Marketing lessons from a humble pool cleaner…

One of the privileges of my working life is meeting business owners around the planet, who attend seminars at which I speak.

I inevitably learn things, as there’s rarely a smarter marketer than one who spends their own money. Their business lives or dies on the outcomes, so they tend to have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

They are also quite sharp at doing things within lean budgets.

A few months ago I was the MC and keynote speaker at a 3 day event, held in Fiji. (Someone has to do it). The event was for retailers of pool chemicals, pool products and cleaning services.


Before the event, I spent time on the road with store owners to get to know their business and marketing problems. One store I visited was run by a European migrant whose English after 35 years living in Oz, was still heavily accented. He greeted me in his tattered work shorts, chlorine stained shirt, torn cap and scuffed work boots.

I asked him how business was going. “Not so good, I won’t be able to take my annual holiday back to Europe this year. I had 3 months back there last year, but am not sure this year.” I silently wished my business was doing so badly.

One thing I was keen to understand was how he built his database of prospects. Building a list of pool owners is not easy – you can’t just rent one. He said “I don’t know much about marketing. I have this German backpacker over here working on the internet. Everything has to be on the internet these days.”

I asked what the backpacker specifically did for him. He said, “he’s on Google”. I requested further explanation. He said “he’s on Google Earth. He uses it to find homes with pools in their backyard, then he uses Google street view and maps to find the address. Then I mail them this mailpack offering my services.” He handed me the mailpack – very crude but it did the job.

To say I was a tad stunned is an understatement. This self-deprecating old suburban pool cleaner, was using the latest internet technology to peer into people’s backyards and create a database of qualified prospects – at least in the sense they have a pool and therefore need to buy stuff to clean it.

Curiously I asked him how many names he had on his database. “Over 41,000” he shrugged.

It was the only marketing he did, apart from keeping in touch with existing customers. He has no website, no social media. He just knows how much it costs to acquire a customer and how much it costs to keep one.

I was reminded of the old pool cleaner a couple weeks back. We have just lodged an application to our local council to do some work on our home. Within 48 hours of the application being posted on the council’s website, we had mailings from two home renovation companies, offering their services. Small businesses doing the hard yards to acquire qualified customers.

There is an old saying “the obvious is often overlooked”.

We tend to ignore the simple things, assuming marketing has to be complicated or highly expensive. Yet very often the simplest solution is the best.

And with so much information – in all its forms – available via the internet, there must be many more tactical opportunities available to sharp entrepreneurs. We just need to take time to consider the possibilities.

Hmmm, maybe I could use Google earth to build a list of homes with smashed roof tiles and rent them to roof repairers? I’m off to find a backpacker.


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