Retail Voice 2013: Merry Wise

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For the retail portion of our State of the Industry issue, we spoke we three industry leaders to serve as our "retail voices." In these profiles, they share how their businesses fared last year, their strategies for success and their vision for the future. For 2013, we spoke with Brian Quint, Merry Wise and Steve Ruscigno

Merry WiseMerry Wise Co-Owner, Wise Pools, and President, Retrospective Publishing The Woodlands, Texas

In a state known for stiff competition, Merry Wise and her husband, Charles, make success in the industry look easy. For Wise, whose retail/construction business has been around more than 40 years, retail success is dependent on shrewd decision-making and an understanding of both local and federal regulation.

How was your 2012?

Last year went really well for us, particularly with building. Of course, you never know how things are going to go the next year. Last year, things started out sort of slow at the beginning of the year but kicked up through the winter, which was really good. You always want that to happen.

This year, it’s beginning to pick up, but people are sort of slow to make a decision. And that’s not unusual either. I think with the economy, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and I think it’s causing both consumers and our business community in the pool business to sort of hold back from making these decisions until we know how all of these new regulations and all of this new stuff is going to affect us, because there’s really no way to tell.

What are you doing differently now than you were in the past few years?

We are downsizing overhead and space. We moved into a family property that we own, and it saves us tremendously on our overhead, which is helping us a lot. Because we’re able to do that, we’re passing savings onto our customers and also lowering price on retail supplies. And normally I wouldn’t recommend that, but in the economy we’re going into, I think it’s going to be a really good strategy. We’ve seen this before, and it was a successful strategy for us in other times when there’s been economic uncertainty.

One thing I have noticed is that a lot of retail businesses I’ve seen, especially retail businesses, are trying to operate out of such enormous space and stuff it with lots of inventory that then sits there and doesn’t turn rapidly. And the whole key with retailing, I think, is having smaller space and turning the products more rapidly. If you have distribution nearby that can deliver to you every day, that makes more sense than trying to keep expanding space-wise.

What other challenges are retailers facing?

Well, every retailer you talk to is nervous about how Internet sales are affecting them. And also discount stores. These are the main threats to the mom and pop brick-and-mortar store. And for that reason, that’s why I think if you can find a way to lower your space expense, you can compete more successfully.

You’ve had a lot to say about overregulation in the industry. What would you change?

Well, I would change the government, that’s for sure! In Texas, we have been electing people who are less inclined to overregulate. That’s true on a state level, but unfortunately it isn’t on the federal level. I think regulation is directly tied to who we select as our leaders, and if our leaders do not understand business and how it thrives and creates jobs, then it slows down everything. And everyone ends up with less, including the government.

Tell us about a product you carry that’s surprised you with strong sales.

Variable speed pumps. If you can convince customers to change out their equipment, it’s such a quick payback for them on the energy savings that those are well worth bringing in and making promotions on.

I’ve had good luck with my own pool care book, we sell a lot of those. I gave a seminar at the show in San Antonio, and one thing I tried to encourage people to do is: “Don’t just give away our information to people, sell it to them.” Your doctor or your lawyer doesn’t give his knowledge away. We do a lot of stuff that we probably should be charging for. And while we want to do well for our customers, we also need to think about charging for it.

That’s interesting, especially since more businesses have blogs that lay it all out there.

Yeah! I think those are nice to do, but as an industry, we need to value our knowledge so that others will value our knowledge, too. Sometimes when I’m in a booth selling my pool care book, some people will say, “Oh, I printed up instructions for people and I just give it away.” And I say, “Well, why do that? Here you can buy this book for $12 and charge $24 for it, and if you do that 100 times a year, you’re making an extra 1,200 profit. Why wouldn’t you do that?”

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

Want more from our Retail State of the Industry results?

See Part I and Part II of our survey findings. 
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