QUARTERLY MARKET REPORT: FIBERGLASS POOLS
Jamie Albert Snyder began selling fiberglass pools about 5 years ago.
The president of Albert Group Landscaping in Washingtonville, N.Y., knew it was a calculated risk. Not only was he in the heart of vinyl-liner country, but Snyder also had to contend with established builders who he says only helped perpetuate the misconceptions associated with fiberglass.
It was slow going in the beginning, he recalls.
“I think it’s human nature — the gunite and vinyl guys are going to trash fiberglass, and vice versa,” he says. “They come up with stories about fiberglass pools floating, or they’ll say they’re cheap-looking, or they might crack in cold temperatures.
“I can dispel those myths when I talk to the customer,” he adds, “but those are tough rumors to overcome. Let’s face it, they’re effective.”
Today, Snyder says business for fiberglass pools has picked up considerably. And it’s due, at least in part, to the evolution of his approach toward marketing. He’s spent time and resources on a Website that features a regularly updated blog, as well as informational videos, customer testimonials and other useful content.
“You have to educate the customer,” he says. “The huge benefits of fiberglass need to be touted more.”
Snyder is among a small but growing number of fiberglass pool dealers and distributors that have embraced this type of education-based marketing. It’s predicated on the philosophy that the more information you can provide on the product — not simply about your company — the more trust you gain from the consumer. And the more effectively you can establish yourself as an authority in the field, the greater your chances of closing a sale, oftentimes before even setting foot on a client’s property.
In the last several years, fiberglass pools have picked up market share in traditionally gunite or vinyl strongholds. While Snyder and others are making important inroads in New York, Cinnaminson, N.J.-based Artistic Pools installs dozens of fiberglass pools throughout the Northeast once seasonal conditions allow.
“All of the manufacturers are making different colors and finishes these days,” says Mark Peditto, Artistic Pools’ co-owner. “So it’s becoming a lot easier to brand fiberglass pools.”
Traditional selling points remain their warranties — many 25 years or more, some lifetime on the shell — as well as decreased energy use via shorter run times on filters and heaters.
Consumers also are learning that fiberglass is less prone to algae, and typically require fewer chemicals. The result, some say, is that builders who once shied away from fiberglass pools are now installing them with greater frequency. Ironically, it’s sometimes those same builders that a decade ago spoke ill of the product.
But demand is a funny thing.
“The guys that for the last 10 years I’ve heard spreading these myths are the same ones selling fiberglass today, because that’s what consumers want,” says Marcus Sheridan, co-owner of River Pools & Spas in Tappahannock, Va. “So many people that were strictly concrete or vinyl are doing fiberglass now because they realized they were losing money by not offering it.”
Indeed, Reaves Newsom was among those who found a new revenue stream in fiberglass pools. The owner of Roswell, Ga.-based RCS Pool and Spa, a onetime gunite builder, now has dozens of fiberglass installations to his credit.
“Fiberglass nowadays doesn’t look like it used to — they’re built so much better than they were years ago,” he says. “If someone doesn’t know about fiberglass pools, there’s so much information you can give them.”
Type “Pools and Spas Virginia” into Google, and the first listing that appears is River Pools & Spas.
It’s no coincidence that River Pools occupies the coveted No. 1 spot on Google. After all, Sheridan operates a widely read and frequently updated (usually twice a week, sometimes more) blog on his company’s Website with titles such as “Are Fiberglass Pools Too Skinny? And Does Width Really Matter?” and “10 Things You Must Know BEFORE Signing a Fiberglass Pool Contract.”
He also posts to the site dozens of customer testimonials (both written and recorded), countless videos (topics range from installation to maintenance to fiberglass technology and accessories), and scores of photos.
In addition, visitors can sign up to receive a free DVD that includes a complete installation, discussion of different pool types, and feedback from actual fiberglass pool owners.
For Sheridan, education-based marketing is a mantra, the key to transforming his site’s visitors from interested to informed.
“The concept of building trust through education works,” says Sheridan, who also hosts The Sales Lion, a web-focused sales, marketing and motivational blog for small businesses.
“Consumers today are smart, and they’re doing the research,” he continues. “But people have to realize that the blog is not about you — it’s solely about the customer. Nobody wants to know about you until you can educate them. If you think like a consumer, you’ll get it.”
That’s why Sheridan practically insists that callers to River Pools subscribe to his blog. Even if they’re not yet ready to purchase, “I’ve got them now,” he explains. “They’re in the pipeline — they’re going to be an informed consumer.”
Indeed, experience shows that Sheridan has already forged that relationship when the time does come for consumers to choose a dealer. And, he adds, it often limits the number of other companies customers are likely to visit.
So while regular blog updates help his site’s search engine optimization, it’s not just about that lead position on Google.
“You’re constantly reaching people with value,” Sheridan says. “And when they’re ready to buy a pool, they may have already been reading my blog for 6 months or a year. You think they’re going somewhere else?”
Though his generation precedes that of the digital age, Kent Carpenter understands full well the impact of interactive and web-based marketing. The president and owner of The Fiberglass Pool Depot in Dunn, N.C., tries to update his blog at least twice a week with posts ranging from pool safety to financing tips to energy-saving opportunities. In fact, he attributes much of the rise in education and understanding of fiberglass among consumers to web-based information.
“Would you like to sell another six pools this year?” he adds. “Because those are the ones you’re going to miss if you’re not doing this.”
Still, he notes, he rarely spends more than 3-4 hours a week updating his site, blogging or posting announcements to his Facebook page. Which for Carpenter means the investment is well worth the return.
“When people want to go out to dinner, or take a vacation, or buy a car, where do you think they go for their research?” he says. “If you’re not doing the Internet, you’re toast.”
Signature Pools & Spas recently launched a new Website. On it, the Chicago-based fiberglass builder features everything you’d expect from an industry leader: an updated blog, photo galleries, testimonials and heaps of information on the pool buying process.
But it also includes a page titled, “Negatives of Fiberglass Pools,” which provides frank information on shape and size limitations, hauling restrictions, and potential problems associated with access to a property.
“In the interest of educating our customers with accurate and complete information,” the page states, “please keep in mind the following negatives when considering a fiberglass swimming pool.”
According to sales and design manager Todd Emmerson, it’s important to be honest and transparent about the limitations of the product.
“Let them know, for example, what could go wrong during installation,” he says. “And educate them on quality — all pools definitely aren’t built the same.”
For Emmerson and others, education has become the new form of marketing. The sales process is made infinitely easier, he says, when consumers’ most frequently asked questions about fiberglass have already been answered.
And while he enjoys building and cultivating those relationships with clients and potential customers, Emmerson notes an additional advantage to marketing through informational avenues like blogs.
“Some of that is just staying in touch with your contacts in the industry across the country,” he says, “and seeing what they’re up to.”
Snyder, for one, has good reason to follow his fiberglass counterparts’ exploits online.
“I’m getting more calls than ever now,” he says. “I’ve definitely sold two more pools this year simply because of Marcus’ site. Those are huge benefits to our industry.”