While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses everywhere to struggle just to tread water, things at The Great Backyard Place have gone, well swimmingly.
Pan Kayasit, general manager at the store's Chattanooga location, says pool sales there were up "at least 20 percent" in March and April, offsetting declines in areas including patio furniture. The pool spike, he says, enabled the business to survive a "tough two months."
When the pandemic forced Chattanooga-area schools to end the academic year more than two months early, Kayasit says, parents were confronted with a daunting prospect.
"We've never been faced with this situation, with summer vacation starting in March," he says. "People don't usually open pools until Memorial Day weekend, but they opened way earlier this year. Parents [were] scrambling to figure out how to entertain those kids.
"We heard from a lot of people who normally would use community pools but won't have access to those for who knows how long," he says. "And lots of people canceled summer vacations and chose to spend that money on pools instead."
Ooltewah restaurateur Eunice Kal, for instance, would usually have her home pool ready for the season by early May. This year, though, her children – 11-year-old Kelvin and 10-year-old Karen – took their first plunges fully a month earlier than usual.
The Great Backyard Place
* Location: 6240 Perimeter Drive
* In addition to Chattanooga, Great Backyard Place has locations in Asheville, North Carolina, and Cleveland, Knoxville and Maryville, Tennessee
"It was very convenient during the quarantine time," says Kal, whose pool was installed by The Great Backyard Place in 2017. "When the weather allows, they love going out there."
Kayasit says one effect of the pandemic was a supply-chain issue in the spring, owing to the fact that his store's pool supplier is in hard-hit New York. But he says that when the potential impact of COVID-19 became apparent, he met with his team to rethink every aspect of the business it could control.
"We sped everything up," he says. "We added more local delivery. Curbside pickup. [Pool] water testing outside the store, rather than having people come in – that appears to be a big hit.
"We want to sustain our business, but we also talk about being good citizens," Kayasit says. "We're trying to make everything we do as pain-free as possible; from what we're hearing, our customers are very appreciative."
Kayasit says that while the recent changes in his store's approach were made out of necessity, many will stay in place once the need for quarantining and isolation have passed. An increased emphasis on social media, he says, has resulted in sales consistent with those of a year ago despite a decline of about 50 percent in foot traffic.
"We're getting 10 to 15 leads every day on Facebook, Instagram and our website, compared to maybe one or two a week [before]," he says. "One week [in April], we sold six above-ground pools – one in person and the other five electronically.
"We've talked about this being our 'new normal' — how our business needs to evolve," he says. "The world is changing, and I don't think we're going to go back to the way we used to do things."