An untapped but potentially lucrative niche, the sale of swimming pool and hot tub accessories has seen a boom in recent years thanks to an increase in homeowners adding pools and hot tubs to their outdoor living spaces. With the right knowledge and product mix, retailers have the opportunity to make a splash in this unique category.
The pandemic spurred an even greater investment in pools and hot tubs, as homeowners sought ways to enjoy recreation at home. An industry research group, the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, reported that the addition of new in-ground residential pools jumped 21 percent from 2019 to 2020, and warm weather states Arizona, Texas and Florida saw a 30 percent increase in permits. According to the organization’s 2021 Economic Impact Study, 96,000 new residential in-ground pools were constructed in 2020, the highest number in over a decade.
Owning a pool or hot tub requires a higher level of maintenance than most outdoor spaces. Some of these tasks homeowners can take on themselves, while others are better left to professionals. By selling pool and hot tub accessories, you can be a resource on pool care for your customers and provide the products they need.
A Mix of Knowledge and Products
Jumping into the pool accessories market requires more than just stocking a few tubs of chlorine and a handful of floating tubes and swimming goggles.
At Poultney Pools and Hardware, customers can purchase in-ground and aboveground pools, hot tubs and accessories, and the company also offers installation services and pool services such as openings, closings, maintenance and emergency repairs. Located in West Rutland, Vermont, the business is currently owned by Richard Lantman Jr.
It was started in 1971 by Richard Lantman Sr. as strictly a pool business and expanded in 2010 to include a hardware store. Manager Rusty Wescott has been a part of the Poultney team since 1993.
“Our retail counter for pools and accessories is our bread and butter but the hardware portion continues to grow every year,” Wescott says. “And the hardware side of the business brings more people in the door during our slower cold weather months.”
Wescott says the biggest key to finding success in selling pool accessories is stocking the right cleaning and maintenance supplies, including vacuums, hoses and leaf skimmers.
“We also carry the attachments that allow the homeowner to connect their vacuum to the pool’s filtration system,” he says. “These kinds of tools make maintenance easier.”
If a retailer is looking to sell pool filtration and pumping equipment, they need to understand the complexities of those products, Wescott says. The few primary manufacturers of this type of equipment are brand specific, and the parts are not interchangeable.
“If a customer walks through the door with a Pentair part, for example, or has questions about a Pentair pump, but you just carry Hayward products, there’s not going to be a compatibility between parts, and you won’t be able to help that customer,” Wescott says.
While selling the right products is one component of being successful in the pool accessories category, Wescott says a retailer also has to have the know-how to support customers. Wescott says many retailers go in with the mindset that because they have the space to sell pool accessories, it will be successful.
“What they find out pretty quickly is that it’s easy enough to sell the products, but if you can’t support customers with a good level of intelligence and compassion, and if you can’t take care of problems that occur, you’re not going to sell pool accessories for very long,” he says.
Seizing Other Opportunities
For many parts of North America, pool season is short, typically Memorial Day to Labor Day. At Poultney Pools and Hardware, the quiet season runs November through April, but Wescott has found ways to supplement cash flow during those months.
The store is located near the Killington and Pico Mountain ski resorts and serves residential and commercial rental and vacation homeowners who need hot tub products and services year-round.
One obstacle Wescott has turned into an opportunity is the prevalence and popularity of quick-set pools. He says different manufacturers have come on the scene in the last few years, selling pools that require minimal installation and effort on the part of the pool owner. However, these pools also come with components that are undersized and sometimes low quality. Wescott says one of the most common complaints he gets from customers who purchase quick-set pools is the filter does not keep the pool as clean as they expect.
“Typically, these inexpensive pools are paired with a filter that is barely large enough to keep an aquarium clean, let alone a swimming pool with thousands of gallons of water,” he says. “These pools have ended up driving consumers to us looking for the basic cleaning and maintenance items their pools didn’t come with but should have.”
Homeowners should perform certain checks to maintain their pools. Get a checklist you can share with customers here.
Weathering Product Shortages
While the increase of homeowners adding pools and hot tubs to their homes was a boon to many retailers, it also came with some challenges. All of those extra pools and hot tubs meant an increase in a need for chlorine at the same time BioLab, one of the major chlorine plants in Louisiana, burned down in the wake of Hurricane Laura.
Even though Wescott’s supplier didn’t buy from BioLab, he knew the accident would still affect his operation. The plant couldn’t manufacture chlorine anymore, and it lost whole warehouses of products ready to be sold. All those companies that did buy from BioLab would now be looking for alternatives, potentially taking away products from Wescott’s customers.
“It created huge ripples through the pool and hot tub industry,” he says.
For Wescott, handling the chlorine shortage came down to transparency and honesty with his customers. Early in 2021, before the rush of pool season, he sent a detailed newsletter to customers explaining the potential shortage issues and how Poultney Pools planned on handling any shortages.
Another key was having a good relationship with his supplier. That supplier made him a promise that they would still provide the same quantity of chlorine the store had purchased the year before, but it would potentially be in different container sizes.
“While I couldn’t have the variety of choices I had the year before, they did manage to supply us with the same volume by weight that we typically purchase,” Wescott says. “If we were not loyal and faithful to this particular company, we would not have fared as well as we did. We still ran out, but when we did, it was short term, measured in days, not months or weeks.”
Learn about the alternatives to chlorine your customers can use in their pools and hot tubs here.