Get the Best Out of Your Test

Oov 620 Aq Sevenseaswatercounter Feat

Water Testing 620 Sm

Midday on a Monday early in the pool season, a customer walks into a pool and spa showroom with a sample of water collected just before making the short drive to the store. An employee — expert in test equipment and customer care — greets her by name and pours the water into a test unit, which spins into action. The test takes just a short time, which the employee uses to review the customer's history and strike up a conversation. Any questions about your pool? How is that auto vac working out for you? Five minutes later, the machine spits out a prescription, including easy-to-follow instructions, which the employee patiently explains before seeing the customer off with a friendly smile and a bagful of chemicals.

Scenes like this play out in pool stores day after day, year after year. They are so commonplace that it's tempting to think of them as little more than a nice little freebie for your customers. But of course, they're so much more than that.

At Aqua Pool & Spa Center in San Diego, customers have these same conversations over the testing counter with President Suann Clayton or one of her three employees. These exchanges generate both goodwill and good data, which Clayton puts to good use at Aqua Pool & Spa.


I spoke with Clayton at the end of March — a period when her store would normally be buzzing with customers looking to get a jump on the early Southern California swim season. This year traffic has been lighter, but she's thankful there's any at all in light
of the state's pandemic lockdown.

"We're deemed an essential business because we deal with water sanitation, so we are open normal business hours. We're still running our pool service routes, and we're still doing repairs," Clayton says. "For the people coming into the store, everybody is doing six feet of social distancing, and I have a jar with sanitized pens that I trade out, and we wipe everything down between customers. We're trying to take extra precautions to keep ourselves and the customers safe." Customers that can't make it during business hours or don't want to enter can drop water samples off outside the store.

Clayton lamented the slow start, but was sure that as the weather warmed and stay-at-home orders loosened, the usual throngs of customers would be coming in with samples for high-tech testing without much prodding.

"We have computerized water testing, so it collects a profile on the customer, as well as a history of what is going on with the water. And after 21 years in business, the customers are pretty well trained to come in for the tests," she says. "We also have repairs and cleaner sales that we run a database on, so it's a lot of different information we can use. One thing we do with it is our Zodiac Days sale. We'll go through the database of all the people who have made purchases, and we'll do either an email or regular mailing to remind them they need to bring in their cleaners for refurbishment, and we'll offer a discount on parts. We're always looking to use the database to connect with customers."

Clayton uses software that tracks sales and service, water test results, chemical purchases and even coordinates service routes and tracks inventory. She's been happy with it, but has her eye on an upgrade to a cloudbased system to centralize the data and make it easier to leverage it in real time.

Another dealer, Oasis Pools & Spas in the Kansas City metro area, uses a Clear Care testing station. The equipment/software combination is a partnership between Lonza and Evosus that syncs databases on test results, inventory and invoice history across multiple stores, though that feature isn't needed at the single store, located northwest of the big city on the Kansas side of the Missouri River.

"It's proven to be a great and useful tool for adding customers and tracking their tests and sales," says CPO Ray Schultz. "We haven't unlocked the full potential yet, but we have utilized the data to assess the practicality of mailing a certain coupon at a certain time. We also cross reference the test history with customer sales to determine who is a loyal customer and who is abusing our free testing."

At Seven Seas Pools and Spas in western Pennsylvania, Manager Ron Perkins also compares test results with chemical sales with ALEX Pro software and a LaMotte WaterLink setup. He identifies freeloaders, too, but chalks it up to the cost of doing business, and chooses to view them as an opportunity rather than an annoyance.

"You want to know who they are because you want to try to win their business," Perkins explains. "They're in your showroom, so have a conversation with them. Maybe you can uncover why they're going somewhere else to buy the chemicals.

"If this makes them uncomfortable, it's OK. They weren't buying anyway! But if you're honest with them, you could turn them into a customer for life! Sometimes they'll just never come back after you have this talk. But again, what have you lost?"

Overwhelmingly, Perkins says, combining his water test station with customer data analysis results in a powerful marketing tool. Each spring, he runs an early-buy promotion where he looks at each water-test customer's history and what chemicals they purchased the year before, then puts together a mailer that doubles as a checklist those customers can use to buy chemicals for the upcoming season.

"They can mark off what they already have and come to the showroom and take advantage of discounted rates to buy all their chemicals for the year," he says. "They can also use that list to go online and build an order, then pull up, load up and go, without even talking to us."

The promotion helps sell chemicals in the spring and enables the store to run more smoothly in the summer.

"When you've pumped out chemicals during the early-buy sale," Perkins explains, "now you can work on the water tests without having to fetch chemicals and restock shelves. That stuff is all done. So we're maneuvering the workload around so you don't have to hire so many people to handle those surges." (He's flattening the curve!)

Photo courtesy Oasis Pools & SpasPhoto courtesy Oasis Pools & Spas



Norm Coburn is the owner of New England Spas in Massachusetts. His company does testing on hot tub water at its stores in Natick, Auburn and Norwell, all less than an hour's drive from Boston. Employees at each of the three stores can look up every customer interaction, including water tests, chemical and equipment purchases, and have access to that data going back years.

"What we do then is make an evaluation of their history, so we can suggest some products they might want to purchase while they're in the store to either resolve problems they've had before or to recognize that their supply of XYZ chemical must be out by now," Coburn says. "If they've had a history with cloudy water or a funny smell or issues with too many minerals in the water, we are well equipped to make suggestions to remedy those issues. 'Say, it says here you're been having trouble with foam. How is that going?' We encourage conversations at the counter, then use that data from those conversations to help the customer."

Coburn says not only do the talks over the testing counter spur sales, they also show the customer the store personnel are paying attention and providing continuity of service. Who'd want to visit a dealer and explain a hot tub's history every time you walk in?

Sometimes, that testing and service history comes in handy even after a homeowner moves away.

"We can transfer the records to a new owner if they inherit a hot tub, so we can maintain that continuity and that understanding of what that history has been," Coburn says. "It's just kind of neat for a new homeowner to have that information."

In the spring of COVID-19, though, people were not moving into or out of the area. Many were not moving off of their couches. Coburn's stores were closed, and salespeople and counter help were pressed into service as shipping clerks and delivery drivers to get needed supplies to customers.

"These people are kind of up a creek right now, and if you've got a hot tub and you need chlorine, you need chlorine," he says. "So our people are pulling together to make sure that our customers can get the full enjoyment and benefit of what they bought from us. It's keeping us busy."

The water test and customer databases are also playing a role in the new normal at New England Spas, Coburn says.

"A lot of what we're doing is just getting on the phone and calling these existing customers and saying, 'How's it going? Do you need anything?'"


Once the quarantine period passes into history, and we begin to make out the contours of a changed society, some of the things dealers are doing will likely pass, too. Others, though, are here to stay, and water-testing can be a big part of that, Perkins says.

"People need to look at water testing as life support for the industry," he says. "That experience needs to be the No. 1 priority for anyone who wants to survive in this business. And water testing is going to have to change as people's buying habits change."

Perkins says he is working on a drive-up water testing station where a customer can pull up to a window with a water sample, and then pull up to a warehouse to load up on chemicals curbside.

"The people will get all the information they want, with fast service, and never have to leave their cars," he says. "They can sit in the car and finish up their conference call, sip their coffee and check email while you take care of the test. In and out. I really think what's going on right now with the curbside pickup because of the virus is just scratching the surface.

"People's expectations are changing
and we have to change, too."


Content Library
Dig through our best stories from the magazine, all sorted by category for easy surfing.
Read More
Content Library
Buyer's Guide
Find manufacturers and suppliers in the most extensive searchable database in the industry.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide