Notes From the Test Center

photo of a water testing store counter
Johnson Pools and Spas

Maintaining quality water that is both aesthetically appealing and hygienically safe is arguably the single most important aspect of customer satisfaction. That’s why many professionals believe that understanding water chemistry is the most essential area of expertise for retailers and servicers. It’s also why many would argue that in-store testing centers rank high among the greatest innovations in the history of the pool and spa industry.

Last May in AQUA’s State of the Industry Issue, 85 percent of surveyed retailers indicated that they have test centers in their stores, another 7 percent said that although they don’t currently have a test center, they are seriously considering making the investment.

That remarkable level of technical proliferation is due to both the importance of water quality to the consumer experience and a testament to the ingenuity of test system manufacturers.

SO IMPORTANT

According to Penny Johnson, owner of Johnson Pools and Spas, Huntsville, Ala., “It’s extremely important to our customers because they want to know that they’re water is sanitary, and the technology is equally important to us because of the way it enables us to serve out customers. It’s how we know what recommendations to make to the homeowner in order to make the needed adjustments. The technology is important on both sides of process.”

Johnson reports that all of her sales associates receive detailed training about water chemistry and test methods.

“It’s the purpose for people coming into the brick and mortar store, because as we know, homeowners can buy chemicals elsewhere, either online or from mass merchandisers.”

As she points out, some mass merchandisers have started offering in-store testing, but still lack the expertise to advise customers about their specific needs. “It’s the big advantage we have when competing with box stores because consumers want to know the reasoning behind chemical purchases. They want to feel that someone understands their needs and the reasons behind our recommendations.”

In that sense, the importance of not only the test center, but also knowledgeable staff almost cannot be overstated. “In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest values the brick and mortar retail store has to offer.”

And that, she says, means that not only do sales people need to be able to properly use the test centers, they also need to be able to speak the language of chemistry in a way that the average homeowner can understand. “When we hire a new sales associate, we spend about 24 hours of classroom time training them all about water chemistry.

“Then we spend another eight hours talking about using the analysis equipment and the roles that pool and spa equipment play – important information about filters, chemical automation, pumps, motors, etc. and the role that the equipment plays in maintaining a clear and clean pool. Then we send our people into the field to clean pools and work with the people who do our maintenance.”

The goal, she says, is to prepare sales people so that they can answer the majority of questions homeowners might have, to become a resource they trust for help they can’t find elsewhere.

TOWARD THE BACK

Because the test center is so crucial for motivating homeowners to come into the store in the first place, making the center a key destination point in the store should be a top priority when designing the retail space. That’s why retailers such as Johnson make a point of placing strategic signage directing clients.

“In a pool/spa retail store there can be up to seven destination points,” she says. “Normally, you’d want it at the back of the store. It’s similar to walking into a grocery store; staples like bread and milk are in the back of the store that people need to walk by a number of other products on their way to finding what they came in for in the first place. The same theory applies, but you have to have it well signed so that people can see right away where they’re going.”

As customers move to and from the center, they encounter a spectrum of products, many of which they hadn’t planned on buying when they first came in. But as Johnson points out, seeing what’s available — toys, flotation devices, patio accouterments, etc. — fuels their desire to make those kinds of ancillary purchases.

Once they get there, it’s equally important that space be well organized, clean and attractive. Because water chemistry is a health and safety issue, presenting the center in a professional way with knowledgeable staff is essential in establishing consumer confidence.

In a sense, the pool retailer becomes a consultant of sorts, educating the customer, understanding their needs all the while being able to clearly explain why the recommendations are important, not only in terms of maintaining wholesome water, but also as to how proper water balance, calcium hardness, sanitizer levels and trace levels of metals also play a role in maintaining proper system function and protecting plaster, fiberglass or vinyl surfaces.

Indeed, the range of factors now commonly tested using state-of-the-art systems extend well beyond santizers, pH, total alkalinity and calcium to include other factors such as metals, nitrates, turpidity and total dissolved solids, among others. As the consumer becomes more aware of those facets of water quality, they’re appreciation of the complexity increases and so does their willingness to purchase appropriate chemicals to contend with spectrum of issues impacting safety and serviceability.

MARKETING DATA

Perhaps the greatest advancement in test center technology is the ability to maintain detailed data on each customer and their systems. These days, sales associates can immediately access the testing history of a given body of water, past recommendations, purchases and overall how effective those measures have been in addressing clients’ specific situations.

If, for example, a customer has experienced issues with algae, the sales associate can inquire if the algaecide they recommended was able to effectively solve the problem. If the recommendations have proved successful, it reminds the customer of the help they received in the past. If the problem persists, they can suggest additional remedies, perhaps increasing filter cycles, increasing the frequency of service or alternative products that might help.

The same holds true for a range of issues including water clarity, problems with surface scale or staining or etching. Because the potential variables are so vast and every body of water is different, testing data and customer history and profiles enable the retailer to treat each customer individually, thus increasing the importance and value of the store’s products, staff and ultimately the specialized service — all qualities that set retailers apart from establishments that are concerned only with moving product out the door.

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

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