Feature Article - September 2018
Find a printable version here

New Pool Rules

Passive amenities are out; floating creative water spaces can increase attendance

By Rick Dandes

Smaller Communities, Greater Challenges

In a year, the Sunbury Community Pool averages upward of 5,000 visitors. "We are limited because of seasons and limited because of schools," Ron Pratt said. "Many of our schools return to class in August. What we do has to have an immediate impact, and if it doesn't we're not going to gather an audience."

When Pratt took over as director in 2004, he recalled, "There was nothing here. In 2001 slides were put in. But in 2004, when you walked into the pool we had benches that were the same color as buildings. And to somebody that is outside of marketing, that doesn't mean much, but it meant something to me. I did an analysis of what we had here, and I realized that there were people seeking shade because we had an older demographic bringing a younger demographic—grandparents bringing grandkids. We had to make some changes to attract people."

Pratt did so at the most basic level: livening up inexpensive amenities. "The first change we made is putting colorful furniture in. That's a psychological thing. Color makes people happy; color draws people to your facility. At our facility there are multi-colorful amenities. We also quickly realized we needed to hit a lot of different age groups. Our baby pool hit one demographic. Our in-water basketball hoops, our climbing walls, our slides hit yet other demographics."

Small community pools are like mom-and-pop businesses. "We can't compete with waterparks in the Poconos or Hershey Park. We even struggle getting lifeguards. We do a lot of promotions, and most of them are sponsor days, local businesses, so those are free admission days. It's a draw for people to see our facility—people who wouldn't ordinarily come because they can't afford it. If we get memberships, great. If we get positive social media 'likes' that is a successful day."

Market your amenities on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, Pratt said. "As a community pool in a small populated area, we don't have a marketing budget, so we market our amenities through social media, and that has made all the difference in the world for us. Then we 'share it' through our friends and family."

Pratt agreed with Gagnon and Keim that you almost have to have a floating waterpark to compete with other recreational activities in your municipalities. "Ours is the only community pool within a 50-mile radius with an outdoor climbing wall."

Pratt's best piece of advice, no matter how large and well-funded your facility? Talk to the people who come to your pool. Get them invested and engaged. Get their ideas of what they would like to see at the pool.