10 Ways to Increase Private Pool Membership

For years private neighborhood pools - those independently owned and not part of a neighborhood association or city park - were thriving.  In fact, I live in a community in Fort Wayne, Indiana that, when first developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, had four different neighborhood pools within about a 1 mile radius of my house.  Yes, four.  I’m told that these pools initially had fantastic pool membership numbers of 350 stock/bond holding members and most of the pools even had a decent waiting list.

Oh how the times have changed.

In the last two years, two of these four neighborhood pools have closed their doors permanently.  I have also heard rumors that the remaining two pools may both be struggling financially.  The challenge is that these organizations just can’t retain pool memberships like they did a few decades ago.

Why Pool Memberships Are Down

Neighborhood pools have much more competition today than they did decades ago. 

In our area, we have seen significant developments that have turned into competition challenges for community pools.  First, many city pools have updated their features to now include water slides and play areas for children.  Secondly, many city parks have built public splash pads which can be used by anyone.  In addition, there seems to be an ever increasing array of entertainment and organized sport options that have saturated the market for family entertainment.

These competition trends, added to the demographic changes where these neighborhoods now have older homeowners and many families have duel incomes - something that wasn’t as prevalent in the 1970’s - have resulted in decreased pool memberships.  This in turn has made it very difficult for private neighborhood pools to remain profitable, let alone thrive.

10 Hacks To Increase Private Pool Memberships

The challenge for many private pools is that the business model that traditionally worked for them is no longer the model that they need.  This means that things must change, or many pools will find themselves closing their doors forever.

The following are ten business strategies that every private pool should consider in order to increase pool memberships.

#1 - Think Strategically

First and foremost, it is important that a community pool think like a business.  This is often challenging as the pool feels like a place to escape and relax, but treating the pool like a business is essential.  Without a constant flow of new members and retention of existing membership, there won’t be a pool to relax at.

#2 - Sales Process

One of the best things any business can do is to create a formalized sales process that identifies prospects and walks them down a smooth path toward becoming an ideal customer.  

A sales process should have four distinct parts which take a prospect down a path toward becoming an ideal customer:

  1. Find It.  In this first phase, this is where the customer discovers and becomes aware of a business. 
  2. Experience It.  This is the phase where the customer samples, or tries out, the products or services of a business.
  3. Engage With It.  When a customer has a good first experience, they will begin to engage with a business by making a purchase.
  4. Lock Into It.  In this final phase, the prospect has become an ideal customer - one who is loyal and committed to your business.

While these phases could be designed a number of different ways, it is important to ensure that all phases are present in any sales process model.  For a private pool, an “ideal customer” is one who renews their pool membership year after year.  Therefore, if a member does not renew their pool membership after their first year of joining, they never really made it to the “lock into it” phase of the sales process. 

The key to developing a formal sales process is to provide a smooth transition from one step to the next, so that prospects easily walk down the path created for them and evolve into an ideal customer. 

#3 - Online Activities

Let’s face it.  We live in a digital world and if you aren’t online, you don’t exist.  Even more than that, if you don’t show up in search engine results, you don’t exist.

Today, website content is king - it is one of the most important things for getting found on the internet.  If a business is not putting regular, valuable content onto their site, then they may not be ranking in search engine queries. 

One way that private pools can increase raking in search engine results is to create a series of unique landing pages filled with key-word specific content.  For example, if you are wanting your website to appear in a search of “Anytown Pools”, your pool can create a landing page such as yourpoolname.com/anytown.  Another example would be if you are looking to market birthday parties, you could create a landing page at yourpoolname.com/birthday-parties. Or, if you are want to rank in a search of those looking for pool memberships, you could create a landing page at yourpoolname.com/anytown-pool-membership.

In addition to showing up in search engine results, it is important that a website makes a great first impression.  Your website really is an extension of your business and this will often be the first impression prospect members make of your pool when they are deciding if they want to purchase a pool membership.

Since we are talking about a pool, one of the best ways to feature this business would be to use high quality videos and photos that help a prospect member to imagine themselves being at that pool.  High quality videos and photos go a long way in making a great first impression on the internet.

