A husband-and-wife team of Zodiac alumni
are making an ambitious move.
Robin Ellis and Kate Thielscher are re-entering the pool and spa
industry by starting their own manufacturing company. The firm,
called Leapfrog Product Development, will be offering pool care
items for the 2010 season.
Before leaving in 2005 to form Leapfrog, Ellis served as vice
president of product development at Zodiac Pool
Care. Thielscher was Zodiac’s president/CEO.
Ellis started Leapfrog as a product design firm outside the
industry, contracting work for consumer goods manufacturers before
Thielscher joined the Pine Ridge, Fla.-based company in 2007.
“At that point, we decided we would … bring the
products to market ourselves rather than make products for other
people,” Thielscher explained. “We’re very
excited. We really put our hearts and souls into this.”
The pair has since worked on product development for the
pool/spa and equestrian industries. Having run a test market in
Europe in 2008, they are ready to launch products in the United
States. The company also will market goods in Canada and the United
Thielscher and Ellis have brought on board another Zodiac
alumnus, Tim Lawrence. The former Zodiac vice president of sales
now will spearhead sales for Leapfrog in the U.S. market.
The new firm is entering an American business climate fraught
with uncertainty, as the industry is mired in a historic downturn.
The accessories market, in particular, has been trending toward
lower profit margins. As manufacturers market for price, product
quality has suffered, Thielscher said.
However, Leapfrog management is optimistic the company can
establish itself quickly and create excitement in the market.
“The fact that we have something completely new and
different will be appealing to people,” Thielscher said.
“Everybody’s criteria is price, and we looked at it as
an opportunity to go the other way.”
Thielscher used the same strategy of selling on design over
price for a key product launch at Zodiac in 2005, despite consumer
trends to the contrary.
“People thought we’d gone mad, but it was an
incredible success,” she said.
For Leapfrog, Ellis recruited a design team from around the
world, many of whom were contracted for Zodiac products over the
“We do our best work when we’re looking at design as
well as function,” he said. “Function has to take
priority, but we like products where we can exercise a certain
design flair as well.”
The company will incorporate a design-driven marketing strategy
into its line of brushes, nets, manual pool cleaners and chemical
Interestingly, Leapfrog may not be the only new business to be
established by former Zodiac executives. Bob Rasp, who recently
resigned as president/CEO of Zodiac Pool Systems Americas,
currently is looking to acquire a small business-to-business