Looking Back at the Year Ahead

If tough times make strong people, wise business owners and lean and efficient companies then we should be one hell of an industry in 2012.

This year has been tough at almost every level.

There is little prospect of 2012 being significantly better as a business environment however there is a silver lining to the cloud. If we look back at the year now soon to be gone, then we can learn lessons that will be invaluable in our future.

In a way, it’s evolution. Evolution is about adaptation in order to thrive in a changing environment and those who succeed in that, win.

Climate change, both economic and actual.

The circumstances that force change upon us are not that comfortable.

Our customers have less to spend – although the rich are, of course, still different from us in that they have more money. The upper end of the entire wet leisure market has seen hardly any slowdown at all.

That fall off in spending power has brought the number of pools sold down to somewhere in the region of 1,000 to 1,200. That would be an interesting statistic if it were a statistic. It’s a guess.

In the middle of the information age and at a time when every marketing guru tells us to analyse the numbers in order to learn the truth, we don’t know what the numbers are. Are we doing well or badly? Are we reacting to perception or reality? Unless we can produce reliable and accurate industry figures we simply don’t know.

Perhaps we can and should generate such figures? Let’s come back to that later.

What certainly has been a reality is the weather. The fifth consecutive poor summer has cooled that entry-level market even more. There are fewer people buying an instant, aboveground pool in the middle of the summer heat and then getting a taste for swimming in their back garden.

Saunas and hot tubs have hardly faired better. A little harder to blame the weather forecast here, but a bleak economic outlook has taken its toll.

See change as an opportunity, not a threat.

Business may not be easy, but there is still business to be had.

The top end of the market is still buoyant – although marketing to the well to do might mean you need to take a slightly different approach – and the pleasures and benefits of spas, saunas and pools still have huge appeal to people across all sectors of the market.

You need to make sure that your business stays visible. Now is a good time to look through the calendar and see what local shows or events you might choose to have a presence at. If you do exhibit, then make sure you use that as an opportunity for PR as well.

Rather than competing on price, add value. Everyone really appreciates getting the best service. Make sure you have a reputation for that and spread the word.

Being generous with great product knowledge and expert advice will pull customers towards you. Perhaps you could plan that next year you’ll send out informative newsletters to all your customers. Plan in your diary to send out one every two or three months and you could use the quieter, winter months to get them written with appropriate content for the times in the season that they will be sent.

We may not yet have reliable industry figures and statistics, but you do have your own.

Have a look through your records and see if your best customers share certain things. Are they grouped by geographical areas or age group or by some other commonality? The more information you hold about them the more useful that data can be.

The weather may have been against us but our customers are no fans of grey skies either.

There was a good Spring this year and that may well be repeated in 2012. People were keen to get their pools open and running. Next year, use that early rush for chemicals and service call outs to look for opportunities to cross sell and suggest upgrades and new installations. Make sure that your service engineers and sales staff in your showroom are aware of this opportunity and that they feel like valuable members of your marketing team.

In the best businesses, they say that everyone in the company works in marketing.

We need to play to our strengths.

One reason the web-based suppliers can work on smaller margins is that they don’t have a physical presence in the marketplace.

The strength of many wet leisure businesses is that they do have a presence in the community and in the market.

Service engineers can establish strong relationships with customers. Someone who is interested in buying a spa can be offered the chance to wet test one – just try that over the web. Have a presence at local shows and shopping centre events – a picture speaks a thousand words but actually seeing a sauna, spa or even pool is a much more eloquent argument to purchase.

People appreciate the personal touch and a good, knowledgeable salesperson can be far more persuasive than any web page. Being able to provide local service and support to customers makes a huge difference too.

We need to go out and be visible to potential customers with a product and an offer that is really attractive to them.

We are all in this together.

The idea behind WetLeisure.co is to make business growth for those working in the industry a reality.

If you follow WetLeisure on Twitter, you will get notifications on free business support articles and if you register on the site you can join the groups and forums to share and benefit from industry knowledge.

As we said earlier, we are keen to generate some reliable industry figures that can help the whole industry and so we are asking you to participate in the WetLeisure Industry Survey 2011. All responses will be anonymous and you can complete the 10-question survey by following this link.

Below this article, you can leave a comment. It would be great if you did. Coming together to share opinions and knowledge can only benefit all of us.