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Confessions of Shameless Self Promoters
Saved by the Internet

By: Daniel Harrison

Reprinted from Confessions of Shameless Self Promoters, July 2001

Daniel HarrisonI started a small pool service company in 1980, and worked out of the basement of my house. In 1983 we opened a service location, and then we became one of the first companies in the area to get into the "new thing," selling hot tub spas. We did so well that we soon opened up one of the first "all hot tub spa" stores, Long Island Hot Tubs. Throughout the 1980s we sold hundreds of spas and built elaborate "spa rooms," greenhouses, and decks. In fact, our business was so successful that we received numerous awards within our industry.

Then the recession of 1990 hit. Times were tough and thousands of people lost their jobs. Of course, luxury items like pools and spas were the first thing to be cut from people’s budgets. We went from selling over 150 spas a year to only 30 in 1991, and we had no choice but to close our store and file bankruptcy. It was Long Island Hot Tubs darkest hour! Luckily we still had the pool and spa service companies, but also a very large problem. When we had the store and most of our income came from the sale of spas and "spa rooms," we thought of the repair and service as a "necessary evil." Selling spa chemicals and accessories was merely a convenience to our customers. Now we had to support ourselves and make up for all the money we lost on the store with this “side business.” We had to totally rethink our sales strategy fast.

We had a mailing list of over 2,000 spa owners, and we did not want to lose their now valuable chemical and spa service business. We figured that if they could no longer come to our store, we had to bring the store to them! So we started publishing the Long Island Hot Tub Newsletter (now called Hot Tub Life).

The first few issues were a little rough, but almost immediately customers told us that they loved the newsletter and that they got a lot of information from it. They also told us that it was much easier for them to order their supplies over the phone than come to our store. We knew that we were on to something good.

Within the next few years our pool and spa repair service business almost quadrupled. We had to hire more service people and office help to keep up with the calls. We received more than 200 calls a day in peak season, and we had to figure out a way to handle the volume more efficiently. We quickly realized that in a "phone order" type of business, phone time equals money, and the quicker we could process each order, the more customers we could serve each day. So we invested about $30,000 in a custom network computer system that allowed us to process repair service and product orders more quickly. Going from "computer-illiterate" to completely networked took some getting used to, but we all survived.

In the mid-nineties we started to hear about the Internet. We were immediately interested because we could finally expand our spa chemical and accessory mail-order business nationwide. We had thought about it before, but national advertising was just too expensive. On the Internet we could do it for much less cost.

We started to learn all we could about the Internet and how to build a website. We worked for over six months to plan, develop, program, and launch our first 150-page site, "The Virtual Pool & Spa Store." Within a year we were dealing with pool and spa owners from all over the country and had increased our mailing list to 22,000 people! We could just see it getting better and better every month.

It is important to note that this was way before the term "e-commerce" had even been coined. Not only were we a forerunner in the pool and spa industry, but we were ahead of most other businesses. Truly, we were in the right place at the right time with the right idea! With Internet sales increasing at a comfortable rate, we were able to establish both larger offices and a bigger storage and shipping facility.

We decided that we should rename our website to the more generic “Poolandspa.com.” Then we separated the content portion of our site from the online shopping area, which allowed us to advertise on the content website and not conflict with the shopping area. This site is now the world’s largest pool and spa web site, with over 2000 pages of articles, information, pictures, and products.

Our business has been featured on numerous TV and radio shows along with books and magazines on e-commerce. Because of that, we have often been called an “overnight success”. We hate that saying. Although it is meant as a compliment, it does not acknowledge that this company’s journey has been a long one, with many ups and downs and years of hard work.

Walk Before You Run

If you do not have a website, carefully consider your end goal. Be realistic about what the Internet can and cannot do for your company. Do not contact a web design company until you have decided where you want your company to go and how you want to get there. If you go to a web design consultant without definite plans, you will end up with a site that is disappointing or overkill for your business–and with an astronomical price tag as well.

Start small and build up. It took six years but that’s what we did. Go for quality, not quantity. A consumer is going to be far more impressed with five to ten well-thought-out and properly designed pages than 50 to 100 sloppy, amateurish ones. Remember, your website is going to be compared to all the big sites out there. Compare your site to others--both within your industry and out-- and make sure yours hold up.

The great thing about the Internet is that it offers so many different possibilities. The trick is to find the niche that fits your business plan the best. Then make a professional looking website that reflects your business.

[bio] Daniel Harrison worked his way through college as a professional magician and pool cleaner He started Paramount Pools, which developed into The Virtual Pool & Spa Store. Poolandspa.com is now the largest pool and spa website in the world. Call 1-800-876-7647 or view this extensive website at www.PoolandSpa.com.