raphael-biscaldi-unsplash_ swimming pool spa

Industry Focus: Dive into Swimming Pool and Spa Retailers

raphael-biscaldi-unsplash_ swimming pool spaWho would have guessed that, in addition to toilet paper and hand sanitizer, swimming pools, spas, and pool supplies would be hot commodities during the pandemic?

PoolCentral.com saw above-ground sales increase 250 to 300 percent versus year-ago, starting in May 2020. The company reported a complete sell-out of pools within two hours of posting availability online. Want a hot tub? You’re in for a 6- to 10-month wait. For in-ground pool installation, waiting lists already reach well into 2022.

And then there is the demand for the necessary products that come with pool and hot tub ownership. There is a shortage of chlorine products caused by the pandemic-related increase in swimming pool sales, but also due to a fire that destroyed a Louisiana factory which accounted for about 80 percent of the country’s supply. Industry experts say that a bucket of chlorine could cost about $200 more than it did in 2020.

With all of this in mind, let’s dive in and take a closer look at swimming pool and spa retailers.

The big-picture of swimming pool and spa retailers’ operations

  • The 10,000 swimming pool and spa retailers in the U.S. sell above-ground and in-ground pools, hot tubs, and related equipment, supplies, and merchandise, and generate approximately $5 billion in annual revenue.
  • Other merchandise categories include backyard and patio furniture, grills, and saunas. Firms may also offer pool and hot tub maintenance, repair, construction, or renovation services.
  • The average swimming pool and spa retailer employs 32 workers and generates about $500,000 in annual revenue.
  • The industry is highly fragmented and dominated by independent operators and franchisees that operate within a limited geographical market.
  • About 8 percent of U.S. households have a backyard swimming pool (in- or above-ground), according to PK Data.
  • Demand for pool and spa supplies is highly seasonal and dependent on climate and weather conditions in a particular geographical area.

Top trends for swimming pool and spa retailers

Slow Recovery for Pools

Strong economic conditions and U.S. real estate markets are boosting growth for new installations and sales for swimming pool retailers. In 2017, new inground residential pool construction experienced its first double-digit growth in over 30 years, according to PK Data. In 2020, sales of in-ground pools jumped 24 percent with above-ground pools up 20 percent. Annual new pool installations stand at an estimated 50,000 to 60,000, still far short of peak volume of 180,000 installation per year in the mid-2000s.

Housing Gains Ground

Growth in the residential housing market is gaining, a data point closely tied to demand for new pool installations. Growth for starts of single-family homes increased 9.4 percent in 2016, 8.6 percent in 2017, 3.2 percent in 2018, 1.4 percent in 2019, and a whopping 11.5 percent in 2020. The luxury housing market skyrocketed in 2020, according to Redfin, boosting demand for high-end pools.

Hot Tub Sales Slow

Due to healthier economic conditions, the spa industry is growing its sales. Sales of hot tubs increased 6 percent in 2018, marking a sixth consecutive year of growth, but declined 9 percent in 2019. The number of older spas taken out of services is outpacing the number sold, which results in a smaller customer base. Sales of swim spas and imported hot tubs are a small but growing influence on the U.S. market.

Energy Efficiency

Interest in cost-savings and energy conservation has encouraged pool owners to investigate more efficient pool pumps and heaters. Variable speed pumps run at low levels during the filter cycle and high levels when the pool is in use, allowing owners to save hundreds of dollars annually on electricity bills. LED pool lighting also allows owners to save energy.

Risks to the swimming pool and spa industry to consider

  • Vulnerable to economic and construction trends: Demand for swimming pool supplies, above ground pools, hot tubs, and related products is highly dependent on changes in economic conditions and the associated effect on the construction market. Similar to the real estate market, the pool and spa retail industry has been slow to recover from the last recession.
  • Competition from alternative sources: Swimming pool and spa retailers face competition from a variety of formidable sources, including mass merchandisers, Internet retailers, pool contractors, and DIY customers. In some cases, customers take advantage of free water testing services at pool supply retailers, only to purchase chemicals at a mass merchandiser or Internet site for less.
  • Seasonal demand: Demand for pool and spa supplies is highly seasonal and dependent on climate and weather conditions in a particular geographical area. Pool use peaks during warm weather months. Higher usage and weather extremes (heavy rain, intense heat) affect water balance and drive the need for chemicals, services, and related products.
  • Hot tub aftermarket: Hot tub retailers face additional competition from used units sold in the aftermarket. Ownership dynamics work against the industry: Almost 40 percent of all hot tubs are resold or given away, according to PK Data. The average ownership tenure for a hot tub is 7.5 years.
  • Salt chlorinators: Salt chlorine generators virtually eliminate or greatly reduce the need for added chlorine, one of the top selling items at pool supply retailers. Salt chorine is also easier on swimmer’s eyes, hair, and bathing suits, and pool owners that switch to salt chlorine generators can save hundreds of dollars annually on chemicals.
  • Evolving technology: The pool and spa industry is evolving as equipment manufacturers leverage advances in technology to offer better products like pool control systems that link to the Internet. Staying current with the latest technology is challenge and requires ongoing education for sales staff and service providers.
  • Water shortages: Droughts in some states have created water shortages and led local governments and zoning boards to withhold permits for new pools until drought conditions end. Drought-related regulation can limit new pool construction and effectively hinder demand for related equipment, supplies, and services.
  • Staff management: Due to the highly seasonal nature of the swimming pool supply industry, managing labor costs can be a challenge. Unable to afford a full staff during the off-season, many small, independent retailers are forced to significantly increase staff and employ temporary workers during the summer to accommodate surges in demand.

