E-Mail Goes Swimmingly For Pool Company

Conventional wisdom holds the Internet is an ideal medium for selling small ticket items. I’ve covered many case studies that demonstrate this. But, as the theory goes, it isn’t necessarily the best place to sell high-priced goods. E-mail marketing convinces consumers to make impulse buys. These tend to be books, software, flowers, etc.

Today’s case study shows the conventional wisdom is all wet. The featured company successfully employed email marketing to sell swimming pools. The company’s online efforts, a mix of search engine advertising, an e-commerce Web site and email marketing campaigns, were so successful the company is now dropping most of its print campaigns.

Kayak Pools has sold and maintained above-ground pools since 1994. The Midwest franchisee, like most of its competitors in the industry, is fairly low-tech. It relied heavily on traditional print marketing.

Like many others pool retailers (along with folks in pretty much every other U.S. industry), Kayak Pools was concerned about a dip in sales due to the nation’s lagging economy. Yet research was heartening. Despite the pinch, 77 percent of U.S. consumers said they still needed a vacation. Increasing numbers of people planned to take one close to home. Summer camp enrollments were down 10 percent this year, implying more kids are spending time at home. Kayak Pools wanted to pitch the idea a pool is a great way to keep kids active all summer.

So Kayak Pools began experimenting with online advertising and made email marketing a large component. It worked with Neighborhood E-mail, an email marketing firm, to come up with a campaign.

It’s easier to show you the creative than describe it, so please take a moment to look at the HTML offer. Neighborhood E-mail chose opt-in rented lists from nearly 100 different list brokers. The lists were segmented by Zip code/neighborhood (suburban Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Indianapolis); home ownership and income level. Kayak Pools sent the offer to 800,000 recipients starting in March. They dropped about 150,000 emails at a time, with six drops occurring every other week.



  • Mike Klein, president of Kayak Pools, says despite the fact industry sales are down overall, this was his best year ever. He notes his company has expanded into new territories, but that isn’t enough to explain the surge in sales. He attributes the increase to online (primarily email) marketing. The company says 65 percent of sales this summer are directly attributable to online marketing.



  • As Kayak Pools used many different lists, overlap was likely. There was the possibility some consumers could receive up to six copies of the same message. I asked about the risk of spam backlash. Neighborhood E-mail’s Neil Berman says it’s likely most consumers got the message only once. As the message was sent over a period of months, list churn helped eliminate the risk. Anecdotal evidence says consumers didn’t complain about spam. He believes receiving the message more than once would reinforce Kayak Pool’s brand and offer.



  • The company saw a 7 percent open rate and 4 percent CTR on opened emails. I’m curious how this compares to other rented lists; I believe email marketers are seeing a drop in response rates across all industries, but have no data to back this up. Please let me know if you have data you’d like to share.



  • The call-to-action was a phone call. I’d like to delve into this a bit. Kayak Pools prefers consumers call rather than fill out an online form. They believe users may not complete an online form, and contact with a real person who can engage a potential customer is more effective. It’s a persuasive argument. One suggestion would be for the company use a separate phone number to track response, not the same one used for all campaigns, online and off-.


If conventional wisdom says email marketing won’t work for your company, perhaps you should instead heed Kayak Pools’ lesson.

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