The AQUA 100 Is a Great Advertising Tool: Secrets of a Winner!

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Everyone loves a winner! And when you can demonstrate to your market area that YOUR company has the distinction of being one of the 100 BEST pool companies in the nation, you have an unparalleled advantage to make the most of your image and capture more business, especially the higher-end customer who wants to buy quality. Winning the AQUA 100 competition makes YOU the quality company they will choose!

Submit Your Application Here!

The AQUA 100 competition is structured so that you have a better chance to shine if you understand how it works, and as a former AQUA 100 Hall of Fame winner and longtime judge of the competition, I am glad to share with you some secrets to showcasing your company to your best advantage so that you, too, can benefit from this winning strategy.

Over the 51 years we operated our business and I did our marketing, things have changed dramatically — but one thing remains the same: One of the most cost-effective ways to advertise your company is to advertise very little and do a lot of unpaid “public relations.” And one of the best ways to do that is to win the AQUA 100 and then write about it, tell about it, show it to the public in every way possible through feature articles, business articles, and social media so that they notice and remember you as that company that is “one of the 100 BEST in the whole country!”

So, what should you know to give you the secret advantage to winning? First of all, and this seems obvious, but it isn’t — you have to ENTER! All of us have a million things distracting us from something this obvious day to day, but it is just a fact that time and deadlines tend to slip away from  busy people and things like putting effort into a competition entry may get pushed to the remote corner of the agenda and then foregone altogether in the rush of daily demands. 

The best way to ensure this does not happen to you is to first identify a person in your organization who is best at this type of project and make it a priority project to get done. Start working on it early, and make every effort to support the project as you would any other high-priority issue. 

The AQUA 100 competition has a very specific set of rules, in a specific order. When you prepare your entry, be sure to follow these, and keep your supporting materials answering each question for the entry in the same order they appear. When your project is judged, the judge will evaluate each item in the competition and give you a score on a matrix for each, so make it obvious and easy, not confusing and hard, so that the judge can see what you did in each area and what makes your company so great!

When I first entered this competition years ago, the available materials to include in my application to describe my business were much more low-tech. I sent what amounted to a scrapbook with photographs and written descriptions to tell what we did in each area the application called for. Today, the entries contain social media links, websites, videos and all kinds of high-tech information that showcases the businesses, the entries are online, and I find  judging so different from years past.  

One of the favorite entries I judged years ago included a box with examples of little toys the store gave to children on different holidays! But today, media is king, and so AQUA 100 has gone high-tech, but you can still use your personality, uniqueness and creativity to show what a great company you have — and win!

Keep in mind the more entertaining you can make your entry, and the more you can set yourself apart with unique features your business does to serve your customers, the more likely you are to get the judge’s attention as somebody who goes above and beyond in business and is deserving of ranking highly among your peers.

Don’t be afraid to tell about obstacles you have overcome in an honest way and telling your story of succeeding in the face of adversity. It is tough to  operate a business in today’s ever-changing and challenging environment, so make the judge aware of your resilience and efforts to “make it work” even when it was hard, as it inevitably is. Superhuman effort definitely factors into making you a winner! Tell your story, not what you think your story should be.

In the AQUA 100 competition, you are judged on the seven following criteria, and the judge will use a matrix type of method to evaluate each entry,  assigning points from one to 10 in each category and then adding the total to see how you rank among those he or she is judging. Then you will be placed in order of how you ranked among the other entries the judge is evaluating.

Submit Your Application Here!

Usually each entry is sent to two judges, located in non-competitive areas of the country from where your business is located. That way there are at least two points of view from different judges, which helps keep the competition as objective and fair as possible. I have been most impressed with the integrity of the method used to judge AQUA 100. 

With AQUA 100 you can be assured your efforts will be judged fairly, carefully and by people knowledgable about the business. Usually judges are former AQUA 100 Hall of Fame Winners, who have won the competition five times in a row and “retired” from competing in it further, but whoever Aqua uses to judge, you can be sure they are somebody who will be a qualified person to evaluate you.

The 7 parameters are: company story, customer service, store design, digital footprint, marketing, future plans and other activities. Your job is to show to the judge as many “proofs” as you can that show how outstanding you are in each of these areas, making your presentation as interesting, varied and special as possible to set yourself above and beyond most companies.

Highlight the things you do that have been most successful, things you plan to do to aspire to even greater success, how you market to your individual area. Tell about things you do for the community to give back as well. For example, one thing I highlighted in my entry was a successful miniature golf program our merchants association hosted each year for the shopping center where we were located. We were in a big golf marketing area, and the community would host the Houston Open golf tournament. While this was going on, our merchants association held a “mini golf” tournament in the center one Saturday during this time. 

Each merchant created a golf hole in front of the store related to their business. We always filled a baby pool with water and had the “water hole," using a game we sold called Aqua Golf, to hit closest to the pin in the floating golf green in the water. 

Participants in the tournament from the neighborhood paid a small fee, which we then used to fund a scholarship each year to the community college nearby. The scholarship was then presented to a kid who either worked in our center, or was a child of a merchant, and was planning to attend the local community college. This was especially nice because it gave kids who might not otherwise have any chance at a scholarship to get help to attend.

This project hit several parameters of what is judged in AQUA 100 — it served a community interested in golf, it was effective as a marketing program for that special clientele, it was an “other activity” and a great charity project that also gave back to the community. So, be sure to include all the great things your company does that maybe you didn’t even realize were effective for you in multiple areas!

In order to elicit information about your company in the 7 areas in which  you are judged, you will be asked some version of the following questions. Be sure to answer each one, with backup information to show what you do, and please, do keep them in the order they are asked so the judge does not miss anything due to you answering out of order. It really helps to keep things you submit organized in the same format asked.

The questions asked are:

  1. How many locations does your company have?
  2. When was your company founded?
  3. Company Story: Tell us about the history of your company. Describe how your business has evolved and explain your company’s core philosophy.
  4. Customer Service: Provide examples and/or anecdotes that best exemplify your company’s customer service. Include photos and other documentation as appropriate. (Make sure you show HOW you go above and beyond for service, not just saying that you give good service. This is a good place to include communications from customers backing up your assertions.)
  5. Store Design: Include quality photos of your store design. Include information on merchandising techniques, unique locations, etc. 
  6. Digital Footprint: Tell us how your company stays up-to-date in today’s digital frontier in terms of customer service, business management, marketing, etc.
  7. Marketing: How do you promote your business? What’s your best success story? (One example of this I used to present for our entry was a description and pictures of our pool school. I know pool schools for customers are not unique, but our pool school featured a wine tasting from the nearby liquor store in our shopping center, free babysitting next door at the child care center, refreshments and a swimsuit fashion show from the tanning salon in our center!)
  8. What’s next for your company? Tell us about your plans for the next five years of your business.
  9. Other Activities: This is a catch-all category that allows you to show the judges anything else you think sets you apart from the ordinary retailer. Include photos and/or other documentation as appropriate.

Submit Your Application Here!

One thing that you may want to consider is including video with your entry. Some of the companies I have judged in the past have sent some very effective videos that really were impressive for showcasing their companies. 

Investing in a winning entry for AQUA 100 truly is going to be one of the best and most cost-effective marketing programs you can make for marketing your company!  Shine the spotlight on your hard work and excellence with your AQUA 100 award and showcase your expertise for an even more successful year for your company this year.

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