Distributors are hearing their dealers loud and clear: They want products consumers can’t find anywhere else.
The industry has for years seen wholesalers put their own brands on smaller ticket items, such as chemicals and maintenance products. But some are kicking the tactic up a notch by providing retailers and service technicians with private-labeled pumps, filters and cleaners not available online or at big-box stores.
“One of our customers has been complaining for several years about name brands being sold on the Internet below what I can sell them at and, in some cases, what I can buy them for,” said Dave Cook, group vice president in charge of global sourcing at PoolCorp.
That’s what motivated the Covington, La.-based distributor to introduce Goby cleaners recently.
“It’s been highly successful, especially with the service and retail trades,” Cook said, noting that builders, too, benefit from exclusive equipment.
Pool & Electrical Products was similarly spurred into action after hearing about service techs losing business to online retailers.
The distributor launched its First Choice line of equipment, chemicals and replacement products earlier this year, in part to combat Internet undercutters. “[Homeowners] can look it up on their iPhones and they’re not going to find it,” said Chris Joerns, purchasing manager at PEP in Ontario, Calif.
PEP, which had its proprietary equipment made by a U.S. manufacturer, enforces a strict policy prohibiting dealers from selling First Choice online. Those caught will stop receiving the products, Joerns said.
The industry should expect to see more of this sort of maneuvering as distributors seek to regain a measure of control over how and where products are sold. With some manufacturers selling to big-box stores and online retailers, wholesalers face the challenge of supporting their customers while maintaining a critical link in the distribution chain.
“Everybody is trying to deal with what I call collaborative competition,” said Bill Kent, president of HornerXpress in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “If you have your own brand, you can control your own destiny to a degree.”
Another reason distributors are turning to private labels is the improvement in quality of products coming from China over the years. These imports are generally cheaper than domestic sources.
“There was a point where it wasn’t up to our standards, but now it’s getting close,” Cook said.
One Chinese company that’s fielding more inquiries from U.S. distributors is Bridging China International.
“It’s another way of brand recognition,” said Joseph Gigl, vice president and general manager of Bridging China’s North American division in New Jersey. “It’s another touch point. In other words, [dealers] know the name of the distributor; now they know the name of the brand.”