A Brick-and-Mortar Retailer Fights Back

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Vritual reality offers an immersive design experience and can place customers right in their very own backyards.
Vritual reality offers an immersive design experience and can place customers right in their very own backyards.

Kiosks ask customers preliminary questions, ultimately suggesting the right product for them.Kiosks ask customers preliminary questions, ultimately suggesting the right product for them.

The brick-and-mortar shopping experience is changing, as customers have higher expectations β€” especially in a post-pandemic environment β€” for a seamless shopping experience that rivals that of an e-commerce website. But there are still ways for a brick-and-mortar retailer to compete: Implementing technology into your showroom can increase sales and enhance the overall customer experience.

For a perfect example of a technology-first showroom, look no further than Richard's Total Backyard Solutions in Houston, Texas. The company, which has the largest showroom in Texas at 10,000 sq. ft., underwent a full remodel in 2017, implementing several new technologies β€” and even developing its own company app β€” throughout its sales floor.

Here, we talk to the company about the technology that is helping to drive its business forward.


Richard's Total Backyard Solutions has adopted an experiential retail approach in the modern marketplace, working to create fully functional product examples. "Our customers are not walking into our showroom and looking at small samples of our products," says Cristina Nikolov, the company's social media marketing manager. "We strive to have full, lifesize examples of what products would look like in their backyards."

During its renovation, the company built an indoor pool in its showroom. "While the water may be cold, the pool itself is fully functional," says Nikolov. Complete with an automation system, the lifesize model offers customers an in depth consultation, working to create a list of likes and dislikes β€” the pool showcases three different plaster colors, for example β€” based on the model in front of them.

The pool also connects to an Amazon Alexa, which shows potential buyers just how easy it is to control.

"Customers can connect to the Amazon Alexa and try it firsthand," says Nikolov. "We let the client play with the technology and different ways it can be applied. It may be as simple as turning on the pool lights via Alexa."

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It was also important to Vice President Julie Richard that the entire design process, from start to finish, was done inhouse. "When customers have a consult here, a consult there, communication gets lost in transit," says Richard. "Some pool and spa retailers are not able to do the entire design process in the showroom, and I wanted to make that a priority. Part of that comes from having lifesize models and materials readily available for them to make informed design decisions."

When retailers can ease the design process, it certainly takes out some of the anxiety that comes from investing in a large purchase and makes the process a lot more fun.


Virtual reality is an advancing adoption within the retail industry for its ability to deeply personalize a customer's experience. Richard's Total Backyard Solutions utilizes this technology β€” the company works with Vip3D by Structure Studios β€” to place homeowners in their very own backyards, so they can see firsthand what a pool or hot tub will look like in their space.

"We want the product, whether a hot tub or pool, to feel natural in their backyard environment," says Nikolov. "Virtual reality has the ability to let customers jump in and out of pools. They can sit down, get up. Is the pool too close to the backdoor? Do they need more space to walk around the pool itself? They can completely step into the software and fine tune details to their liking."

While Nikolov acknowledges that virtual reality is a big investment, she says the benefits are plentiful. In stimulating an immersive environment customers wouldn't otherwise experience, not only can homeowners more accurately visualize their design choices, but also leave with more confidence in their purchase. "They have the ability to change it before we build it," she says. "Which leaves less problems at the end of the build and higher customer satisfaction overall."

Lifesize product examples β€” like this fully functional indoor pool β€” give customers a better idea of the final product.Lifesize product examples β€” like this fully functional indoor pool β€” give customers a better idea of the final product.



A large majority of shoppers are asking for a self-help experience via technologies like kiosks and interactive displays. These allow customers to look up the information they need while still engaging them in a brand and product. Richard's Total Backyard Solutions has two kiosks (Pentair and Endless Pools) on its showroom floor and works to control the product messaging and what features to highlight, while providing a hands-off experience for independent customers.

"The kiosk is an even better way to educate the customer about products without having to watch a typical video," explains Nikolov. "It creates movement, color, sound and more to spell out the different products available to them."

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The company is one of few showrooms in the nation to work with Pentair to beta test new products in its Pentair kiosk. It also has an Endless Pool kiosk for customers looking to purchase swim spas.

"Originally, we first brought in three Endless Pool fitness systems to showcase in our showroom. But the models are large, some are 12, 15 or even 20 feet long," says Nikolov. "In this case, the lifesize model was simply clogging up the showroom, which was hard for customers. We got rid of all that and opted for the kiosk."

The kiosk takes consumers on a journey that is right for them, asking them simple questions about fitness, family, fun, leisure, etc. As they continue to answer these preliminary questions, it starts to build the right model for them, ultimately ending with a suggestion. "It has been a really great selling tool for the more independent buyers," says Nikolov. "Of course, sales associates are still readily available to answer any questions and take product orders."


To further streamline staff and customer communication, the company created its very own Richard's app. "We found that customers are looking for transparency," says Richard, "and the app has allowed us to create that transparency with everyone involved on a job, whether on a service route or on a build."

The customer has full access to their construction plans via the app as well as daily logs, photos and videos submitted by a project manager. Anytime someone enters their backyard, the customer is notified.

"A lot of our clients are not home during the build, and the app takes care of questions that come from not knowing what the builders worked on that day, at what time and for how long," says Nikolov. The customer can even allow guest access into the portal via Facebook, so the whole family can follow along. "Now your client's mother-in-law has access to build," jokes Nikolov.

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The app has held builders more accountable β€” they can avoid costly mistakes and time-wasting trips back to the office by having all job notes at their fingertips anywhere in the field. Richard's has also made stronger relationships with its subcontractors. They simply place fulfilled work orders into the app, which are sent to its accounting department to deliver payment directly to them.

The app also gives support after the build, housing pool school materials and informational videos to get new pool owners started with proper care and maintenance.

Richard's Total Backyard Solutions has the largest showroom in Texas at 10,000 sq. ft.Richard's Total Backyard Solutions has the largest showroom in Texas at 10,000 sq. ft.


On top of text messaging, Richard's Total Backyard Solutions noticed an opportunity to develop better relationships with their clients β€” especially compared to big box stores β€” by creating custom greetings prior to appointments. The videos are no longer than 30 seconds and have increased leads and transformed business relationships.

"The clients now know who they are going to be working with," says Nikolov. "Whether it's in recognizing who is coming to their home to service their pool and who will be on their design team, placing a face to a voice has revolutionized our ability to get in touch with clients faster and build relationships."

The company also creates a video for each of its monthly marketing campaigns, which it then posts to social. "The videos are meant to be funny and silly," says Richard. "If our customers can see us having fun in our work environment and creating these fun videos, it entices them to work with us. We've had huge success via a video platform." (Check out the company's "Mama Needs a Hot Tub" campaign over Mother's Day, which was trending on the internet, for a prime example.)


Specialty pool and spa retailers must continue to evolve and implement technology across all facets of their business to succeed. But even Richard's Total Backyard Solutions admits it has come a long way. "Years ago, it was really weird for us to picture ourselves where we're at today," says Nikolov.

But the change and investment has been worth it β€” and the business' 7,000-plus satisfied customers would agree. "Retailers need to invest in technology; they just need to," says Richard. "Some people are resistant to change, but as an owner of a business, they absolutely must drive business forward. The people who gave me resistance are the very ones who came and thanked me later for putting the technology in place."


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