A Sale For All Seasons

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Ask anyone who sells a lot of winter safety covers when the best time to sell them is, and the answer will be "anytime." Sure, some companies promote end-of-season purchases, while others push them when pools are being opened in the spring. But the truth is, you can sell a safety cover any day of any month.

For builders, this might mean including a cover in every new pool bid. Service techs have an opportunity to assess the status of each customer's cover on their route. And retailers, even those who don't build or service pools, can effectively market off-season covers in their stores.

How? There are many methods, and they all have one thing in common: a concern for safety.

Not so long ago, the pool industry was hesitant to sell safety covers, or anything else that added a layer of protection to a swimming pool. And there are still a few people out there β€” a shrinking minority β€” who think that promoting a product that increases pool safety suggests that pools are inherently unsafe.

But if you are on board with the concept that protecting pool owners β€” along with their guests, neighbors, pets and wild animals who live nearby β€” is your job, then selling strong winter covers is simple. And not only in wintry regions of the country.

Here is a look at three ways to sell pool covers: with the initial pool bid, when encountering a customer for another reason and as part of a seasonally timed promotion.

Part Of A Package

At Gym & Swim, a Master Pool Builder in Louisville, Ky., no pool is sold without a safety cover.

"When customers want to cut dollars, there are other things we can scale back on β€” landscaping details, the type of lighting, deck size or material. A cover is not an option," says Gym & Swim owner Bob Wason. "We take the time to explain to people why they need it β€” both from the safety standpoint and for keeping leaves and debris out of the pool. So it's an easy sale." Being on site with CAD drawings that show how nice the covered pool will look also helps close sales, he says.

Wason also notes that manufacturers have greatly improved their ability to accurately make covers for free-form pools. "We almost never have to send them back anymore," Wason says. He also credits builder experience and education. "We're getting smarter at measuring," he says. "Today, you can cover just about anything you can build."

Todd Mulvaney, president of Plastimayd Corp., Clackamas, Ore., concurs. "New measuring systems, electronic tools and better ordering systems have made it easier to order covers," he says.

Still, many builders don't pitch safety covers with the initial pool sale because customers may add planters, water features and other elements that would change the shape of the cover.

J. Kevin Shea, president of Vyn-All Products Corp., Newmarket, N.H., addresses this concern with the suggestion that pool bids include a ballpark price for the cover, or an amount the final cost will not exceed (estimate carefully!). That way, changes in the placement of a diving rock or planters can be accommodated.

"From a financing point of view, it makes a lot of sense to incorporate the cover into the initial pool sale," Shea adds.

Many builders must be figuring this out, because all of the suppliers contacted for this article report that more covers are being sold with new pools each year.

"Why not?" says Fred Boehmcke, director of sales for LOOP-LOC Ltd., Hauppauge, N.Y. "The builder has the first crack at it."

A related strategy is to set up a new pool customer for a second-year safety cover purchase. At Dunrite Pools in Long Island, N.Y., many customers tend to add waterfalls or landscaping after the pool is built, says manager Keith Beebe.

"If we sold the cover the same year as the pool, there's too good a chance it would need expensive alterations the following year," Beebe says. Dunrite's solution? Start the customer off with a "regular tarp cover" the first year, and sell them the higher-quality safety winter cover once the landscaping is completed. Beebe says Dunrite is successful with this strategy more often than not.

Another obstacle to selling covers with pools is the price war atmosphere that dominates some markets. "Unfortunately, homeowners don't always compare apples to apples, just price to price," notes T.J. Moreland, operations manager at Merlin Industries in Trenton, N.J. "A good cover can add a few thousand dollars to the price of the pool, and some builders in some markets don't want to drive up their price for fear of losing the pool sale." Still, Moreland finds the number of cover orders coming in with new-construction vinyl liner orders is on the rise.

Serendipity

Another approach to selling winter safety covers is to sell them every day.

"Our best customers never miss an opportunity," says LOOP-LOC's Boehmcke. "The trick is to sell them all the time."

The trap many companies fall into, Boehmcke says, is having only one or two people well versed in covers. "When a customer calls asking about a safety cover, the last thing you want to say is, 'The only guy here who knows about those isn't in today.'" Rather, Boehmcke advises training everyone who comes into contact with customers on the basics of safety cover sales β€” security, longevity, aesthetics and ease of maintenance.

