Periodically offering deep discounts and other deals is a great way to drive sales, clear out excess inventory, or introduce new customers to your brand.

Retail promotions also can be leveraged to motivate staff and help them more effectively sell the products offered. “Our promotions help our team give customers a reason to purchase now rather than later,” says Mallory Bjekich-Wachowski, retail operations manager at DesRochers Backyard Pools and Spas in Northern Illinois. “I’ve also noticed that, when holding a promotion on an add-on product, my team learns how to better sell that product, because they are asked about it more times than usual.”

However, executing a successful retail promotion involves more than slapping sales prices on items or distributing sales flyers. Careful planning is required to ensure the promotion is logistically sound, especially in a seasonal industry that is often impacted by the weather.

According to Bjekich-Wachowski, the learning lessons of failed or sluggish promotions are often essential to achieving heightened success.

For instance, she recently learned a lesson about timing. “We recently had a flash sale offering 15% off everything in the store. This has worked for us in the past, but this time it was a flop — mostly because of the timing and, unfortunately, an unusual late-summer cold front. Our customers were closing, which means they’ve stopped purchasing for next year. I think if we did this promotion one week earlier, it would have been more successful.”

Through the store’s past promotions, she also found that customers responded better to sales offering a percentage off rather than a flat dollar amount for certain products, although the discount was exactly the same. With a simple change in wording, she was able to maximize the impact of subsequent promotions.

To help position our readers for success, Pool and Spa News asked Bjekich-Wachowski and other retailers to share their lessons learned.

Do: Promote annual sales events — all year round

Bjekich-Wachowski says DesRochers’ annual promotions help create customer loyalty and keep people shopping at the brick-and-mortar stores versus online options. Each January, the company holds an annual Early Buy sale, offering the biggest discounts of the year. Januaries are typically cold and snowy in the Midwest; consequently, selling pools and chemicals during that time is a challenge. But now, customers actually look forward to this annual promotion, because they know it’s coming.

“When we first started, we generated a small amount of revenue,” says Bjekich-Wachowski. “But over the years, we have promoted this sale in the stores during the in-season. Now, it generates about 10% of our yearly revenue.”

Another strategy is to offer multiple annual sales throughout the year. Burton Pools & Spas, based in Fort Smith, Ark., holds around 15 annual promotions, from Beat the Winter Blues spa discounts in January to an anniversary sale in May to an end-of-season clearance sale in October. They advertise hot tub trade-in events, tax season promotions (Less Taxing More Relaxing) and Summer Staycation deals. In between those promotions are sales events built around manufacturers’ national promotions and coupons.

“Dead inventory is a big deal, so we are always trying to give customers reasons to buy and our sales staff reasons to move that stock,” says David Burton, company owner.

Do: Keep promotions “fresh”

Arvidson Pools & Spas has been serving Chicago’s northwest suburbs for three generations. In addition to annual sales, manufacturers’ promotions and targeted marketing, the retailer plans monthly big-ticket promotions that the sales team can rally around to keep sales activity strong. Dennis Marunde, company president, advises businesses to step outside the box of what’s tried and true.

“When you’ve been in business for as long as we have, it’s easy to fall into habitual activities and just stick to what has worked in the past,” he says. “But you run the risk of complacency and boredom. Your sales associates may become a bit robotic in their techniques and processes.”

The company recently tried a Truckload Sale, during which they placed hot tubs on flatbed trailers parked outside the stores. It caught the attention of several consumers, who visited the stores.

“We always merchandise inside our stores, but this event reminded us not to overlook how powerful outdoor

merchandising can be for drive-by traffic,” says Marunde.

Do: Consider customer needs

Think of innovative ways to provide the customer something they need — even if they don’t know they need it, advises Jennifer Roberts, director at Aqua Palace Spas & Pools, located just outside Omaha, Neb., in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Every year, Aqua Palace’s customers tend to swarm around its Seasonal Pool Kit, featured each year at it s Spring Extravaganza Sale. This bucket is assembled in-house and features the essentials for getting through the summer: basic sanitizers and oxidizers, test kit, metal control and clarifier. It also includes an instruction sheet describing what each product does and its dosage rate.

“Our clients are now in the routine of coming in during the spring and asking for their small or large seasonal kit” Roberts says. “It’s fast and efficient, and they appreciate not having to make another trip later to resolve water issues.”