Want this kind of in-depth analysis on hundreds of other industries?

Vertical IQ’s Industry Profiles cover more than 90 percent of the businesses that comprise the U.S. economy, and we are continuously adding new industries.

All of the industry information in this post came directly from the Vertical IQ Industry Profile on Swimming Pool and Spa Retailers. Reviewing this profile, or even doing a quick five-minute review of the industry’s Call Prep Sheet, gives you valuable insights into your prospect within this niche — their opportunities as well as the issues that may be keeping them up at night.

Ready to get started? Contact us today for more information or a demo!

Image credit: Raphael Biscaldi, Unsplash

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flowerbed; landscaping services

Industry Focus: Landscaping Services Are In Season

flowerbed; landscaping servicesSpring is in the air in much of the U.S., and that means it’s go-time for the nation’s 102,200 landscaping services companies. Their services, including traditional mowing, leaf- and snow-blowing, edging, and trimming, are offered to commercial and residential customers. These services are oftentimes complemented by planting, fertilizing, construction, cleaning, and pest/weed removal services.

Employing around 808,800 workers and generating about $91.5 billion in annual sales, landscapers sometimes operate as franchises, but most are operated independently. Would a landscaping services company be a good niche to include in your small- to medium-sized business (SMB) portfolio? Let’s take a look at the specs…

The big-picture of landscapers’ operations

  • Landscaping for commercial properties makes up a majority of industry sales (51 percent). Residential areas account for 31 percent of sales, but are often the sole focus of small landscaping firms.
  • The work is nearly all outdoors and thus subject to a number of environmental factors, such as seasonality and climate.
  • A single residential lawn will yield around $200 a month in revenue, whereas a single commercial contract will yield over $2,000 each month.
  • Start-up investments are relatively low, but fast depreciation of equipment means ongoing purchases and repairs are the nature of the business.
  • Sometimes, specialized skills (such as botany or design, or the ability to work heavy equipment) are required for certain jobs.
  • Since all work is done on site, landscapers try to build their clientele as close to their base of operations as possible to save on time and fuel.

Top trends for landscaping services

COVID-19-related impacts

Firms are expected to see growth in residential services as property owners, who cared for their lawns and flower beds to pass time and save money during the pandemic, return to work and have less time for yard maintenance. In fact, revenue growth in this “green” industry returned to pre-COVID-19 levels in June 2020 then gained steam in Q3 and hit record highs in Q4 2020.

>> Learn more about pandemic-related industry impacts on our free COVID-19 website.

Employment growth

Landscaping services employment is surging due to greater demand. Employment grew 33 percent between 2010 and 2020. As the economy strengthens and consumer spending increases, employment in the industry is expected to continue to expand.

Marketing savvy

Landscaping firms are constantly looking for more customers. While many jobs are repeated weekly during the summer, and periodically throughout the year, businesses must continually expand in order to meet their overhead costs. Direct mail, local advertising, and word of mouth are important to firms as they grow.

Environmentalism changing demand

Water shortages are just one environmental factor behind the changing demand for landscaping services. The environmental movement has made many customers conscious of the impact of chemicals, fertilizers, and gas-fed equipment on their lawns. Native, low maintenance plants, LED outdoor lighting, compost material as fertilizer, and electric-powered equipment are some of the tools of the trade for the “green” landscaping industry.

Fuel cost volatility

Since landscapers must pay for fuel to run equipment and to power transportation to each job, fuel costs have always been a large expense for them. While high prices can hurt a company, so can fluctuations in price. After dropping to $1.73 in 2020, fuel prices are now back to $2.74 or more per gallon in early 2021. Significant swings can make budgeting and planning difficult.

