The Backyard Industry Needs To Come Together, Or Risk Falling Apart

Matt GiovanisciThe swimming pool industry is no longer a young, start-up industry. It’s old, sick and dying. It has taken the form of the cranky old man who sits on his front porch just waiting for a group of kids to set foot on his lawn, just so he can have the satisfaction of yelling, “Get off my lawn, you no good hoodlums!” 

That’s the pool industry as it stands before us, and it’s very unfortunate. We’re faced with two choices: to be content with our wrinkles and canes, or to kick off our loafers, strap on a pair of brand new sneakers, and step on some lawns ourselves. 

The Good Old Days

Swimming pools used to be mainstream. Everyone wanted a pool. It was new and it was hip. You were the envy of the neighborhood if you had a pool. People assumed you had wealth and power; perhaps thought of you as a little arrogant even, but who cares? You had your very own swimming pool.

Pool builders were popping up everywhere then, and with the right equipment and a little know-how in construction and sales, it was relatively easy to become a successful pool builder.

Also, these pools needed to be taken care of, and an industry of service companies sprouted up. All you needed was a few pieces of equipment and a van, and you were a certified “pool boy.” “Pool boys” even became something of a pop culture icon.

So what happened? How did swimming pools lose their touch? Where has the mainstream success gone? 

The Problems Facing Our Industry

Our industry has a lot of problems, and I would like to point a few out. I think that by being aware of the issues, we will be better equipped to handle them. These are not small issues either. These are huge issues that will take a group effort to change.

• The APSP

The first question you have to ask yourself is, what the heck is the APSP? Sure, we know what it stands for, but what do they actually do for our industry? Why would becoming a member benefit us?

Your average consumer has no idea what the APSP is and doesn’t care if you are a member or not. There is a very simple way to fix this issue. 

The APSP’s No. 1 goal should be to create awareness, and part of that is informing the public about what the organization represents. Consumers want to know that you are a legit pool installer, retailer, or service company, and how better to show them than to say that you’re a part of the APSP, an association of pool and spa professionals? If things change, and more industry pros were able to see the benefit of belonging to APSP, a lot more companies will want to sign up. Hopefully it will get to the point where they would practically have to sign up to do business in the industry.

• A Lack Of Marketing

Our industry is divided. You have your huge publicly traded corporations, multinational equipment manufacturers, and mega distributors. They have and make most of the money in our industry. Then, you have the rest of us — the 99 percenters. This includes tens of thousands of little mom and pop stores, service companies and online retailers. 

The biggest problem here is that lack of consumer advertising by these huge companies. These smaller retailers and service companies are forced to spend a lot of money marketing and creating brand awareness for these larger company’s products. 

Take the beer industry for example. Major companies like Budweiser and Miller spend millions of dollars promoting their products and creating brand awareness on a national level. This creates a desire for the product, but how does the customer get it? Do they call Budweiser? No. They visit a smaller liquor store or beer outlet and purchase what they want. 

Major companies need to start spending money on national, direct-to-customer advertising. They have the funds and the resources to create a real shift in our industry. Without it, we could remain stuck in this rut.

Living Under the Rock

The mainstream success withered away with time and drowned in a sea of newer industries. It has slowed down tremendously and no one has tried to rescue it. Pool builders became set in their ways, and service companies followed suit.

At first, every pool company, large or small, saw steady income, but that’s all it has ever been; steady. Like a pool with no pump or a hot tub with no jets. It’s hard to place blame on anyone for the uninspired “steadiness” in our industry. I think it happened because everyone became complacent and started to copy one another. This lead to the industry living under a giant rock, shut off from the outside world, with everyone following the herd and no one taking the lead.

Another problem is the way we’re competing — we’re doing it against each other, instead of against other industries. One business sells vinyl-liner inground pools, and across the street, another business is selling concrete pools. These two companies don’t get along. Customers are shopping back and forth, comparing prices, styles and salespeople. There is fierce competition, and it’s cut-throat.

How are we supposed to thrive under these conditions? Following each other blindly or beating up on each other doesn’t help grow our industry — it stifles it. 

Can We Be Saved?

A while back, the city of Las Vegas had a major problem — it was losing visitors. It was a bubble, a city in the middle of nowhere, and each casino fought hard to win every traveler that entered. They were so caught up in fighting with each other that they failed to realize that the overall visitor counts were falling.

Ultimately, instead of continuing this madness of trying to outdo one another for every last visitor, the casinos banded together to solve the bigger issue. They made a pact, they made new friends in the city that could help them, and they set out to attract more visitors to the city. They realized it was not a time to fight each other, but instead to work together for the greater good.

If the backyard leisure industry works together in this way, everyone wins. The fight shouldn’t be over who sells a better inground pool, but against bad consumer decisions (e.g., not buying a pool at all). It’s not us versus us, it’s us versus them! 

It’s an inground pool versus a Hawaiian vacation. It’s a brand-new aboveground pool versus a brand-new boat. It’s a relaxing hot tub versus a 70-inch flat-screen. 

Who Will Save Us? And How?

Getting to greener pastures will take a collective effort. It will require a few companies to reach the mainstream and to bring the industry back into the limelight. 

Major companies that create pool products need to take the reigns and start advertising directly to consumers. Businesses will want to carry the products that are being advertised nationally on TV and — this is increasingly important — online. 

The biggest thing that the Internet and swimming pools have in common is that they’re both social! The swimming pool is the ultimate off-line social network of the summer. Yet, it’s hard to find a swimming pool company that has an incredible website and social media presence. It’s damn near impossible. The internet is not some flash in the pan. It’s here to stay, like it or not. I believe that the industry needs to embrace the web a lot more.

Reinvention

People are reinventing the way business is conducted every day. Look at how Apple completely changed the retail store. It’s not about how much product you can cram on a showroom floor, it’s about experiences.

Apple Store visitors use the products, test the products, and imagine themselves owning the products and how good it will feel. No pressure, just Zen. 

We need to focus on the customer’s wants, needs and desires, not what we think they need. What do we know? We’ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years!

Final Thoughts

I know that if we adjust the way we do business, things will change. And we have to do it. We need to recognize that there is a problem in our industry and it’s not going to be fixed by doing the same old, same old. We need industry leaders to recognize the issues and make big changes so that the rest will follow.

This post contained only a handful of many possible ideas. The list could go on and on.

So far, there are a few companies who are trying to do some of these things, but it’s not enough and it’s not working. It’s going to take an industry shift that can’t be handled by just a few companies.  In order to change our industry, we must work together. As the saying goes, “united we stand, divided we fall.”

We need leaders with big voices to show the world that the pool industry is worth looking at again. Objectives should include:

?Convincing major companies to invest more in national B2C marketing campaigns

?Improving the current state of the APSP

?Get heavily involved in social media

?create amazing and engaging websites

?broadcast creative television ads across the country

?open our industry trade shows to customers

?provide customers with more information

?make our industry more transparent

?get mobile!

Matt Giovanisci is the creator of Swim University (www.swimuniversity.com) and has over 15 years of experience in the swimming pool and hot tub industry. He is also an award winning web designer and has been featured on Martha Stewart Radio as a pool & spa care expert.

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