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Product mix keeps Aquarius Pool & Patio growing

Pool and patio? Check. Patio and Christmas? Aquarius Pool & Patio has that covered, too, as well as fine leather seating and barstools. But how about patio and wine or patio and cigars? For shoppers in Williamsport, Pa., located 80 miles north of Harrisburg, the free-flowing Aquarius building that spans an entire city block has all those bases covered, too.

The unifying theme is "fine quality things for your home so you can sit back and relax," said Gene Schurer, owner. "It works out very well," Schurer said of the unique blend of product lines assembled in one place.

"A customer can sit by the pool in their patio furniture, drink a fine bottle of wine out of elegant glasses, smoke a fine cigar in the back yard and then go indoors and enjoy their leather sofa," Schurer said.

Aquarius actually got its start in 1970 as a pool business. The company built homes, too, before building its 45,000-sq.-ft. showroom in Williamsport 10 years later and getting into the furniture business.

Daughter Pam Keefer Schurer started in the business when she was 13, selling pool chemicals out of the family home. She helped price items during high school and joined the business full time after going to college. She's now the store's general manager. Son Andy Schurer runs the service department, starting in the business when he was 16.

Aquarius and its other businesses — The Grape Vine, The Tobacco Center and Best Seats in the House — occupy about one-third of the sprawling building with the rest leased to other local merchants. Except for tobacco shop employees, the company's nearly two dozen workers are cross-trained to help customers in each of the stores, which are open to the other stores. A common computer system means customers can be rung up in a single location, Pam Schurer said.

The company has a satellite location in Canton, about 35 miles away. Located in a feed store, those employees sell pool chemicals on commission, which Schurer said helps Aquarius extend its reach into a largely rural area.

Aquarius stocks casual furniture from Homecrest, Telescope, Winston, Woodard and Lloyd/Flanders. Pam Schurer said aluminum and sling are top sellers in their market. Last year, the store picked up a resin wicker line from Cape May Wicker that has proven to be a hit. "It has sold really well for us," Pam Schurer said. "We put it on the floor, and folks went nuts over it."

Accessory items include hammocks, fountains, statuary, stepping stones, weather vanes, unbreakable glass, outdoor lighting and humidifiers. "We try to really accessorize," Pam Schurer said. "We try to be the leaders in this area and always are bringing in new items."

Aquarius sells spas from Great Lakes Home & Resort, carries several lines of pool chemicals and offers computerized water testing.

A majority of the 8,500 square feet dedicated to patio furniture becomes a Christmas wonderland starting shortly after Labor Day with displays going up in the rear of the store and gradually expanding until the Christmas shop officially opens in late October. The changeover back to patio is complete by March 1, Pam Schurer said.

The interesting mix of items that Aquarius offers across diverse product lines provides the stable sales growth every casual furniture retailer seeks. "It's one of the nice parts of the business," Schurer said of the product mix. "If one of the divisions is down, the other ones are up."

Still, more than three-quarters of the business is rung up on the Aquarius side, which encompasses pool, patio and Christmas. The Tobacco Center accounts for 10%, The Grape Vine, 5% and the remainder by Best Seats in the House, which has captured 8% of total store sales in its first year in business. The indoor store sells leather from Omnia Furniture and Leathercraft, contemporary furniture from Carson's of High Point and barstools from Trica.

Aquarius Pool & Patio spends most of its advertising dollars with two local newspapers, including a total market coverage product that has worked particularly well. For Christmas sales, however, billboards provide the most punch, Pam Schurer said.

To help brand the store, the Schurers have come up with two slogans: "We put the fun in your back yard," and, for Christmas, "We put the Christmas in your home."

Although Schurer has never shied from new opportunities in his market, he said Aquarius customers appreciate the current product mix, and he has no plans to change. "We stress being fair and honest," Schurer said. "If there is a problem, we work together to get it solved."

Williamsport, with a population of 35,000 out of a total county population of 120,000, may not sound like the ideal location for a patio store, but it has sustained the Schurers for more than three decades.

"We don't have snowbirds or enormous homes in our market," Pam Schurer said. "We have to work a little harder, but customers like being able to find quality items for their home in their local market."

Aquarius Pool & Patio, located in Williamsport, Pa., caters to an eclectic customer base, with product offerings that include leather seating sets, bar stools, pool supplies, wine, cigars and Christmas decorations.

Left, last year, Aquarius Pool & Patio added resin wicker to its product mix and became an instant hit. Below, part of the extensive Christmas offerings.

Owner Gene Schurer prides himself on always taking advantage of new business opportunities at Aquarius.

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