Risks to the landscaping services industry to consider

  • Demand depends on economy: Landscaping services are considered an optional expense by many consumers and small businesses, which they can cut back on during difficult economic times.
  • Ongoing equipment costs: While many pieces of equipment aren’t expensive on their own, their short lifespan (sometimes just 3 or 4 years) necessitates frequent buying. Additionally, due to the seasonal nature of the business, cash flow can be difficult for businesses that finance equipment purchases.
  • Low barriers spur competition: There are relatively few barriers to entry into landscaping services. Many large firms got their start when the principal decided to mow a neighbor’s lawn for some extra cash.
  • Regulation of chemicals and emissions: Many states already regulate the chemicals used in landscaping with some requiring a 6- to 8-week course for any firm wishing to handle pesticides. Fertilizer and even certain types of plants could become more regulated as water shortages become more of a problem.
  • Worker documentation: Landscaping services rely on unskilled, low-wage workers to keep overhead low. Many firms have had trouble with the legal issues surrounding their undocumented workers. As immigration policy and enforcement tightens, firms may find it difficult to find labor in sufficient quantities.
  • Lack of managerial experience: New start-up landscaping businesses often lack business management experience, resulting in a high failure rate.
  • Seasonality: Landscaping services are, in many ways, at the mercy of the elements. Businesses in locations with high snowfall can find work with snow removal, while areas that are warm year-round provide more consistent employment.
  • Climate change/drought: Dry seasons can lower the amount that firms are allowed to water with some areas switching from high-maintenance grass to local flora in order to reduce water usage. This can create both challenges and opportunities for landscapers.
  • Insurance and work hazards: Landscapers engage in physically demanding, and sometimes dangerous, work. Firms must invest in safety equipment to protect their employees from harm. Insurance for employees can be costly, and work-place injuries are a risk to every business in the industry.

Want this kind of in-depth analysis on hundreds of other industries?

Vertical IQ’s Industry Profiles cover more than 90 percent of the businesses that comprise the U.S. economy, and we are continuously adding new industries.

All of the industry information in this post came directly from the Vertical IQ Industry Profile on Landscaping Services. Reviewing this profile, or even doing a quick five-minute review of the industry’s Call Prep Sheet, gives you valuable insights into your prospect within this niche — their opportunities as well as the issues that may be keeping them up at night.

Ready to get started? Contact us today for more information or a demo!


Image credit: Matt Chen, Unsplash

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Banking Sales Expert Shares Thoughts on Virtual Selling

Jack Hubbard is the chairman and chief experience officer at St. Meyer and Hubbard, a bank sales training consultancy. We recently sat down (virtually, of course) with Jack to talk about how the pandemic has impacted bankers and how they can continue to connect with business owners when they can’t be face to face.

VIQ: For banks (and bankers), why has the shift to virtual sales calls been especially challenging?

Jack: A recent Barlow Research study found that 72 percent of business owners felt that the personal connection they have to their account officer is one of the main reasons they stay with their primary financial institution. Even more — 82 percent — of business owners said they need to have personal interactions with their account officer to have a strong relationship with the primary financial organization. This makes for a challenging conundrum for banks during a pandemic when face-to-face meetings are discouraged!

Of course, there are some bank employees who simply cannot work remotely, such as banking center personnel. But for those employees who could conceivably work remotely, the fact is that few banks and credit unions had formal work from home policies in place prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Yes, some had “telecommuting policies,” but most were either too broad or too restrictive.

Add to this the technology resources gap — a lack of at-home printers, cameras, lighting, etc. — and it’s clear why this shift to virtual sales created quite a bit of heartburn for banks in the past year.

VIQ: How can bankers connect with clients and prospects in a meaningful way when they can’t be face to face?

Jack: The simple answer is technology. Of course, there are security parameters that must be considered by financial institutions, but with the guidance of your IT and risk teams, technology can enable bankers to maximize professional interactions with the marketplace and improve productivity while having engaging virtual conversations.

Bear in mind that this new way of doing business virtually can have a learning curve, especially for more, shall we say “seasoned” bankers, but that can easily be overcome with training. Once everyone is up to speed on the tech, there are a number of ways you can build rapport and trust with your clients in this virtual world.

  • Learn the business owner’s communication style: Do they prefer to get right down to business, or do they like to chit chat to warm up? Your referral source, the prospect’s website, and/or their LinkedIn profile can help you deduce this.
  • Know your technology: You build credibility when you are comfortable with the virtual meeting technology and can walk the business owner through it if it’s new to them.
  • Frame the conversation: Share how you like to work with business owners and what you want to accomplish during the meeting, and be sure to ask what they hope to accomplish too.

But these “technical” tips are only the beginning. Perhaps the top way that you can make an indelible impression on your clients or prospects in this new virtual sales environment is the same as in “normal times”: by sharing Industry Intelligence that is of value to them and their business.

