In recent years, the Florida retail industry has faced numerous challenges, and 2023 will be no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the swimming pool industry in particular, with many retailers closing, foot traffic decreasing, and sales decreasing. In addition to these challenges, retailers have been contending with an increasingly competitive environment and rising costs to rent retail space. Consequently, inflation has certainly increased the cost of running a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
The Growing Marketing For Online Retailers
In 2022, E-commerce sales exceeded $1 trillion dollars for the first time ever. The key factor for that growth according to Florida business owner Frank Vitori is convenience. Vitori operates an online retail store called AquaBlu Mosaics, they have become one of the leading sites in the pool and spa vertical. Vitori explained how online retailers like him are thriving in a changing economy.
"We started AquaBlu back in 2013 because we saw a huge void in the online world for distribution of swimming pool products," Vitori explained. Today, AquaBlu Mosaics has become a leading supplier of many products used by pool professionals on a daily basis. Their online catalog has been rapidly expanding its inventory by adding popular new distributors. According to Vitori, the strategy for growth has been to offer premium products at a lower cost than consumers can find elsewhere.
Leveling The Playing Field Versus The Brick & Mortars
Running an online business has enabled Vitori to be able to level the playing field versus his brick-and-mortar counterparts. By avoiding all of the rising costs of leasing and maintaining a chain of retail stores, this has enabled him to spend more on digital advertising.
"We're excited to say that we've experienced tremendous growth," said Vitori, "I'm humbled to say that we've positioned ourselves as the go-to online distributor for all things related to pool tile, accessories, and outdoor living furniture."
Their unique strategy for growth can largely be attributed to a successful internet and marketing strategy. With the money saved on traditional brick-and-mortar locations, AquaBlu Mosaics has invested into becoming one of the top websites that appear in a search for pool tile and simply dominates for many pool-related keyword searches on popular products they sell on their website.
"I'd say that glass tile accounts for at least 40% of our sales. We have truly become the go-to guys for all specialty products. I like to say that we have all the fun stuff." said Vitori, who said his Florida-based online business has been thriving in a tough retail environment.
In Scarce Florida Retail Market, Online Retailers Unscathed
Retail space is going for an all-time premium, in South Florida the vacancy rate is only 3.7%. Consequently, rents are higher than ever. Avoiding the overhead of a storefront operation and sticking strictly to online retail is a strategy that businesses like Vitori's have employed with great success. E-commerce sites like his have thrived in the face of a changing economy in a variety of ways. One important factor is that they can reach a larger audience than traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Online stores can sell to customers all over the world, allowing them to weather economic downturns and rapidly pivot to changing trends in consumer behavior.
Another benefit that online retailers have is the ability to provide a more convenient shopping experience. Customers can shop from the comfort of their own homes at any time of day or night and have their purchases delivered right to their door. Offering this type of convenience, according to Vitori, has helped online retailers like him attract and retain customers, even during times of economic uncertainty.
"We cater to all tastes and budgets," said Vitori, "I can't tell you how many times builders, and even homeowners, they come to us with an idea. They are unsure of how to make it. And, most of the time, we can not only tell them how to produce it, but we can also show them multiple ways to do it at different price points."
Online retailers have also been able to benefit from technological advancements that allow them to spot trends as they occur and increase profitability. Early last year Vitori noticed an increase in the sale of artificial grass, which he attributes to the ongoing drought in many parts of the country. "Doesn't it all make logical sense? I mean, many homeowners are attempting to reduce their water bills. Some people are trying to avoid the rising costs of lawn care as well," Vitori explained, noting that brick-and-mortar stores are much slower to react to changes in the market. Consequently, the ability to spot trends and capitalize on them immediately gives online retailers like him a distinct edge to pivot to products that are likely to be in high demand.
The decline of physical malls in the US, from 2,500 in the 1980s to around 700 currently, has been attributed to the shift towards online retail. Online shopping offers greater convenience, a wider selection of goods, and competitive prices, making it a more attractive option for consumers. The trend is expected to continue, with projections suggesting that there may only be 150 malls left in the US in 10 years. This shift towards online retail makes sense as it caters to changing consumer habits and preferences, providing a more efficient and cost-effective shopping experience.
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