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Join the club: special incentives for frequent shoppers can bring customers back to the fold.

My favorite beverage is an iced, blended coffee. But at $6 each, they can get expensive. What's even crazier than a $6 coffee is that I will drive out of my way--past a dozen or so convenient shops along the road--to get to one particular coffeehouse.

Why? Because after 10 holes punched on my VIP card, I will get a free beverage of my choice.

That little card got me thinking: If shoppers are willing to patronize the same coffee joint because of a punch card, why wouldn't pool and spa customers do likewise? So last year, we instituted our Chem Club Card program, which gives frequent shoppers a reward for regularly buying chemicals from us.

While our Chem Club Card isn't an original idea, it provides another way for us to distinguish ourselves from the competition--and our customers love it.

Get with the program

Before implementing the program, we noticed that only about half of our pool and spa buyers were returning to purchase chemicals from us. When we asked why they shopped elsewhere, most said it was because of convenience. Though they thought our staff, store and products were great, they just happened to be on the other side of town when they realized they needed something. Or they forgot we had free chemical delivery.

The excuses kept coming, so we wanted to find a way to get them to remember us every time they thought of their pool or spa. The punch card does the trick. Here are some steps we took to get the program off the ground:

* Pick your product.

OK, you want to start a punch-card program, but which product should you choose for it? We selected chemicals because we are proud of the product line we carry, and the trained staff and state-of-the-art water-testing facility we have in place. Besides, every pool or spa owner needs chemicals.

* Make it worth their while.

The reward must be attractive. Customers won't care or even try the program if the savings don't justify it. But remember, you can't give away the farm either. If your retail store isn't profitable, it won't continue to exist.

After analyzing our costs, we decided to give $25 in store credit to customers who spend $200 on chemicals. The $25 can be used on anything: aftermarket accessories, service and, of course, more chemicals.

* Print 'em up.

The cards you choose need to fulfill a few requirements: First, they should catch shoppers' attention. They need to be a handy size and sturdy, too, because they'll be kept primarily in people's wallets. A local printing company that does our business materials also handles our punch cards, which helps keep costs reasonable.

The cards have a slick feel and are printed on both sides. On the face, we feature a pool photo, our logo and a description of the program: "Get one punch for every $10.00 purchase." Then, there are 20 "waves" to be punched. On the back is a place for the customer's personal information, so we can track who turned in the card. We also highlight the reward we offer for using the card.

* Start carding your customers.

For the program to be successful, you need to train your entire staff to promote the cards. Our salespeople mention it in their pitches and service technicians give it to customers they visit. The cards also are prominently displayed on our counter.

Everyone in our database was sent a letter introducing the program. In addition, we bought the health department's list of people who have pulled pool permits, and they received letters as well.

Success story in the making

So far, feedback regarding the Chem Club Card has been favorable. People frequently say how much they appreciate the program. There's been growth in customer loyalty, and we've even gained back many folks who left because of convenience issues. We've also experienced a rise in chemical sales, repeat customers and new shoppers who heard about the program.

Our incentive program encourages consumers to drive to us and forget about "closer" and "cheaper" alternatives.

They know they can get a reward with one more punch on their Chem Club Cards.

Mary Greise Greise is general manager of Roberts Pool & Spa in Omaha, Neb.
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Title Annotation:CHECKOUT
Author:Greise, Mary
Publication:Pool & Spa News
Date:Jul 25, 2005
Words:708
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