Merchandising Muscle

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Welcome to AQUA Show Solutions, a new column that shows how businesspeople just like you are investing in education to produce results and improve profitability. Each month, we'll talk with different professionals to learn how they've put their knowledge to work and how you can, too.

SHAPING UP THE SHOWROOM

"My first time at AQUA, I started picking up basics like the importance of a clean, well-lit showroom, bright colors, fun merchandise on display, and all the parts in the back room," says Amy Barto, general manager of of Barto Pool & Spa in Phoenixville, Pa. "For years we had our counter in the wrong location, right inside the door, and we relocated it to a destination in the store based on what I learned about traffic patterns. I've been to seminars where they've talked about the impact something as simple as a coat of paint can have, and that has inspired us to undertake a renovation project every winter, whether it's putting up slatwall or refinishing our floors. Two years ago, we tore down the outdoor deck where we displayed spas, built a new 1,000-square-foot showroom in its place, and paved the parking lot. It has made a huge difference in the appearance of the store and has been very well received by our customers. When you walk into our store now, you're hit with tons of bright colors, and if it's not in a good-looking package, it's not on the showroom floor."

PROMOTING IMPULSE SALES

"I've learned a lot about setting up the counter and displaying merchandise to get more impulse sales — ways to get the customer to buy other things when he comes in for a quart of algaecide. The seminars have made me pay a lot more attention to my own shopping habits, so we do things like put a very large display of a product at the end of the aisle. We might not be lowering our price, but because it's got that big display like in the grocery store, people are going to grab it thinking it's on sale. We also change our displays often and rotate things around to encourage sales to repeat customers. If you don't show them the same thing, you can get them to buy something else."

ESTABLISH YOUR IDENTITY

"One of the things I remember hearing over the years at AQUA was the importance of having a theme or identity for your company. When we built our new showroom, we put in a large mural of a glittery mermaid, which is visible through the display windows as you drive by the store. We used her as the impetus to redesign our logo, which now has a mermaid on it, and we carried a tropical theme throughout the store, with palm trees and lots of color. We've focused on that one object to create a recognizable identity for ourselves, which I think is very important."

PROTECT YOUR MARGINS

"Several years back, when Leslie's were starting to come in and WalMarts were carrying more stuff, I attended a session on pricing that talked about how to protect your profit margins. There is no way we can cut our prices as low as theirs, so we keep our prices where they need to be, and it shows there's a difference in our products and a reason our prices are higher. One of the things we've promoted, and I remember this being talked about at a seminar, is that we're not selling a bucket of chlorine, we're selling clean water. We have very solid margins on our products, and we haven't had to cut them to meet what the mass merchants are doing. It has really protected our bottom line."

Store Stats

Housed in a railroad station from the late-1800s, Barto Pool & Spa was founded in 1970 by Alex and Elaine Barto. Alex passed away in 2001, but Elaine continues to work part-time in the family business, now run by daughter Amy Barto, general manager, and son Jeffrey Barto, service manager. A full-service store specializing in spas, above-ground pools, chemicals, parts and accessories, the business now employs 15 people. After college, Amy Barto worked in another industry for four years, but says, "It took leaving to realize this is what I really wanted to do. It was a challenge to clean up and organize the store, but also a lot of fun. I feel strongly about the way things look and keeping the store clean, colorful and symmetrical."

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