Our Customers, The One Percent

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Scott Webb

I caught Doug Harrison’s presentation of pool and spa industry market research at the AC Show. It’s been on my mind ever since. (The Harrison Group provides consumer intelligence for the pool and spa industry.)

In the presentation, Mr. Harrison alluded to The One Percent both as the prime consumers of our products, but also as perhaps the dominant political issue of our time (an interesting intersection for us). We will continue to hear a great deal about income disparity and class resentment this summer and fall; the president has made it a central theme of this year’s campaign.

This civic tension has implications for our business. These people, The One Percent, (or more accurately for our purposes, The Ten Percent) are the foundation of our enterprise. Without them, we can all take the rest of the day off — and every day after that.

Income concentration makes our industry possible. We sell products to people who, after the essentials and expedients have been satisfied, have enough money left over to buy a pool or a spa. Hopefully, a nice one.

To this end, Mr. Harrison made a critical point: We need to consider how these people, our customers, feel about being the subject of moral judgment from an entire nation. Because I guarantee you, they’re feeling something. Guilt, defiance, denial, buried fury — something’s going on in there. These are human beings, and the country is debating whether they’re good or bad. Trust me, they’ve noticed.

As these customers walk into your stores, they’re aware they can afford something most cannot. And they’re aware that even the salespeople they talk to, more often than not, cannot afford what they’re selling. And surveys show that makes many of them a little bit uncomfortable.

Obviously, these feelings can never be addressed directly except under the most unlikely and familiar circumstances, but sensitivity to their existence is important. Tact is essential when the discussion moves close to the subject of appearances and income and financial capability.

Like Bill Gates, some customers may feel guilty and slightly embarrassed about their wealth, or they may come off more like Donald Trump. But if they sense you understand where they’re coming from, and that you are not sitting in judgment, it will help build the trust necessary for a sale.

Scott Webb

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