#4 - Bartering Services

If a pool is struggling, then they are probably short on cash.  And when cash is tight, no one really wants to spend money on things like advertising, high quality videos, and even their website. Yet these are some of the most important things for gaining new pool memberships.

Fortunately, there are ways to get the services without needing to actually pay for them.

One hack that any struggling pool can consider to get needed services (such as website design, lawn care, videos for the website, maintenance, or even marketing) is to barter their service in exchange for a free pool membership.   

The idea behind this hack is that giving away a free membership in exchange for a valuable service doesn’t really cost the pool much money as their expenses are generally in fixed overhead and not related to individual members.  The value received in exchange for the pool membership, makes the barter a great option for many neighbors pools.

#5 - Private Pool Events

Private events can be a fantastic way for pools to market their services to new prospect members, while potentially bringing in a bit more revenue.  In fact, a private pool event essentially becomes the “find it” phase of the sales process (see #2 above) as events can bring in a number of prospects who may not have previously experienced the pool.

There are many different types of private events that could be held at a pool.  For example, pools could easily offer a number of birthday party packages.  In addition, many businesses hold employee parties and have large budgets to use for private events.  Other events could include, family reunions, special workshops, or even “family & friends” days. 

The opportunities for private events are virtually limitless.  The challenge, of course, is to have a value proposition that potential customers are willing to pay for.  One of the easiest ways to do this is to identify best practices for similar events held in other industries.  For example, pools could easily offer birthday parties by simulating the business models used in other industries such as roller-skating and places like Sky Zone.

While events could be a source of additional revenue, they are more importantly a marketing tool to provide exposure to new potential members.  Regardless of the event, pools should view the event as the “find it” phase of the sales process.  This means that there needs to be a clear path and easy next step for new prospects to move on to the “experience it” phase of the sales process.

#6 - Membership Referrals

Another business hack that every private pool should consider is to create a membership referral program.  Members are the biggest advocates for the pool and also have the most influence on new prospects.  

The challenge with many referral programs is that they often don’t provide enough incentive or urgency for current customers to want to engage in the program.  For example, let’s assume a pool were to offer existing members a discount off of next years membership dues anytime they refer a prospect who becomes a member.  The challenge with this type of incentive is that it really doesn’t provide any urgency to get members this year as the incentive won’t be realized for nearly a year.

The most effective referral programs are designed in a manner that provides both urgency and enough incentive for existing customers to want to immediately participate - there must be enough motivation for customers to participate.  For a neighborhood pool, this motivation and urgency could be realized by providing instant rewards such as a concession credit or a $25 pre-paid Visa card.  Other programs could include referral contests which naturally provide urgency as there is a clear deadline for making a referral. 

Regardless of the incentive, a referral program needs to provide enough value that customers will want to participate.

#7 - Neighborhood Marketing

One of the biggest opportunities for neighborhood pools is to find new members who live close to the pool.  The closer any business is to a customer, the more likely a customer is to use that particular businesses services.

In addition, the pool is traditionally about relaxing and taking a break from life, but it is also often about building a community.  And when that community lives close to you, you are more likely to participate as you will naturally know other members and value that community more.

There are many opportunities to market to those who live in the neighborhood.  The key, however, is to make sure they actually visit the pool and have a clear sales process to walk down. 

#8 - Newsletter Articles

Many homeowners associations use newsletters to communicate with their members.  While these newsletters often look to sell ads to area businesses, the homeowners associations are also looking for opportunities to provide additional perks to their members - making their neighborhood a unique and desirable place to live. 

Therefore, pools have the opportunity to provide a discount or special promotion for area neighborhoods in exchange for distributing an article or coupon to all of their members.  When a newsletter mentions the pool, this becomes the “find it” phase of the sales process. 

As mentioned before, the key with newsletter articles is to build a clear path for prospects to move on to the “experience it” phase of the sales process.

#9 - Neighborhood Association Days

Once a neighborhood has allowed their members to “find” the pool, the pool now needs to offer a way for these prospects to “experience it” - which is the next phase in the sales process.

Neighborhood pools could offer an "association day” where members of one or more neighborhoods get to experience the pool for a low cost, or even free. 

