Can I Sell This Kind Of Pool

It started with cocooning in the '80s and shifted to sanctuary-building post-9/11, but whatever term you choose to describe it, the American love affair with home shows no signs of fading. People used to go out to see movies, go to the gym to exercise, to the Y for a swim and to a day spa for aquatherapy.

Now all those diversions are available in the home. It's this trend toward keeping everything and everyone close to home that has spurred sales in categories from home-theater to home-furnishing to home-resort products.

And it's suggested opportunities to many pool and hot tub retailers. "If my customers are buying grills for their backyards, why shouldn't I sell them the grill along with the hot tub." many wonder.

Hot tub retailers have added complementary products to their showrooms, whether it's to make sure their customers don't stray to other stores for other products, or to fill in the gaps during slow periods. Billiard tables are one of these products that has helped even out the sales season for many hot tub retailers.

And as customers think more in terms of complete recreation and resort setups for their homes, it makes more sense for retailers to offer all the items needed to outfit their customers' sanctuaries in style.

"Companies are starting to think about it the way the consumer thinks about it," says Amy Long, director of marketing for the Billiard Congress of America, the industry trade association. "Consumers don't divide foosball from billiards from big-screen TVs, they think in terms of 'enjoying myself at home.' They are thinking in terms of saving on gas, saving on food and drink and being with family and friends. They think about it as a unit, and that's how we try to present it to them."

As with any new product, retailers should think carefully about what they select and how they add it to their retail mixes. And just as consumers rely on advice from friends and family and word-of-mouth recommendations when making big purchasing decisions, so do pool and hot tub retailers talk to peers to keep on top of the latest trends.

We talked to several AQUA readers about how they decided to — or not to — get into billiards.

Growing With Billiards

Lefty Thibault, owner of Glamour Pools of Portland, hopes to have his first tables in his newly expanded showroom in the spring of 2006. Eventually, he plans to have billiard tables in all three of his Maine stores. He got the idea to add billiards from colleagues in a buying group.

"A good friend up in Burlington, Vermont, took on billiards about three years ago and started with nothing, but now he does a hundred-odd tables a year in sales. There are quite a few others in the group who have been carrying billiards for as long as 10 years."

Although billiards is a new product for him, Thibault has confidence he'll be able to sell the category. Glamour Pools added hot tubs three years ago, and now sells 100 tubs a year. His new showroom will accommodate about eight tables, he figures, and he's already had customers asking about pool tables. "We've done it with spas, so we know we can do it with the tables as well."

Thibault hasn't chosen a billiards vendor yet, but knows how he'll go about making the choice. "I'm going to go to the trade show in November, and there are usually several billiard companies there," he says. He'll also collect information from companies that are not at the pool and spa trade shows. "What's important to me will be delivery, and the way the table is made. I've seen one company that ships the tables in two packages; it's already assembled. All you have to do is put the legs on and you're in business," he says. "Plus the accessory line, also, as I understand, is very important. We're also going into darts, and the whole game-room lineup."

Thibault plans to use his existing staff to take on the new product line. "We're going to train our own people to do installations and service. The sales will be similar to spas. We'll send people to schools, because we don't have the experience yet," he says.

Maybe Later

In Colorado Springs, Colo., Jerry Griggins decided billiard tables didn't make sense for Leisure Time Spas this year. For Griggins, space, personnel and competition were the deciding factors. "I saw the product and I liked it, but I just didn't think it was the right fit for me at the right time," he says. "I have a small showroom, 2,400 square feet, and I have 15 spas in here. I would have to take space from that."

Installation and service were a concern as well. Griggins would have to rely on others to provide delivery, and he doesn't think that would be a workable situation. "The installers that we'd be working with — the better installers in town — they stay booked up. I'd have to warehouse a number of tables, and then come the busy season, customers would ask, 'Can you have it out next week.' and I'd have to say, 'Yes, but I probably can't have it installed by the people I'd like to have install it.'"

Griggins has decided that while it doesn't make sense for his business at this point, he is open to revisiting the idea in the future. "If I were a larger operation and had a lot more foot traffic, and there wasn't so much competition, it would be a smart decision," he says. "Down the road, as I grow and as I have more staff, it might make sense."

A Natural Pair

Vince Wuebker says he might have decided against carrying pool tables, too, if he'd really thought about it. But he's been selling billiards for about eight years at HotSpring Portable Spas & Pool Tables 2 in Fargo, N.D.

"I always get asked, 'Pool tables and hot tubs, how does that make sense.' Well first of all, they are both about relaxation and family time, and second of all, who better to deliver and set up a pool table than hot tub guys? Just going to pool and spa shows in the past and seeing a pool table set up here or there, and just knowing some other friends in the industry who have done it over the years, I've always just assumed they've gone together," he says.

Word-of-mouth recommendations played into his choice of vendor as he sought a company that could provide everything. "For me a pool table is a piece of furniture," says Wuebker. "There aren't major differences between them. It boils down to what does the customer want in terms of the price range, what do they want in terms of the style, what do they want for color and wood tone. Really it's that. I looked at companies that I thought offered the best overall package."

Wuebker says the similarities between selling hot tubs and pool tables make it a logical choice. "Pool tables are easier to sell. If you can sell hot tubs, you can sell pool tables," he says. "You have to do a little training. HotSpring has pretty doggone good training programs for sales. If you can go through that type of program and learn the concepts, selling pool tables is gravy."

And he thinks hot tub retailers won't have to make many changes in their marketing plans to accommodate pool tables. "I don't think there's any difference there — despite what the advertising salespeople tell you," he says. "I still think, in advertising spas you have to primarily focus on women, because ultimately that's where the decision will start and end. Pool tables are no different. Even though everybody thinks they're male-driven, and that's probably true, who's going to make the final choice in the decor? With that said, I think it's just like hot tubs. It's a tough one, but it is the female that makes the call when it's all said and done."

But Wuebker cautions that retailers can't just add a few pool tables to their showrooms, market them to women and expect to be successful. "Merchandising pool tables is a little more difficult. I think to be successful you have to have everything: cues from inexpensive to expensive, you have to have the lights, all the decor, the bars, everything somebody would want to go along with the pool table," he says. "You have to devote some space. I don't think you can be a player with just a quarter of the showroom devoted to pool tables. Ours is half and half tables and hot tubs."

Wuebker says the decision to sell billiards is a personal one, but if you have the space and the staff and the commitment, it makes sense. After all, he points out, "A lot of people who buy hot tubs come back and buy pool tables. And a lot of people who buy pool tables come back and buy hot tubs. Same customer."

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