Right now, life for the pool and spa retailer is going swimmingly. As we found in our SOI retail survey — which received a record-breaking number of responses this year — just over half of respondents feel "very comfortable" with the future of the industry. Sixty-three percent said their businesses are growing stronger. These encouraging numbers point to another promising season of high revenues and happy customers.
At the same time, prosperity has not led to complacency. Pool and spa retailers remember the reckoning that came with the Great Recession and have learned it's important to keep moving, to evolve. For example, a consistent theme in our editorial coverage has been the "retail as an experience" concept, which only continues to gain momentum. At the heart of that philosophy is a challenge: How can a store become more than a store? As pool and spa retailers have wondered, "How can I make my store an exciting place to come buy chemicals?"
We wanted to find out, so we asked you to tell us about the experience your store provides. We received a spectrum of responses including store design (like a Jimmy Buffet-inspired paradise), impressive tech and special service offerings like in-store pickup areas. While the pool and spa industry has the reputation of being slow to adapt, retailers are now rising to the occasion with unique showroom concepts and thoughtful attention to customer service.
This year's survey also turned an eye to the industry's biggest pain point: the shrinking labor pool. With thousands of jobs in the pool and spa industry left vacant — in retail as well as service and build — what can pros do to attract new talent?
One popular theory: draw them in with perks and benefits. We asked you to tell us what benefits are available at your company and which among them is your favorite. Financial benefits, like 401Ks, paid time off, commission programs and bonuses were popular, but it's not all about money. Employees also value job flexibility, use of company vehicles off-hours and bringing Fido to work. Free snacks in the break room don't hurt either.
In a few words, the state of pool and spa retail is strong and steady. All you need to do, as Dory says, is "just keep swimming."
Industry Spotlight: Sponsored by RB Retail & Service Solutions
It's long been established that software offers a host of benefits to industry pros of all stripes. Those who invest in software — not just financially, but commit to learning the in's and out's of the program — can be rewarded with a more cohesive company structure, fewer headaches and greater profits.
The hard part? Choosing the program to go with. To learn more about the current software landscape, including the cloud vs. in-house server debate and digital security, we turned to Rachael Pritz, executive director of RB Retail & Service Solutions.
AQUA: What are the pros and cons of using in-house servers versus cloud server solutions?
Rachael Pritz, RB Retail & Service Solutions: While it may sound like a fairly simple business decision to run your business in "the cloud" or on a local server, there are actually three important things to consider:
Expense – In-house servers require an upfront investment in hardware and IT services to install and implement the hardware, while a cloud solution does not require any upfront, onsite hardware expenses. However, a cloud server requires business owners to pay an ongoing monthly fee to host their data.
Control – Having an in-house server gives you physical control to access your data and control of your backups while also ensuring no third party has access to your information. With the cloud, the company that hosts your services essentially holds all the cards for accessing the data. In some cases we have seen this become problematic if a business chooses to discontinue services. On the upside, the cloud allows for unlimited storage without having to upgrade hardware.
Access – Using a cloud server requires a constant and stable internet connection. If the internet is down, you do not have access to your data. If you have an in-house server, internet is usually not required.
The solution you choose depends on the environment in which your business runs.
AQ: If you are a service tech in the field, what is a good software solution?
RP: Depending on the size and scope of the service business, there are several good software apps for service techs. RB Retail & Service Solutions provides solutions that fully integrate with business point of sale. We also offer Mobile Live, a product that allows techs to take payments in the field, look up their schedule for the day, review job notes, look at the customer's equipment profile, send customers before and after pictures with the electronic door hanger, and more. This solution is ideal for retailers that have service departments.
There are also many app products on the market that meet the needs of service techs working in the field. From entry-level GPS tracking apps that monitor service vehicles mileage, speed and location to water-testing apps that test pool/spa water and instruct service techs on what chemicals to add to the water, there is an array of tech tools that can help make the job easier.
AQ: There are so many benefits to industry software and only one downside: cost. How can dealers ensure a quick return on their investment?
RP: The best way to get a quick return on investment is to really delve in and learn everything about the software and use every feature. We at RB offer customers FREE Go Live Training to help get them up and running. Our trainers talk one on one with dealers to explain how the software works in detail and provide suggestions on how the customer should set up the software.
Utilize the built-in features that will generate revenue. For example, RB has a related items feature that prompts the sales associate to ask if the customer making the purchase has additional items that go along with the item they are already purchasing. For example, a ladder mat with every ladder sold, a D.E. scoop with bags of D.E., scum-mitt with wall cleaner, clarifier with floc, hose clamps with filter hoses...the list goes on and on. Imagine the impact if six months out of the year your staff up-sold items with a $5 profit to 15 customers a day — you would increase your profit by over $13K!
If you are a service company, the route optimization feature allows you to lower fuel usage and reduce maintenance costs. Customers have even found that optimizing their service routes enabled them to do more jobs in a day, thus generating more business.
For the people in the office, a new software solution can eliminate printing, stuffing and stamping AR invoices. Now invoices can be emailed in bulk or credit cards can be kept on file for batch processing. Overall streaming processes and procedures will save time and money, allowing you to quickly recoup the initial investment and improve your business operations at the same time.
AQ: From a security standpoint, how can a software program from RB protect credit card data?
RP: Our company adheres to the PCI Security Council standards for storing and utilizing credit cards. Our software goes through rigorous testing on a regular basis to confirm compliancy is being met. Any business processing credit cards is also going through security scans, usually with their processor. This ensures the network environment in which the software is running is also secure.