The challenge with a neighborhood association day promotion is to ensure that there is enough of an incentive for neighborhood home owners to actually visit the pool.  With todays busy lifestyles and a vast amount of activities competing for our time, just offering free entry into the pool may not be enough incentive.  Therefore, neighborhood pools should consider incentive options such as free meals, door prizes, and other giveaways.

A key to having a neighborhood association event is to think of it as a marketing event that is part of the sales process.  While the goal is to ultimately make money, this event probably won’t do that as it is part of the “experience it” phase of a sales process.  As the old saying goes, sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

#10 - New Home Owner Passes

In addition to newsletter articles, discounts, and neighborhood association days, neighborhood pools could provide a set of free family day passes for those families who move into the neighborhood.  Many homeowners associations send some sort of welcome packet to their members, and these free passes would be a great perk for the homeowners associations to offer, but would also be a great way for pools to identify potential members.

Another option could be to take the incentive a step further - in attempt to create a value that new home owners can’t pass up - by offering a pool membership free for one month.  This incentive would give new home owners a chance to both find and experience the pool, which are the first two phases of a sales process.  When the month membership expires, these families should be then moved into the “engage with it” phase of the sales process. 

This means that, rather than trying to sell them a full, regular priced pool membership, an “engage with it” product could be a special membership package (offered only to those who take the free month membership) that allows these prospects to remain members at a very reduced price for the rest of the year.  The key to this program, of course, would be to ensure that a clear and smooth transition is offered for these members to move into the “lock into it” phase (regular membership) of the sales process.

Bonus Ideas

In creating this article, I have also thought of several additional strategies that could benefit neighborhood pools that I would like to share with you.

  • Membership Retention Program - As memberships are the most essential component to community pool sustainability, it is important for every pool to have an effective membership retention program.  The reality is that it is much easier to retain an existing customer than it is to obtain a new customer.  This is especially true because existing customers have already said that they want what you are offering where finding a prospect who actually wants your product is much more challenging.  Therefore, a formal and active membership retention program should be a top priority for any community pool.
  • Entry-Level Product - Becoming a pool member is a very big step for prospect to make for a few reasons.  First, the cost of membership can be as much as a car payment or even mortgage payment.  Secondly, using the pool enough to justify the cost almost becomes a lifestyle change.  Because of this, the transition of moving from a prospect into a paying customer can be a very large hurdle to overcome, especially if a pool is only offering a full membership product without a valuable entry-level product.  Basically, pools have an opportunity to offer some sort of entry-level product that will allow prospects to take the step into being a paying customer without fully committing to a regularly priced membership.  The key to an entry-level product is to first remember that this product is designed to move a prospect onto the next phase of the sales process.  This means that it is important to ensure that the price point is low enough that prospects are willing to move into this phase of the sales process.
  • Tiered Memberships - While customers can be overwhelmed with too many options, they can also be underwhelmed with not enough options.  One sales trend I have noticed over the last couple of years is that many companies are offering three different products - a basic product, a regular product, and a premium product.  This multi-tier product model works for a number of reasons.  First, customers purchasing the regular product can experience greater perceived value as they get more features (a greater value) than the basic product, but at a cost less than the premium product.  Secondly, a basic level product allows many outlier prospects an option that they now may find appealing.  Finally, some customers will desire the premium product which results in increased revenue.  The bottom line is that providing three different tiers of products helps to meet the needs of more prospects.
  • (Pre)Payment Plans -  One of the hurdles that pool prospects have in becoming members is that membership is often a large, one-time payment.  This hurdle is shared by many other companies in all types of industries.  For example, Disney experiences this hurdle as the cost of a family going to Florida or California can be very expensive for a family.  To lower this hurdle, Disney has offered a prepayment option for families so that they can make more affordable installment payments over a period of time before their vacation - with the only catch being that it must be paid in full before their vacation.  This allows families to more easily budget for their dream vacation.  In following this business model, community pools could offer a payment plan that starts with a small Christmas-time payment (so families can present their membership as a gift) followed by monthly payments leading up to the opening day of the pool.