Another popular seller is the company’s Swamp Kit bucket. “Every time someone comes in with a green pool we say, ‘We’ve got just what you need, one of our Swamp Kits!’ They always laugh and say ‘Yes!’”

Do: Involve the whole team

At Burton Pools, retail promotions are used to motivate salespeople and keep them engaged. Aside from the standard monetary bonuses, individuals and sales teams can win prizes — usually gift cards or dinners — when certain goals are met.

As an example, Burton points to an outdoor living expo the company sponsors each spring. “Expo weekends are tiring, with long hours,” he says. To keep staff energized, the company’s two store locations were given a three-tiered goal: Sell $170,000 in retail products to reach the bronze tier, $200,000 for silver and $250,000 for gold. The gold-level prize was a team dinner at a restaurant of their choice.

“As the sale went on and the teams crossed bronze, they got energized and wanted to reach silver,” Burton says. “By the end of the expo, they were following every lead they could to get gold.”

Both stores met their goals. “They wanted that dinner and helped each other close deals,” Burton says. “It was exciting to see everybody working together as a team.”

Do: Set goals and measure results

Each promotional event is different. So it’s important to identify goals for a specific promotion, make a plan to achieve them, and clearly communicate them to sales and marketing staff, to keep everybody on the same page, Marunde says.

This includes monetary goals and other objectives or purposes for the sale. During its Early Buy Sale, for instance, DesRochers wants reconnect with customers during the off-season, as well as sell product. The company’s in-season promotions focus on keeping customers engaged, making their chemical purchases fun and encouraging them to stay on a complete maintenance regimen. With buy-one-get-one and similar promotions, the company seeks to attract new customers.

It’s true that for product-specific sales, Bjekich-Wachowski will focus largely on the increase of sales of that category. However, she also looks to see if water tests and overall store traffic increase, and how many new customers were added to the point-of-sale system.

“You need to know if you created traffic that would otherwise not have happened,” she says.

Metrics gathered from annual and recurring promotions can be used to set benchmarks for future promotions.

“When employees know what they did last year, they have a good idea of what they should be doing this year,” Burton says. “They can then track their performance and get advice from team leaders if they aren’t meeting their goals.”

However, it’s important to set realistic goals. It’s a good idea to work with staff to do this, as they often have a firm grasp of what they can accomplish on the floor.

Don’t: Limit your promotion to big discounts

Sometimes giving away something small is more enticing to customers than discounts, says Bjekich-Wachowski.

Examples of smaller promotions of value include:

• Arvidson’s weekly specials on chemicals and other low-cost retail products.

• Aqua Palace’s free layaway program on aboveground pool purchases and spas, which helps customers lock in sales prices. The layaway program is periodically promoted with additional incentives, such as a free auto vac or chemical kit.

And about some of those large-scale promotions: Marunde warns against big-ticket giveaways to the general public. His company once worked with a radio station for a year to raise its profile. They came up with a week-long radio promotion that would culminate in a hot tub giveaway, with the station broadcasting from the showroom.

“We received a great deal of traffic,” Marunde says. “But once the winner was announced, the showroom emptied, and no sales resulted that could be tied to the promotion.”

Don’t: Compete with local events and activities

Burton Pools’ promotions are scheduled to either complement nearby activities or avoid them altogether. “If you can’t piggyback on those other events or promotions, you will end up competing with them,” Burton says.

With college football being popular in his town, Burton and his team schedule their events to avoid home games.

“We won’t get the traffic we want if our customers are off tailgating and attending a football game during business hours,” he explains.

They also follow school-vacation schedules to make sure they don’t hold a promotion while families are out of town.

Don’t: Ignore social media/websites

Bjekich-Wachowski considers these platforms an important part of her marketing strategy and allocates a small portion of her budget for each event to promote on social media.

One of her favorite social media promotions was a hash tag contest, in which customers who bought a weekly maintenance bundle of $250 or more received a free hashtag-shaped float. Customers then were invited to post pictures of their float on social media with the hashtag #BYPsummerfun for a chance to win prizes, including an automatic cleaner, a season’s supply of chemicals and a free closing.

Additionally, Marunde recommends reviewing your company website and adding content on a regular basis to keep customers engaged.

Don’t: Get discouraged

Not every promotion will be successful, says Jennifer Roberts of Aqua Palace. “It’s important to try anything once. Learn from your failures and find a way to make it better.”