State of the Industry 2013: Retail (Part I)

Cailley Hammel Headshot
photo of pool and spa showroom
Pictured is the showroom floor at San Juan Pools & Spas in Pekin, Ill. Photo courtesy Deverman Advertising.

It’s a story you’ve heard before. After the economic downturn, we’re seeing signs of a slow-but-persistent recovery as evidenced by rising consumer confidence, a stronger housing market and modestly increased sales across the board.

That story largely remains unchanged. But that’s a good thing, as the pool and spa industry’s outlook, while “cautiously optimistic” (a tired, yet accurate characterization), is at its strongest since the recession.

The data we collected in the retailer survey supports this assessment. The majority of those who sold portable spas last year saw greater sales in 2012 than in 2011, and aboveground dealers saw slight growth in sales as well. More importantly, when asked about the health of their business as a whole, 47.9 percent of respondents said their business is getting stronger, compared to 38 percent who said it was stagnant and only 14.1 percent who admitted their business is weaker than before.

Business is getting brighter for retailers, yet they’re also plagued by the same concerns: a lack of hot summers, drought and the threat of Internet retailers, to name a few.

Some, like Aqua Quip CEO Brian Quint, say MAP pricing in the pool and spa industry is having a positive effect, while many of our survey respondents are frustrated by a lack of support. As one surveytaker said:

“If manufacturers and distributors do not follow their own rules and cut the throats of their own dealers, not only is this unethical and a conflict of interest, but how do they expect MAP pricing to work or keep dealers?”

Clearly, the industry is rife with strong emotion and opinion. With that in mind, you’ll see a slightly different take on this year’s survey. In addition to getting the hard numbers, we sought to tap into the industry’s emotional bloodstream with more open-ended questions than ever before. Not only did these questions provide retailers a place to share their opinions (and occasionally vent), the survey exposed some deeply-rooted feelings about retailers’ work lives and why they do what they do. Your answers to some of our questions were uplifting reminders of the good work this industry performs and the good people in it.

While the economic narrative for retailers remains largely the same, we can’t deny a brighter sense of optimism. As 2013 progresses, we’ll see if we get closer to that happy ending.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

Portable Spa Sales

The majority of our survey respondents, or 63.4 percent, said they carry portable spas in their stores. Among those people, here’s how their 2012 sales compared to 2011.

Were sales up or down in 2012 compared to 2011?

pie chart showing portable spa sales

* 50 percent of those who indicated higher portable spa sales in 2012 made between $2 and $3 million that year.

Aboveground Sales

When it comes to abovegound pools, 59.2 percent of our respondents said they do not carry them. We asked those who do to share how aboveground sales fared compared to the previous year’s sales.

Were sales up or down in 2012 compared to 2011?

pie chart showing aboveground spa sales

Would you say your business is getting...

pie chart showing portable spa business

Those in the "Unchanged" category were more likely to sell aboveground pools, grills, pool equipment and toys compared to those who indicated they have a stronger business.

What Did You Sell?

To kick off our survey, we asked you to tell us about what you keep in stock. Of course, the vast majority of retailers carry chemicals (this time with a 7.4 percent gain over last year’s 87.9 percent). However, while half of last year’s respondents sold aboveground pools, only 38 percent of this year’s respondents sold them. Interestingly, while 19.2 percent of last year’s survey takers sold saunas, that number jumped to 23.9 percent this year.

* “Other” included patio heaters, game tables, fiberglass pools, outdoor decor and more.

chart showing what the spa retail businesses were selling in 2012

If you sell spas, which consumer benefit do you emphasize most?

pie chart showing consumer benefits for spa sales

Testing 1, 2, 3

Water testing is becoming a standard for the retail store — it makes pool ownership easier on the customer and gets him in your store more often. So it’s not surprising that a whopping 84.5 percent of our respondents say they offer the service in their stores, nor that retailers are using the data to their advantage for marketing purposes.

Do you offer water testing in your store?

Yes - 84.5%No - 8.5% (and we don’t plan to)No - 7.0% (but we’re considering it)

How do you use your database?

“There’s no need to mail to everyone in your database. Use your database to identify customers who have not been in your store for 90+ days. Mail coupons and flyers to them. Your regulars will be there because they are your regulars, don’t waste the stamps.”

“To make sure the customers who we test water for purchase chemicals.”

See more of the results from our retail survey in Part II of our series. 

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