“Retail Raves” asks one retailer to specify a product that’s making a difference in his or her business. All professionals featured in this column are selected at random.

The family-owned and operated aspect of what we do is wonderful — you see it so much in this industry, and it really does give us a more personal touch with our customers.

Not only are there blood ties here at Dover Pools, but also a family of employees that have been with us 15 or 20 years. We’ve been very lucky that way, and our clients really respond.

My father started Dover 35 years ago — a milestone we’re currently celebrating with lots of balloons, signage, T-shirts, free popcorn and, of course, sales. And now I run the business with my brother.

Dad is still around for consultation, and my husband, sister-in-law and other family members work for the company. The input they provide is invaluable.

Certainly pool and spa sales have been down during the recession, but one thing those family members and staff tell me is there has been quite a bit of buzz about the many solar heating options we offer. Solar blankets remain very popular year after year (we sell 250 to 300 annually), and in the past few years we’ve also begun carrying solar panels that have sold really well.

Decisions, decisions

It’s easier to sell any product when you offer multiple options. We carry two solar systems: one from GAME, which is nice because it’s a compact, circular module that won’t take up the whole yard. The other is from SmartPool, which consists more of long, black panels that go alongside the pool. Sure, they take up more room in the yard, but they’re also more efficient because of the surface area.

The bottom line is, despite different needs for their individual yards, clients are all about going green these days. Because we carry a choice of solar solutions, a client is more likely to buy from us. We move around 100 of these systems every year.

The prices range from $150 to around $400 per system, depending on the size of the pool, but we emphasize that users will recoup the cost quickly in energy savings. This also translates to other eco-friendly products consumers are requesting, like dual-speed motors.

Making the most of swim season

Dover Pools is located in a region where it’s still chilly in the evenings, so we tell clients that by using a solar blanket, their pool will hold the heat for hours longer each day. With blanket prices starting at just $29, that’s a great incentive to buy.

Also, we make sure customers know that solar options also allow them to start the swim season slightly earlier by collecting sunlight during the day, even if temperatures haven’t peaked yet. This means they come into the store sooner and buy more of our other products as well, such as the Dover Pools chemical line.

We also prominently display a selection of solar panels on the floor so we can explain their differences and keep these products top-of-mind. Because we have five retail locations in five different communities (including out-of-state stores in Maryland and Virginia), our demographics change from area to area. In some places, we have a large contingency of older buyers, while in others there are a lot of families or young professionals.

Two things they all have in common, however, is that their pools need heat, and they don’t mind saving a little money. By providing a variety of options and making sure consumers know their benefits, we are able to tap into all of our markets.