Pool and spa professionals across the country are reporting a more upbeat tone to early buys in 2012.
Vendors say unusual weather during the 2011 swim season has prompted widespread caution, but that they expect somewhat more robust equipment sales than in previous years, particularly in the salt chlorination category.
“We’re ordering more electrolytic chlorine generators this year,” said Mike Besso, general manager of Central Pools and Spas in Framingham, Mass.
Retailers around the nation also noted that they anticipate heavier consumer interest in automation technology — especially variable-speed pumps — this coming season than in previous years, and are stocking up in preparation.
Another developing trend among smaller retailers is an increased diversification in product categories. In an effort to provide one-stop backyard shopping, many stores have begun supplementing their pool offerings with patio furniture and accessories, and appliances such as grills.
“Once we’ve built a pool and a deck, the customer’s ready to shop for chairs, tables and so on,” said Jay Tucker, owner of Swim World Pools in Gallatin, Tenn. “So we’re preparing to meet those needs.”
On the shipping end of the spectrum, conditions appear to be improving. Over the past two years, many business owners grew frustrated with the fuel surcharges that some vendors tacked onto purchases to compensate for rising petroleum costs, and lean shipping lines led to delays from some manufacturers — but both problems are less widespread this season.
“I haven’t seen any fuel surcharges so far this year,” said Ryan Carlson, owner of SkyBlue Pool Supply in Los Gatos, Calif. Though others report that many vendors continue to apply these charges, the overall number of manufacturers insisting on them has decreased somewhat. Some retailers even report that their vendors are offering free shipping on early buys.
However, a few shipments have been arriving later than expected, leading some to suggest that there’s still room for improvement in this area. “Typically, we’d get all our orders in early December at the latest, but I’m still getting truckloads in throughout early January,” said Nick Day, service manager at Gohlke Custom Pools in Denton, Texas. Though he adds that he’s received the majority of his products by now, he finds himself among a sizable segment of independent retailers who say they’ve been surprised to encounter these continued delays.
Others, meanwhile, have expressed concern over another trend, one that’s been ongoing for the past several years: Some manufacturers have been raising the minimum purchase size necessary to receive a bulk discount, forcing retailers to spend more than they’d anticipated. “For one vendor, we had to spend about $25,000 to get a discount,” Day said. “That seems like it’d be out of the reach of a smaller retailer.”
Insiders on the vendor side said such increases likely reflect manufacturers’ concerns about adequate distributor-side product support. “It’s probably to facilitate the distribution of larger single-item quantities,” said Carlos Del Amo, vice president of marketing and product development at Pentair Water Pool and Spa in Sanford, N.C.
One of the major areas in which a distributor gets pushback from dealers, Del Amo said, is whether their warehouse has a sufficient stock of replacement parts readily available in case a piece of equipment breaks down — and these increases appear to constitute one attempt to address those manufacturer concerns.
Despite constraints such as these, vendors and retailers alike say they expect a robust market for equipment and parts this season. In fact, many report that their pre-season sales already represent a significant year-over-year increase.
“The economy seems to be rebounding a little bit,” Day said. “Our sales are increasing, so our order volumes are increasing with that, across the board.”