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Customer demands and expectations are rapidly changing amid ongoing staffing shortages and a coming economic slowdown. Here’s how to thrive in the next new normal.
October 5, 2022
Since the pandemic started, many pool and spa retailers may feel like they’ve been put through the wringer with all the whiplash changes they’ve had to endure from navigating COVID shutdowns to managing an explosion in demand to supply chain bottlenecks.
But as retailers head into the next pool and spa season, they need to get ready for a different set of changes—if they hope to not only survive but also thrive.
That’s the message Jane Merritt, owner of Anchor Pools and chair of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance retail council, has for her peers. “After three years of this, it’s exhausting,” said Merritt. “But if you’re not staying ahead of the curve, you’re going to get lost really quick.”
What does staying ahead of the curve mean as retailers look to 2023? Here are four key pivots Merritt said they need to make in the ever-changing retail market:
Addressing changing customer demands and expectations. There’s a lot of volatility still in price and supply from distributors and manufacturers. That means retailers must stay on top of what they have ordered and what they’re paying—and ensure they’re passing on any increases to customers.
At the same time, Merritt said customers are becoming more demanding and discerning. “They want it here and now with all the bells and whistles at the cheapest price without having to talk to anyone,” she said.
Ensuring websites are up to date and user friendly is a good way to cater to these customers, along with providing online delivery options and POS systems with touchless payment options such as Apple Pay.
“Customers are changing the way they buy,” Merritt said. “People say, ‘We’ve done this the same way since the ‘80s,’ but if we don’t adapt to how people want to buy, we won’t have a job.”
Attracting and maintaining staff amid ongoing worker shortages. Lack of workers isn’t going away. But Merritt is one of the few retailers who hasn’t had to deal with staffing shortages. In fact, she not only kept all her employees but also grew her staff.
In addition to following recruitment and retainment best practices, she recognized that workers want more than just a paycheck.
“Basically, it’s how you treat your employees,” said Merritt, who employs 20 workers ages 18 to 61. “But you cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ way of management because everyone responds differently. It just depends on what’s going in in their lives.”
Rebooting marketing and advertising plans. Since the pandemic, demand for products has been so high that many retailers have simply had to keep their doors open in order to be successful. But with inflation and continued economic uncertainty, many industry experts say retailers will need to get back to the basics of marketing and advertising to maintain—and grow—their customer base.
“There was so much demand, I don’t think we could have done more business and still kept our sanity. But we’re coming to a slowdown,” warned Merritt. “It’s now necessary to get back to pre-COVID standards of what you do for marketing and advertising.”
Honing your customer base. As retailers restart marketing and advertising campaigns it’s wise to revisit who they want as customers—and where they want to focus their business.
“I can’t be everything to everybody,” Merritt said. “So, you have to pick what you’re good at and exceed everyone else in that area.”
For some retailers, honing customers might mean changing product offerings or becoming more niched. Merritt’s retail locations don’t sell portable spas or above-ground pools, so she can focus on pool maintenance.
But honing customers might also mean deciding who you want coming into your store. For example, Merritt said she doesn’t want customers who are only interested in price. So, she’ll market her business to higher-end clients who are more interested in customer service.
“It’s going to get back to, ‘How can I help you? And what else can I do for you?’” she said.
Merritt will be discussing all these topics and more at the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo on Nov. 15 from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. at the Las Vegas Convention Center in a session titled “How to Survive and Thrive in an Ever-Changing Retail World.”
Gary Thill is an independent writer and editor with an extensive background in the residential and commercial construction sectors. He served as editor of the Replacement Contractor newsletter for five years and has contributed regularly to Remodeling and other construction-focused publications for several decades. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.
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