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Never has this industry had to turn on a dime like it has with the Covid-19 crisis.

That especially holds true for retailers, who became the most vulnerable segment of the industry with the issuance of shelter-in-place orders across the country. In order to provide their essential products and services in a safe manner, many are quickly adding options for curbside pickup and home delivery.

The key is to maintain as much social distance as possible, with some striving for no-contact operations, while getting the customer what he or she needs. Here, three retailers share some of their strategies.

John O’Brien
CEO and founder
Poolwerx US

For curbside pickup, we very quickly put orange traffic cones out in front of the stores. With the drop-off in retail traffic, there is room in the parking lot. If customers aren’t comfortable coming into the store, they can pull up to the traffic cones, where we have a sign with the store’s phone number. They can call the store to place their order, pop the trunk, and we put the chemicals in. We go to the passenger side of the car, put the credit card reader on the passenger seat. They read the ticket and swipe the card.

If they want their water tested, they can put the bottle on the roof of the car, roll up the window, then we’ll test it.

I was talking to the manager of one of our stores, who said over one-third of his clients were using those services and not leaving the parking lot.

Do-it-yourselfers who used to come to the store are now letting us come to their homes because they don’t want to leave. On our website, we give these customers three drop-down options. They can test the water themselves, and we can deliver the chemicals they need. We can go to their home, test the water for them, then leave the chemicals they need so they can take care of their pools. Or we can go the home, test and treat. It’s not a full service call — we’re not emptying baskets or skimming leaves. We’re just testing and dosing the pools because they are used to doing the other things themselves.

We have found that about 20% of the home orders are placed online; 80% are still done by phone, email or text. But online made up about 10% before, so it’s grown.

Dan Lenz
Vice President
All Seasons Pools & Spas
Orland Park, Ill.

We’re doing curbside water testing as well as pickup. People can place their bottle of water outside the store, where our retail staff will go out wearing gloves, pick up the bottle and bring it in the store. They sanitize the bottle by dipping it in a chlorine solution. The customer remains in their car. After the test, we call them on their cell and talk them through the results as they’re sitting in the parking lot.

If product is needed to balance the water, we run through the transaction with a credit or debit, then we bring the product outside just as if it were curbside pickup. We email the results of the water test, so we’re not having to exchange paper.

We take social distancing very seriously, and we make that clear to customers. We have templated texts that confirm appointments and explain that we have a zero-contact policy and that if somebody comes out of the house while one of our staff is in the yard performing a delivery or service, we instruct our staff to immediately go back to their vehicle and leave the property. When the employee arrives, they send a similar text to reinforce the policy.

The staff we have is unbelievably caring. To take that personality and force them to have zero tolerance is the hardest part. So I’ve had to come down on some. But now I need them to care by being harsh. It’s like tough love.

You want to recoup as much business as you can. Pick up the phone if needed. Emails often go unseen. For our March early buy, we saw about a 15% drop. So we pulled all the orders from the past that didn’t happen this year, and we called those customers. We said, ‘We didn’t want you to miss out on the discount, so we have a special extension for you.’ We reminded them what products they ordered last year, asked them to check on what they have, and then ordered what they were missing. By doing that, we recouped all of what we lost and probably even picked up a little bit over.

Corinne Kraft
Senior Vice President
Valley Pool & Spa
Greater Pittsburgh

We implemented and are encouraging curbside pick-up at our stores to further allow for social distancing between employees and customers.

During the pick-up process, customers have a choice between having a team member load the products into their trunk, retrieving the products themselves from the curb or coming into the store to pick-up the products.

However, we do limit the number of customers and employees in stores at one time to eight individuals, and we enforce social distancing practices for those individuals, including tape markers to delineate a distance of 6 feet.

We also offer next-day delivery. Items that are too large to ship economically are added into our service or hot tub delivery routes.

To maintain social distance during home deliveries, customers leave the signed delivery slip in their doorway. The driver retrieves it after the customer is inside their home. All drivers are wearing gloves and masks.

While incorporating these services, we learned a few lessons. Make sure you have clearly defined procedures in place, including established communication channels, before rolling out curbside pick-up and home delivery. Invest the time in training all relevant team members so everyone understands their role. Solicit input from across the organization: We met with managers from our e-commerce, distribution, service, spa delivery, retail and marketing divisions, along with in-store and service team members.

Then, once you have the operations in place, stay flexible. Listen to your customers and adapt as needed, particularly given today’s ever-evolving dynamics.