A good piece of sales literature can also go a long way in a cover sale. Fiesta Pools & Spas, a Master Pools Builder in Tulsa, Okla., chose its current cover supplier because the image on the manufacturer's brochures is so effective, according to Floyd Roberts, general manager.

"You've seen the pictures of the elephant on the pool cover," Roberts says. "That communicates one thing, and it communicates it loud and clear: Safety."

Longevity is another selling point that many suppliers emphasize. Plastimayd, for instance, offers a lea.et that compares the cost of water bag covers in the first, third, fifth, eighth and 10th year to the cost of one safety cover, says Mulvaney. "In one simple graphic, it's easy to see the cost advantage over 10 years."

With the right literature, anyone can be a cover salesperson. And spiffing all salespeople, phone answerers and field technicians for cover sale leads doesn't hurt, notes Boehmcke.

Spiffs β€” or sales promotion incentive funds β€” are one key to cover sales success at Gohlke Pools in Denton, Texas. "We offer guys in the store sales incentives," explains Nick Day, retail manager. "For every on-site estimate that leads to a sale, they get a $50 bonus."

Another way to sell more covers yearround is to respond immediately to cover queries. At Dunrite Pools, shortening the estimate time has dramatically increased cover sales. Two years ago, Dunrite's average turnaround time from the initial call to the written estimate was two weeks. Cutting that time span in half and increasing newspaper advertising for covers in August and September helped Dunrite sell 120 more covers in 2003 than the previous year, Beebe says.

And it's not just quick and able responses to phone calls that can help boost year-round cover sales. These leads often start in the field with service technicians. Apollo Pools in Reading, Pa., opens and closes about 200 pools a year, says co-owner Scott Hertzog. "Most of them have the standard old covers. Sometimes all it takes is the service technician dropping a hint about how much nicer the pool would look if a better cover was used."

Another cover sale opportunity that more companies are taking advantage of is adding covers to vinyl-liner replacements. "If you're in the backyard for a liner change, you're already taking the measurements," says VynAll's Shea. "Plus, you've already gained the confidence of the homeowner, so introduce the idea of the safe, aesthetically better cover."

Another approach to selling covers year-round is to use bill stuffers. Roberts attributes Fiesta Pools' success with cover sales in part to safety cover literature that goes out with every invoice, no matter what time of year.

Seasonal Sales

Some companies find success with early-buy sales at pool-opening time. Others get great bang for their buck with mid-season sales, while still others take advantage of the immediate need at pool-closing time.

At Fiesta Pools, where covers were initially brought into the product mix about six years ago to boost fourth quarter sales, covers are sold throughout the swimming season, but advertising is boosted in March and August. "We ratchet up seasonally," Roberts explains, with ads in March, when people start opening pools, and again around August 1. Fiesta's spring campaign includes an early-buy special and leads to about 10 sales each spring β€” the same number the company was selling in a whole year before Roberts pushed to actively sell winter safety covers. Today, Fiesta Pools sells about 100 covers each year.

Winterizing service calls and spring openings are perfect opportunities to sell winter safety covers, says Mulvaney. "We recommend a postcard or other simple direct mail piece targeted to pool opening and closing customers. Offer a special on safety covers, like free winterizing service with purchase of a cover."

The height of the swimming season can also be a good time to market winter covers. "I think dealers should capitalize on the beauty of the pool when the pool looks its best," advises Roshan Patel, business administrator at The Cover Company, Branchburg, N.J. "Explain to people that if they get a solid safety cover, the pool will stay clean all winter."

Others are keen on spring sales. "Service techs should be looking in April and May at the wear and tear on covers," advises Boehmcke. "Don't wait until September when the customer comes in with a problem."

Still, fall is when most customers start thinking about closing their pools. But by then it's too late to get a cover quickly, say suppliers. "Plus, price competition is stiffer in the fall," Boehmcke says. So he recommends a mid-season mailing for fall products. "Try to get people thinking about fall just after July 4th, with an early winter sale."

Whenever they think of it, though, be ready to sell them the best cover for their pool.

Eight Great Ways To Sell Winter Covers

1) USE PRODUCT SAMPLES.

