Unexpected Luxury

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Most above-ground pool dealers can get customers into a pool for between $3,000 and $5,000. Customers opt for above-ground pools for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that lower expense. But that shouldn't stop dealers from looking for ways to add on to the sale. There are plenty of add-ons available in the above-ground market, luxurious items that are usually associated with in-ground installations many times more expensive. Customers looking at an aboveground want the same feeling of luxury as in-ground pool consumers. "A lot of people may not know, especially if they've just started shopping, that these so-called luxuries are available, and they appreciate the knowledge," says Kathy Dennehy, sales coordinator at the Colley's Pools and Spas, Hamburg, N.Y. "The worst thing is for someone to come in and say, 'You didn't tell me I could get that,' so it's nice to bring it up upfront and let the customer decide if they want it or not."

Though the initial cost is much less than an in-ground pool, customers are still spending a lot of money. "They want to maximize the value of their above-ground pool," says Matt Crawford, marketing manager for Zodiac Pools.

"It's a smaller investment than an in-ground pool, but it's still an investment. It takes up a lot of space in your backyard, it's something that, if you go into it, you want to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak. You want to get Give above-ground pool owners what they want at an affordable price the best value out of it, so why not add a few items on."

Making these little luxuries available to above-ground pool buyers lets them know that allowing them to personalize their pool is important to you, and it increases your profit margin on an item with notoriously low returns. Selling add-ons may even net more profit than the pool itself. "It actually improves your profit margin tremendously," says Ken Stockley, owner of the Pool & Patio Center in Coventry, R.I. "If you're trying to fight the competition, especially on price point, you could end up making almost nothing on the pool, with some of the prices out there so low they're not worth selling a pool at." Heaters are another great optional item that lets your customers extend their swimming season considerably. "For years, gas heaters were not priced for the above-ground market, and then Pentair came up with a gas heater for the above-ground market and it took off like wildfire," says Ken.

Look at in-ground pool trends and you're sure to see a trickle-down effect into the above-ground market. "I think the trends definitely start with the in-grounds because the market is so much larger," says Steve Peake, marketing manager with Pentair Water Pool and Spa. "So when manufacturers are looking at developing products, they are looking at the larger in-ground market, and once that's established, they adapt the product to above-grounds." This has happened particularly in the last few years with salt-chlorine generators. To give your customers what they want while giving your bottom line a boost, watch trends and stock items in three general categories: aesthetic items like lights and fountains; safety items like fences and alarms; and maintenance items like automatic cleaners and salt-chlorine generators. Following are just a few examples of the many products on the market to give aboveground pools a little luxury.

It's What's On The Outside That Counts

Above-ground pools have come a long way since the days of a "tin can" in the backyard. Lights, fountains and decking are great ways to improve a pool's appearance. Pentair Water Pool and Spa has a few entries in this category, including the Aqualuminator and color Aqualuminator, or CAL. Both lights offer above-ground customers the same kinds of effects as inground pool customers enjoy. The Swimmers enjoy music and lights with Doughboy's eXtreme entertainment system. CAL is a color-changing underwater light, introduced in 2004, featuring LEDs that rotate in one of five different color-changing modes or cycles. Designed to give pools a festive feel, the lights have been a great add-on, according to Pentair. "The CAL light has done very well, exceeded expectations," says Louis Teran, Pentair's lighting product manager. "Dealer feedback reiterates the fact that the light does what we claim it to do."

Doughboy introduced the eXtreme entertainment system in 2005, combining many aesthetic features in one product. "It's a completely modular system of lights, fountains and sound the homeowner can customize as they please," says Jim Palmer, vice president of business development. "Each unit comes with a light and fountain setup and a covered speaker opening, and the 120-watt sound system supports up to four-speaker-all-aroundthe-pool sound." The fountains and lights on the system are adjustable, too, giving pool owners many options for customization. Existing Doughboy pool owners can buy the system, too, giving dealers another way to get customers back into the store after an initial pool purchase.

