How COVID Changed Retail Store Water Testing

Photo courtesy Johnson Pools and Spas
Photo courtesy Johnson Pools and Spas

Screen Shot 2021 05 13 At 12 08 16 Pm

The pandemic created difficulties for pool and spa retailers but, for many, it also created opportunities to think outside the box and develop new ways to meet customer needs and generate new revenue streams. Companies altered their customer service, sales, inventory and HR departments, just to name a few, in order to survive and prosper amid the many challenges presented by COVID.

No area was more dramatically affected than the water test counter, a place where customers have traditionally gathered face-to-face with retailers for some H2O analysis and a little small talk. As we know, in 2020, the term "face-to-face" took on new connotations.

"Last year, many people had more time than ever to spend in their pool, but had to make sure it stayed clean and clear without exposing themselves to the additional COVID contact risk of shopping for chemicals in a local pool store," explains Steve White, owner of Underwater Pool Masters in Boylston, Mass.

Customer apprehensions and new regulations requiring social distancing in stores led to a complete overhaul of pool and spa retail systems in general, and certainly water test areas in particular, but some of those changes worked so well they will last long after regulations are gone.

Some retailers have made changes to speed up the process to handle more tests, while others have started to provide professional, at-home, poolside water testing — rather than just having customers bring water samples into the retail store. These changes, born of necessity, are becoming permanent because they are more profitable and enhance the customer/dealer relationship.

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The need for speed and accuracy in water test strip processing was a driver at Crystal Pools, a three-store operation in Harrisburg, Pa., according to Josh Culp, general manager. "In the pandemic, due in part to limitations on the amount of people that we were able to let into the showroom, wait times for customers looking for water tests were extended. We rely on water testing to help with product sales, and the total number of tests we did in 2020 went down.

"To help with that, we brought on new equipment between the three stores that cuts down the test time, at least in half, if not more. So it's a much quicker test, and we've tested it against our reagents and gotten the same result, so even though it's faster, we have a lot of confidence in the results.

"We have them at our Mechanicsburg location, which is by far our busiest — there are times where they'll line up 15 to 20 people deep just to get a water test. We want to speed that up." 


Luke from Underwater Pool Masters in Boylston, Mass., assesses pool water chemistry on location and prepares a report to be sent to the customer. (Photo credit Underwater Pool Masters)Luke from Underwater Pool Masters in Boylston, Mass., assesses pool water chemistry on location and prepares a report to be sent to the customer. (Photo credit Underwater Pool Masters)Like Culp, White was worried last year about lost income from his otherwise profitable in-store, water-testing service. But one of White's friends, a marketing specialist on the west coast, encouraged him to look at this as an opportunity to distinguish his business. "She said to me, 'Steve, why don't you take your expertise directly to the customer, right to their doorstep. Give them extra personal service and charge a premium.' And it turns out, she was right."

From the encouragement given by his friend, the Underwater Pool Masters team took the dramatic step of developing the company's new Poolside Chemist program, designed to bring testing literally to the poolside of the customer. For a small fee, a CPO-level technician arrives at the home, assesses pool water chemistry and then applies the necessary chemicals in a contactless experience for the customer. The technician then emails a summary and results to the customer.

At some dealerships, this idea started to emerge even prior to the pandemic. Dan Lenz of All Seasons Pools in Illinois also saw a business opportunity for his service department by creating a mobile water testing service. "We realized there would be a real opportunity to get into the backyard to test the pool water and examine the entire pool while water testing," says Lenz. "There are hundreds of folks who come into our store every year with their water for testing, and they usually just test their water, buy their chemicals, a vac or a brush, and leave the store. We know nothing else about their pool," explains Lenz. "But by being at the pool to test the water, our techs can look around at the entire pool and the pool equipment, scouting for opportunities to upgrade pumps, heaters, filters and more importantly, help a pool owner determine why they might be experiencing a chronic water problem or staining that has more to do with the pool's equipment than chemicals."

Because the new mobile water testing service was a means for the All Seasons service department to develop leads, Lenz and his team created a detailed checklist for their techs to use when doing the mobile water testing so that techs are sure to get a complete profile of the pool, including photos of the pool, the pump room and the backyard surroundings. This profile is then used as a service lead for selling additional services and products in the future.

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It was a bit of an upfront investment to purchase the equipment and get the service going, but Lenz feels the potential revenue from the sales leads will quickly cover the initial cost — not to mention the fees charged for the mobile water testing service itself. Lenz had started to pioneer this program prior to the pandemic but when the lockdowns began, made it a priority.

Underwater Pool Masters is also taking advantage of the opportunities that come with being in the backyard examining the pool. "While on the scene [for a Poolside Chemist treatment], explains White, "the Underwater Pool Masters techs have diagnosed and fixed multiple leaks, initiated replacement of old equipment and the addition of automatic chlorinators, and addressed a handful of other issues and upgrades."

Pandemic conditions forced retailers to restructure their systems for providing products and services, leading to permanent changes in the industry. Here, an employee of All Seasons meets a customer at a designated parking spot to deliver products. (Photo courtesy All Seasons)Pandemic conditions forced retailers to restructure their systems for providing products and services, leading to permanent changes in the industry. Here, an employee of All Seasons meets a customer at a designated parking spot to deliver products. (Photo courtesy All Seasons)



Both Underwater Pool Masters and All Seasons are now building valuable databases of information as a result of creating mobile poolside, watertesting programs. Rachael Pritz, VP at RB Retail & Service Software says the company has experienced an uptick in new customers who are interested in integrating their business management software with their water testing programs. "Being able to provide staff with real-time, immediate access to important water testing information, as well as other customer and company data, gives pool and spa businesses the tools to create sales opportunities and an exceptional customer service experience," she says.

The use of mobile apps has exploded for every business in light of the pandemic, as apps have made it easier than ever — for both consumers and retailers — to make safe transactions and stay in touch while maintaining social distancing. There are now many useful mobile apps available through business software packages or as stand alone tools.

"Delivering exceptional service can be challenging during the busy season when insufficient checkout resources at peak times often lead to long lines, frustrated customers and lost sales," says Pritz. "Taking water testing poolside and using mobile apps can help resolve these issues."

Mobile service apps with water testing integration give techs the ability to save test results automatically for record keeping and, along with before and after service pictures, can even be added to the customer's post-visit electronic door hanger. "Savvy pool and spa retail and service departments are embracing technology to create new opportunities for business revenue that will last far beyond this pandemic," says Pritz.


Both Lenz and White agree that going mobile with water testing has opened up new marketing opportunities.

"This spring, we already have our promotional materials complete and have started mailing postcards to customers that only came in to test water and are not using our pool service, helping us add new clients to our service department," says Lenz.

White adds that he was delighted to find that his program was popular among new pool owners as a way to ensure that they maintained proper chemical levels throughout their first season of enjoyment with their family.

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"With all the new pools that were installed this season, our customer base increased dramatically, but the Poolside Chemical program has already helped us gain customer loyalty among this new group of pool owners."

For Underwater Pool Masters, this program has proved to be a valued convenience for customers amid the pandemic, but is sure to remain a valuable convenience for many moving forward with or without strict social distancing guidelines. "In fact, for anyone comfortable cleaning their pool on their own, or with the help of an automatic vacuum, the Poolside Chemist program on a weekly or biweekly schedule can essentially serve as a "well-visit" for a pool and pool owner to sustain pristine conditions while learning a bit about pool chemistry and pool safety in the meantime," says White. "It's been a blessing to have technology and friends that have provided invaluable support during these challenging times."

This article first appeared in the June 2021 issue of AQUA Magazine — 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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