Show the reinforced stitching, steel anchors β€” whatever your cover's attributes are. The product itself is too big for most showrooms and pitch books, but a display of color options is an excellent tool. It also allows customers to feel how durable the material is. Include professional-quality photographs of your most attractive projects showing the cover in place.

2) KNOW YOUR PRODUCT.

Whether you're selling mesh, solid or both types, know the positive selling points of each. For example, mesh covers allow water, filtered slightly, to drain into the pool, so rain and melting snow don't form puddles. Solid covers block all the UV rays that may otherwise lead to minor algae blooms under the cover. One company, Merlin Industries, has introduced a hybrid cover dubbed Smart Mesh. Its proprietary weave allows water to penetrate, but not sunlight, says T.J. Moreland, operations manager.

3) TARGET EXISTING CUSTOMERS.

Everyone knows that it's most cost-effective to sell more things to existing customers than to draw in new customers. That's especially true when you're selling a custom-made cover for a pool you've already measured.

4) CONSIDER YOUR OWN TIME.

Higher-quality winter covers are easier to remove and replace than tarp-style covers. An opening or winterizing crew can complete the job in far less time if there are no water bags to drain or fill. On a related note, a pool under a good solid or mesh cover will be cleaner and closer to ready for swimming come spring than one that spends the winter uncovered or covered by a tarp that can sag and gap, making openings for leaves and debris.

5) EARN ON REPLACEMENTS.

According to Fred Boehmcke, director of sales for LOOP-LOC, Ltd., safety covers have been around for about 40 years. Even though one of their greatest selling points is how long they last, a good winter cover will eventually need to be replaced.  Warranties on pool covers typically run out after 10 or 12 years. With more covers being sold each year, the replacement market will only continue to grow.

6) GET INTO THE BACKYARD.

Everyone knows β€” and research shows β€” that the most effective way to sell a product is one-on-one, faceto-face. Scott Hertzog, co-owner of Apollo Pools in Reading, Pa., finds that hand-delivering cover quotes leads to more sales.

7) USE GOOD LITERATURE.

There are so many important selling points for high-quality winter safety covers, that Floyd Roberts, general manager at Fiesta Pools & Spas in Tulsa, Okla., often finds customers glazing over during a sales pitch. If they take self-selling literature home with them, or if they receive it in the mail as a follow-up, the piece can remind them of all the reasons to buy.

8) REBATES AND INCENTIVES.

A free pool winterizing kit or service with the purchase of a cover, a rebate on the cover itself, or some other creative deal often seals a cover sale.

β€” E.S.P.

Team Coverage: A listing of pool cover suppliers from AQUA's Buyers' Guide  

7-11 Pool Products Ltd.

711poolproducts.netfirms.com

Ameri-Brand Products

websweeper.com

Anchor Industries

anchorinc.com

Aquamatic Cover Systems

aquamatic.com

Automatic Pool Covers

automaticpoolcovers.net

Blue Wave Products

bluewaveproducts.com

Cantar/Polyair Corp.

cantar.com

Cover Company,

The pegasus-products.com

Cover-Pools

coverpools.com

Coverstar

coverstar.com

Covertech

covertechfab.com

Fort Wayne Pools

surfthepool.com

H.S.T. Synthetics Ltd.

hstsynthetics.com

Hinspergers Poly Industries

hinspergers.com

Hollenbeck Industries

hovercover.com

Intex Recreation

ntexcorp.com

Jersey Cover Corp.

jerseycover.com

Kafko Manufacturing Limited

kafko.com

LOOP-LOC, Ltd.

looploc.com

Merlin Industries

merlinindustries.com

Meyco Products

meycoproducts.com

Midwest Canvas Corp.

midwestcanvas.com

Pacific Industries

pacificpools.com

Pen-Fabricators

penfab.com

Plastimayd Corp.

plastimayd.com, spacearena.com

Pool Cover Specialists Nat.'l

poolcovers.com

Pool Covers

poolcoversinc.com

Precision Vinyl Corp.

precisionvinylcorp.com

Quaker Plastic Corp.

quakerplastic.com

Rayner Covering Systems

800/648-0757

SK Plastics Corp.

718/782-6095

Vinyl Fabrications

800/783-8448

Vyn-All Products Corp.

vynall.com

WeatherBeater by Colorado Lining

weather-beater.com

Zamzow Mfg. Co.

zamzow-tarp.com

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