Delivery, at Your Service

Jane Merritt of Anchor Pools started the delivery service in 2019. It left the company perfectly positioned to deal with the customer supply problems of COVID.
Jane Merritt of Anchor Pools started the delivery service in 2019. It left the company perfectly positioned to deal with the customer supply problems of COVID.

Felicia Finley visits one of the pools on her delivery route, chemicals in hand.Felicia Finley visits one of the pools on her delivery route, chemicals in hand.

Jane Merritt of Anchor Pools, a second-generation pool and spa company in Easley, S.C., has been "working on pools since she knew the difference between a shovel and a hoe." Like many industry professionals, she was born into the family business. In fact, Anchor Pools was founded in 1978, the same year Merritt was born.

Merritt got her official start in the company's retail sector at the age of 13 β€” the company also specializes in building gunite pools, service and maintenance β€” and after receiving a Bachelors of Science degree in Business from Lander University in 2001, she came on full time.

When Anchor Pools opened its second retail location in 2006, Merritt moved into a larger role. "I wanted to prove to myself that I could successfully run a second location, especially after college," she says. With her knack for retail, the location was profitable.

Then, one day, Merritt received a visit from her mother that changed her concept of the business. "My mom came into my office and wanted me to help her set up an account for a delivery program," she says. "She was so thrilled with it, over the next three months, she stopped everyone that would listen to her and told them how much she liked the delivery system.

"It made me think: That's my bread and butter group of people, and if my mom likes a delivery service that much, it's more than likely that my customers would like one, too."

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In February of 2019, Anchor Pools started to offer its customers delivery. The program saw a lot of success β€” so much so, that in October 2019, eight months after starting the service, Merritt confidently shut down the company's second location in favor of the delivery initiative. "I realized that I could retain my customer base without the cost of the second retail location, because people responded so well to delivery," she says.

Anchor Pools now maintains its original retail store alongside the delivery service. Here, we talk to the company about the ins and outs of the delivery program that not only positioned the company very well for the global pandemic, but was so successful that it eclipsed the sales of the company's (now-closed) second retail location.

Each morning, employees are briefed on their delivery routes via Google Calendar.Each morning, employees are briefed on their delivery routes via Google Calendar.

 

GETTING STARTED

At the start of the program, Anchor Pools offered delivery to customers who purchased $50 or more in product. "It was a layaway program for chemicals," explains Merritt. "On April 1st, after payments had been made, I'd deliver the chemicals to them."

As part of the layaway package, every two weeks, participating customers could get their water tested free of charge. And, with the chemicals already delivered and waiting, they could be used as needed. Customers could also get other products β€” like brushes, nets, a new pump, etc. β€” delivered, too, on an as-needed basis.

This worked so well that the model was adapted and expanded to a 60-mile radius around the original store, and the second retail location was shut down, with special attention paid to serve the customers of the now-closed retail shop.

While the company still offers the $50 layaway program, it's not a requirement. Instead, if customers spend $15 or more on product, they qualify for the free delivery service.

Part of the team at Anchor Pools. From left to right: Brian Alexander, Amanda Johnston, Felicia Finley, Jacob Rogers, Mindy Pickard, Jane Merritt, JR Quade, Stephanie Helton and John Hester.Part of the team at Anchor Pools. From left to right: Brian Alexander, Amanda Johnston, Felicia Finley, Jacob Rogers, Mindy Pickard, Jane Merritt, JR Quade, Stephanie Helton and John Hester.

 

A NORMAL DAY

Anchor Pools has about 20 employees on its payroll. Of that group, one person is in charge of the scheduling and bookkeeping of the delivery service, and there are two full-time employees that work year-round as drivers β€” they also double as service and maintenance pros, because oftentimes, a delivery is accompanied with pool service.

At the height of the season, two more employees are placed on delivery, so the company can have four drivers at one time.

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Stephanie Helton is one of the two full-time employees that works year-round on delivery. "Each morning, I receive my delivery schedule via Google Calendar," explains Helton. "I gather what I will be delivering that day, making sure to include special parts or something abnormal that I might not already have in my van, which is fully stocked with chemicals."

Customers have placed orders via the company's website or by calling in. "We also have a lot of customers that prefer to place orders via text [Anchor Pools uses the texting program Skipio]. And we have a cell phone that is separate from the store phone, which we call the delivery line," says Helton.

Anchor Pools' original location first opened in 1979.Anchor Pools' original location first opened in 1979.

 

Orders are delivered within 24 hours after they are placed, and sometimes, if customers call early enough in the day, Helton can provide same-day delivery. "A normal day for me consists of 10 to 15 deliveries, depending on how many stops involve maintenance," says Helton. "At the height of the season, 50% of stops usually include service, but during the offseason, it's mostly just deliveries and some water tests."

Once on the delivery route, Helton will alert the customer when she is on the way. If the customer is not home, they've already specified where they want the delivery to be placed, which is noted in Helton's Google Calendar.

"We always take a picture of whatever we leave, wherever we leave it, for security reasons," says Helton. "The delivery images β€” as well as water testing results, if the delivery includes a service β€” are placed in an internal communication app called CompanyCam," says Helton. "The customer always receives that information."

The delivery is followed by a bill for the product(s) and/or service.

While on the route, opportunities for promotion will arise, and when they do, Helton is prepared. "If I drive through a neighborhood and see a house that has a pool, and it's not one we serve, I will leave a flyer at their door," says Helton. "We have gotten customers by doing this."

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The company also promotes the delivery service in the store, on its website and social media, and Merritt does a postcard program. But the main source of newcomers is by word of mouth.

The delivery number, separate from the company's, is listed on Anchor Pools' fleet of vehicles.The delivery number, separate from the company's, is listed on Anchor Pools' fleet of vehicles.

 

A SUCCESSFUL SEASON

Because of the delivery initiative, Anchor Pools was uniquely positioned for success during the global pandemic, which is not lost on Merritt. "I was ahead of the game, I guess, with the global pandemic," she says. "We had already worked out the growing pains β€” a lot of which was nailing down how to talk to customers β€” and I happened to already be doing what everyone in the industry wound up trying to do."

In 2020, from March to October (the company's busiest months) Merritt estimates they made 7,400 customer stops. It was in July when sales for delivery and maintenance exceeded those of the closed location. And, as of this interview, the company's sales are still higher with the delivery service than they were with the second location.

"We continue to make this delivery service work, even in the offseason," says Merritt. "I think delivery is doable for everybody, especially in today's retail environment."


This article first appeared in the February 2021 issue of AQUA Magazine β€” the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.

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