,” Lawrence says. “We’re not going to stop shopping online.”

He believes that store owners have been reluctant to sell online due to myriad factors. They include struggling with the logistics of organizing online sales, a reluctance to put pricing online for all (especially their competitors) to see, and a belief that they can’t compete with internet pricing.

Fortunately, Lawrence doesn’t recommend that mom-and-pop retailers launch an Amazon-like retail program and ship products all around the world. Instead, he notes that 60 percent of consumers in local markets like to purchase products online and pick them up in the store. He believes that’s the area where retailers should be channeling their efforts.

Specifically, Lawrence recommends setting up a shopping-cart style website where consumers can select what they want and then go to the store to pay for and pick up their items. Not only does it speed up the buying process, but it says your company cares about your customers’ valuable time, he says.

This strategy also blends the two retail worlds together: Consumers want the convenience of buying online, but they know that if something goes wrong, they can walk into the brick-and-mortar store and have the problem taken care of, he says.

Survival instincts
The second most important thing that pool and spa retailers need to do? Diversify their product selection, says Lawrence, who believes retailers should position themselves as complete outdoor living suppliers. Customers are more likely to purchase all products for their pool and backyard from one retailer, he says, rather than traveling to multiple stores to get their patio furniture, fire pits, umbrellas, grills, and outdoor pizza ovens.

Educating small retailers about how to improve their businesses is exactly where Lawrence plans to put his professional focus for the duration of his career. He wants to help the market grow, and a big part of that growth is advocating for specialty retailers and helping them figure out how to stay competitive.

“That is my mission in life — to teach the craft,” Lawrence says. “And to let the retailers know that this [retail environment] is where we’re headed, because we’re all in this together.”