Let Your Mouse Do The Banking

Your customers have greater access to information than ever before — with the click of a mouse. When most shoppers walk into a spa and pool dealership, they already have a good idea of which hot tubs they like and why. You probably don't spend much time selling on the details — your customer has already downloaded a spec sheet from the manufacturer's Web site. If you don't anticipate what else your customers might want, they'll head home, fire up the laptop and with a few keystrokes, order their new hot tub online. Why would they drive back to your store if they can stay home and just click on the spas they want?

Wouldn't it be nice if the Internet played a role in keeping customers coming back to your store, rather than luring them away.

Dealers need to spend more time researching what consumers know and want. And the Web is just the tool for examining consumer buying trends and gaining insight on consumer demand. Dealers can view the range of consumer choices in their industry, read what consumers are saying about specific products, analyze demographics and lifestyles, and better understand how to enhance and tailor customer service in an e-commerce-driven society.

But hours spent getting to know and serve your public can take away from time needed to run the administrative and operational side of a dealership. Anyone who has logged on to the Internet just to look up one quick piece of information, and then hours later discovered the better part of a morning gone, knows that the Internet can be a black hole for productive time. But wisely deployed, the Web can trim hours spent on a variety of administrative tasks, thus saving money and freeing up time for creative marketing pursuits.

While keeping costs at bay is just as important as creating sales, streamlining backroom functions is necessary to keep up with supply, demand — and competition. Dealers need business service providers who can help them achieve backroom reform.

Finance companies have long been key players in developing creative business solutions for the spa and swimming pool industry. Some lenders have worked with spa manufacturers to arrange joint ventures to facilitate billing and collections, asset-based lending to increase liquidity, and import/export programs to fund overseas business. Today, some of those finance companies also are working to help dealers and suppliers utilize e-commerce to cut operations costs and improve efficiencies. By using the right lender's Web-based technology, dealers can access a sophisticated system that will help modernize their administrative functions, create more opportunities for the growth of financial relationships with their suppliers and turn a higher profit.


The top finance companies offer dealers a Web-based account management system. This system can be the vital link dealers and suppliers need to access key business information in a paperless, point-and-click environment.

Online account management systems can allow spa and pool dealers to manage their inventory and administrative functions more cost-effectively and concentrate their efforts on consumer trends. The system also may improve the quality of life for dealership owners and their employees by giving them the ability to conveniently manage the business' accounts from their home offices or their hotel rooms, after hours or on holidays.

A first-rate finance company can make a dealer's transition from a paper-based system to an e-commerce system a virtually painless process. First, the lender must provide its dealer and supplier customers with up-to-the-minute Web-based technology to maintain an online system that is readily available, secure and simple to use.

A reliable Web-based account management system should offer the following benefits:

Easy access: Complete account information is available at your fingertips — from anywhere at almost any time. This should include up-to-date invoices, account balances, pending approvals and available credit details. Suppliers using the system should receive approvals without delay.

Increased profitability, reduced overhead: An efficient online system improves productivity and cash flow and reduces costs. Checking and managing inventory on a daily basis will save interest costs, time and labor.

User-friendliness: The online system should be easy to learn, easy to navigate and easy to teach to other employees.

Security: Participating companies are provided with a user ID and password for their account information and are guaranteed secure payment. The system should reduce accounting errors and preserve an electronic "paper" trail, helping the business to stay organized.

No cost: All qualified, participating retailers should receive free access to the system.


While many lenders offer the basic online account management service, dealers and suppliers should seek out lenders who make use of constantly evolving technology and go the extra mile in designing and developing their Web-based systems.

Lenders operating advanced Web-based account management systems often have a dealer-initiated direct debit system, which is available whenever a dealer accesses the service. Direct debit offers the option of paying online and scheduling payment for a convenient time. In the spa industry, if 50 percent or more of all dealer payments come through a lender's Web-based service, that's a good sign that the quality and user-friendliness of the system are superior.

Another benchmark of a progressive online account management system is the system's ability to help dealers understand seasonal purchasing trends. The online service might provide six-month comparisons and year-to-date comparisons. The system should maintain records on product quantity, size, color, make or model so dealers make sure they're stocking the appropriate inventory for the time of year. The structure should make it easy for dealers to "slice up" inventory and manage it daily.

An outstanding Web-based account management system should offer assistance to any department in the company — sales, credit, operations. A bookkeeper, for example, will be able to see how many units of a specific product are on the dealer floor and take care of remittance information online. At the same time, a salesperson will be able to access floor inventory and instantly approve a transaction.

Sophisticated lenders might also work with their supplier customers to offer dealers a discount for early online payment. If such discounts are part of a dealer's approved program, the dealer may process these discounts using the lender's Web-based account management system.

Finally, an experienced finance company should remember the importance of bringing people together. Dealers will have questions. While first-rate technology reduces the need for person-to-person communication, a company maintaining a Web-based account management system should provide dealers with exceptional customer service and technical support whenever it is needed. Advantages of such relationships include lender sensitivity to a dealer's particular cost concerns and flexibility in financing options and terms.

A dealer must select a lender with major supplier relationships and a strong Web-based account management system. A lender's online account management system allows dealers to stay focused on what they do best — selling spas and swimming pools.

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