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 Kingdom.
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 years.
“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 dispensers.
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 manufacturing firm.