Staying Safe

"Safety is at least in the back of the mind of everyone buying a pool, and especially people buying aboveground pools, because they all have children," says Richard Holstein, president, SmartPool. "And to address it up front has been a very effective method of selling pools and taking care of the safety concern." In that vein, SmartPool offers two alarms for above-grounds. Both models of the PoolEye monitor pools up to 24 feet round or 16- by-32-feet oval; the PE12 is the standard above-ground pool model, and the PE13 has both poolside and in-home remote alarms.

An aesthetic and safety-enhancing feature from Delair is the Grand Entrance Staircase and deck package. "The thing that makes it a safety item is the self-closing, self-latching gate," says Stephen Shervin, Delair's national sales manager. "The staircase package makes it easy to climb up to the pool, and when you deal with just a fence by itself, that is pure safety, but when you have a walk-deck, that's part safety and part being able to either walk around the pool and vacuum it, or be able to get into or out of the pool wherever you want to. Most people want to be in a position that if something happens, they want to be able to get right into the swimming pool and take care of their child. When you don't have a deck on the pool, you're standing outside the pool, and you've got to now get into the pool, where the deck is right at water's edge."

Keep It Clean, Cozy And Clear

Dealers and manufacturers agree thatmaintenance is the most popular add on category in above-ground pools. "Maintenance is a big deal," says Mark Flohr, owner of Flohr Pools, Chambersburg, Pa. "Nobody wants to spend any more time; everybody wants things automatic, they don't want to have to do anything. If they can spend a couple of extra dollars and they don't have to do anything, that comes as an easy sale." There are automatic cleaners and salt-chlorine generators, to name a couple. Many manufacturers offer automatic cleaners, an easy sell for most dealers. "We have one of the top-end pool cleaners for an above-ground pool, relatively expensive compared to some of the other ones, called the Zodiac Zoom," says Crawford. "But it would appeal to the same kind of consumer that wants all these other bells and whistles; they're going to want the high-end pool cleaner."

There are also a number of robotic self-contained cleaners for abovegrounds, among them Aqua Products' Aquabot Pool Rover and SmartPool's Robo-Kleen."This is a robotic pool cleaner, different than the water-powered cleaners that are generally sold on above-ground pools," says Smartpool's Holstein. "It doesn't operate off the pump, and it doesn't put the dirt into the filter. It is a completely self contained robot that operates on very low voltage, and has its own pump and filter inside the unit, completely cleaning an above-ground pool in a couple of hours."

Heaters are another great optional item that lets your customers extendtheir swimming season considerably.“For years, gas heaters were not priced for the above-ground market, and then Pentair came up with a gas heater for the above-ground market and it took off like wildfire,” says Ken Stockley. The company’s MiniMax 100, for example, can heat small above-ground pools of up to a 900-gallon capacity.

A relatively new luxury item on the above-ground scene is salt-chlorine generators. "We have a product called ChlorEase," says Holstein. "This is specifically designed from the ground up for above-ground pools, and utilizes a technology that's over 25 years old. It operates on a 24/7 low-output control and is really been proven to be a very effective product in the pool."

Price Points

Above-ground dealers know that the most crucial variable when selling aftermarket goods comes down to price. "We sell a lot of cleaners, but again it's a price thing," says Mark Flohr. "We have one cleaner at $139 that sells very well and then we have one at $799, and I bet the one probably outsold the other one 10 to 1."

Offering consumers affordable luxury, while still making money for both dealers and manufacturers, has been a challenge. "Luxury is often materials-oriented: gold, brass, exotic woods, marble, etc.," says Palmer. "Those materials are really difficult to offer at what most people would consider an affordable price. Therefore, we focus on luxury as an experience; it could be a feeling of pampering, such as the soothing sound of flowing water, or it could be a product that doesn't come standard that helps the homeowner feel more proud of their purchase. By focusing on the feeling, the challenge then becomes how to deliver that feeling at an affordable price without having to use luxurious materials." Luckily for both dealers and customers, manufacturers have risen to the challenge, and the market is full of low-cost, high-quality options for above-ground pool consumers. "Accessories are priced very competitively and are very affordable," says Dennehy. On an above-ground pool, every add-on that's sold makes a huge difference in terms of your net profit. So make a difference and offer a few of these little luxuries — your customers will thank you almost as much as your bank account will.

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