Whatever you might think about how the Internet has changed the wet leisure business, the web has radically altered the way we all approach making purchase decisions, how we go about buying stuff. But is it all going a bit too far?
Price comparison websites have been around for almost 20 years but it’s only in the last five or six years that they have seen explosive growth.
Comparethemarket.com has been flooding our lives with talking meerkats since 2009. That same year, a fictional Italian tenor began to irritate us with the suggestion that we should ‘Go compare’. Brian the robot has been selling car insurance to the confused since 2013. Kelkoo, Google Shopping and Amazon are all effectively price comparison sites.
We often look at the Internet and comment; well complain mostly, on how it has affected our own industry by driving down prices with cheap competition and squeezing margins but we need to see that within the bigger picture.
The tens of millions of pounds spent on advertising price comparison websites every year, the fact that almost everyone uses them to buy energy, book a holiday or choose an insurer – let alone buy an actual product – surely means that making a purchase decision on price alone, and the lowest price at that, has become a part of the nation’s psyche.
We know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
One of the most insidious practices of this price comparison culture is ‘showrooming’.
Someone comes in to your showroom, looks at your spas, your saunas and your pool equipment; they might even pick your brains by asking your advice on what is the best buy for them.
And then they pull out a smart phone and see what the lowest Internet price is.
Showrooming isn’t as common here as it is in the US, but if things carry on the way they are going, that day will come.
What showrooming does is encapsulate the very worst aspects of the price comparison culture. All that matters is getting the product at the lowest possible price and, whereas that might feel pretty good at the moment of purchase, the downside of that comes later on.
After all, what has been taken out of the deal to get the price that low?
What does a ‘profit margin’ actually pay for?
If you or your customer wants to have technical support to go with the product that has just been bought, then there has to be some profit margin to pay for that.
A lot of the technology in the wet leisure industry is increasingly complicated and if you want to be able to just ring up and get knowledgeable advice on how something works or should be installed, that’s something of value to you that the profit margin has to pay for.
If you want that product delivered on time, by a delivery driver who is actually used to delivering chemicals, filters and pumps; then the profit margin goes towards paying for that service.
Products come with guarantees and the expectation that if a problem should occur in a few years time, there will be someone there to deal with it. A healthy profit margin keeps a company in business and ensures that a promise of long-term support can be honoured.
Squeeze that margin and you end up with the typical scenario of buying at a rock-bottom price; no support, late and dodgy delivery and indeed, a seller that doesn’t answer emails and never picks up the phone.
Your customers should value your profit margin too.
The price comparison culture is most deeply entrenched with products, where people can compare like-with-like, but the idea of trying to negotiate the ‘best’ (i.e. lowest price) deal spreads to the services that wet leisure dealers offer as well.
Customers looking for anything from a entire pool build to installing a new slatted cover, for instance, are increasingly trying to negotiate the price down; trying to shrink that profit margin.
Surely it is important that they value what that margin pays for?
First and foremost, it pays for your staff; the engineers and craftsmen that will work on a project and deliver the best level of technical installation and finish.
It pays for the knowledge and experience that resides in you and your business. The years of knowledge and experience that will ensure that a project goes smoothly delivering a first class result.
And it pays for your business to stay in business, so if there is ever a need in the future, you are there to pick up the phone when your client calls for help or advice.
A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
That’s something that all of us in the wet leisure industry, indeed, in any business, deserve.
Why is it important to talk about it now?
Because it seems that the UK economy is showing signs of growth and that consumer confidence is returning. Of course, that’s great for us, but it also makes our industry more attractive to cheap imports and to ‘rogue traders’ who think they can make a quick profit.
Surely we all need to stand firm on price and protect our margins, but in order to do that we need to explain to the customers what they margin pays for and why it is deserved.
In the main, people won’t object to paying a little bit more if they see that they themselves get added value from dealing with an established, reputable and skilled company.
The alternative is that we all chase each other down the rabbit hole of lowest possible price. We look for increased turnover at the cost of margin and end up doing more and more work for less and less reward.
Compared to a strong and sustainable industry that is making the most out of an economic recovery, I don’t think that is a future that any of us would find attractive.