VIQ: What are your top recommendations for bankers to use Industry Intelligence effectively in our new “virtual” world?

Jack: Industry Intelligence, like you’ll find on Vertical IQ, enables bankers to make a meaningful connection with business owners, even when they are separated by a computer screen. These ideas for using Industry Intelligence can help bankers boost their “trusted advisor” status with prospects and clients — it’s a simple but powerful way to add value to a relationship.

  • Send a personalized invitation: When you send the meeting invitation, include a PDF of the Vertical IQ economic update for the business’s city or county with a personal note. Then, when the business owner accepts the invitation, send a thank you email with some industry-focused thought-starter questions as another differentiator. You can use the Call Prep Questions from the Vertical IQ Industry Profile to get ideas.
  • Do your homework: Just like in “normal times,” you should do your pre-call planning, getting up to speed on not only the client or prospect’s business but learning about the ins and outs of their industry: how the industry operates, trends, risks, etc. Again, just like in an in-person meeting, you should come to your virtual meeting armed with conversation-provoking questions tailored to the client or prospect’s industry and business. Just like Vertical IQ says, “Readiness Wins.”
  • Follow-up with a “leave-behind”: Follow-up letters are a thing of the past. Instead, send a recap of your meeting and something else of value to the business owner. This information is NOT about you or your organization. Instead, it should be something of value about HR, strategic planning, a marketing tip — anything that the buyer would find valuable to them and their business. A current news article about their industry is a great option for this value-add “leave-behind” piece.
  • Don’t forget the ‘tweeners: Let’s say on your call, you agreed you’d circle back with the business owner in a month. Don’t neglect to continue to reach out with “‘tweeners” during those 30 days in order to stay top of mind. For example, two days after your virtual meeting, your conversation recap and news article go out. On day 15 — right in the middle — send something else of value to the prospect. This could be an economic update on the location they are considering for expansion, for example. Or it could be valuation information about their industry. Maybe it’s an update on how the industry is being affected by COVID-19. Again, Vertical IQ has amassed great data to use for ‘tweeners, and it’s available at the click of a button.

VIQ: What technology tips/tricks have you discovered that might be useful to others shifting to virtual sales calls?

Jack: We’ve made a number of suggestions to our clients on ways they can improve their virtual meetings with clients and prospects.

  • Technology training: It’s important for bankers to be comfortable with the technology they are using to conduct the virtual meeting so that it goes off without any hitches. We recommend banks identify “super users” who can help train their colleagues. There are also lots of YouTube videos and books on using video conferencing effectively.
  • Better lighting and web cameras: Another part of conducting a professional video conference is having good production value. Tools like a ring light and an external web camera are inexpensive but can really improve the appearance of your call. Many banks are also investing in the creation of branded background images that bankers can use to create a consistent and professional appearance on their calls. This also is a measure that improves privacy for the banker.
  • At-home printing capabilities: For security reasons, most banks prohibit bankers from printing bank documents on their home printer. It is a relatively small investment to provide an at-home bank-owned color printer to bankers so they can have ready-access to the printed documents they need in order to do their job remotely.

We developed an eight-part video training series that deals with technology considerations, conversation considerations, including when partners join the conversation, and leadership considerations. We put it into a learning system we call Remote Relationship Development, and more than 2,500 bankers are using the process to become more virtually effective. We’ve created a landing page on our website that describes the program: https://www.smandh.com/remote-relationship-development/

A few other quick tips to consider:

  • Customize your meeting invitation subject line with your client or prospect’s name.
  • Send an agenda one day ahead of the meeting to confirm without asking to confirm.
  • Customize the waiting room with the name of the buyer and their company so that when they enter the meeting, it’s all about them.
  • When they enter the meeting have your screen set to their website or LinkedIn Company page.
  • Set the record function to automatic (within policy) and ask if the buyer would like to receive a copy of it.
  • Turn off the other notifications for your calendar or email.

Keep in mind: At least some remote work is likely part of your organization’s “next normal.” Trusting your trustworthy people is the key. You couldn’t watch them every second when they are on the road making sales calls — what’s so different now? With a little extra empathy and flexibility, everyone can be more productive and professionally fulfilled in this strange new world.


Free webinar!

As part of Vertical IQ’s Spring 2021 Banking Webinar Series, Jack Hubbard will be presenting a session entitled 8 Keys to Remote Selling Success on March 10 at 1:00 ET. In this webinar, Jack will discuss the specific technology investments banks need to make to successfully shift their teams to remote selling. He also will share how bankers can better prepare for and execute on these virtual client and prospect calls by incorporating Industry Intelligence into their conversations. Register today!


Image credit: Anna Shvets, Pexels

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