Retailer uses Google Earth to sell automatic pool covers

Scott Webb Headshot

Scott WebbFor a living, as a means of securing food for the kids and my wife's ongoing support and admiration, I call people in the pool and spa industry - retailers, distributors, service people and manufacturers.

All kinds of people. Some are reserved and suspicious, others brisk and officious. Some are rude and condescending. Every once in a while, you run across an inspiration:

This gal is just doing what we all do; that is, our jobs, but with a bit more flair and imagination and heart.

She and her husband sell pool covers - mostly automatic, some manual. Like everything in this business, that has become more challenging.

Before the recession, automatic pool covers were almost always sold as part of a new pool package. It was nice extra profit for the dealer/distributor and a good value for the customer in terms of heat and chemical savings.

Then came the slowdown, which slowed down new pool building to a trickle. With the main sales pipe constricted, however, she didn't sit at the tap watching it drip, she went after existing pools, trying to sell retrofitted covers.

Breaking into a relatively new market hasn't been easy. A lot of the pools in her area are owned by part-time residents, so reaching them has been a little bit tricky. They don't read the local paper. Radio and TV ads can easily miss them.

So she finds her targets by cross-checking the satellite image from Google with county property Web sites. Using the aerial photo, she says, "You can look down and see, 'Hey, there's a pool right there!' And then look it up and get their name the address and send them information."

The retrofit market has helped get them through this time. They also do foreclosed homes - pools that have been abandoned and become hazards to the community - although this part of the business is more of a personal crusade.

"When the economy started going bad," she says, "we had all these foreclosed homes with pools that were not covered. And a little boy, right down the street right here . . . he drowned.

"That really got to me. Two years old, got away from his mom for just a minute. They didn't even think about looking in the green, nasty pool because it had a fence around it. After the fire department looked everywhere, they started pumping the pool out and found him.

"Ever since I saw that, I've thought about it, and wished I could have saved that little life and that mother's heartache."

She says she'd like to just give the covers away in these situations, but as we all know, you can't give product away for very long. "So we've cut our pricing down to the minimum that we can handle to try to get these pools covered.

"Everybody's got a volunteer thing or a charity thing. This is mine."

Scott Webb
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