Like many businesses, distributors must find ways to shift with the changing times. As trends move toward or away from certain product categories, companies must modify their offerings, find faster and better ways to get products to their clients — and do it all without sacrificing customer service.

These concerns will always exist for distributors, but where the creativity comes in — and what often separates successful distributors from the rest of the pack — are the methods used to meet such challenges.

We’ve spoken to some of the biggest names in the business to get a better understanding of where the market is headed, and how industry leaders are modifying their ways of doing business in order to stay current and keep customers happy.

Product supply
Keeping enough product on the shelves and getting it out to customers is one of the most important aspects of being a distributor.

Many are meeting demands by broadening their product offerings. For instance, Las Vegas-based Allied Innovations is adding more SKUs in 2016, says Tiffany Dixon, advertising/marketing administrator.

Meanwhile, Appatek Industries recently added Aladdin Equipment items and Zodiac/Jandy parts and cleaners to its offerings.

“We chose to expand the number of SKUs/vendors that we carry as we saw and heard a need by some customers for these products,” says Jose A. Miranda II, COO of the Concord, N.C-based company. “While we want to stay with our business model of concentrating on the water-treatment side, the customer-service side of the business cannot be overlooked or taken for granted. When enough customers tell you they are having trouble getting product X … it is foolish not to investigate the opportunities available and act on them if they make sense.”

Distributors also are meeting demands by adding truck routes and developing new distribution centers. Horizon Spa & Pool Parts is anticipating a new shipping location east of the Mississippi in 2016, says Ralph Raub, president of the Tuscon, Ariz.-based distributor.

Also keying into this need, Pool Builders Supply of Charlotte, N.C., recently announced the opening of a new distribution facility in South Carolina this year.

The internet
From hateful social media rants to the ability to rush order just about anything from the comfort of your own home, the Internet has both good and evil applications. To distributors, the power of the World Wide Web seems to be more of a liability than an asset.

“Internet sales continue to be a huge problem for the industry,” says Taryn Springsteed, owner of Pool Builders Supply. “This has caused some smaller retailers to close the doors. It is also keeping others from opening retail stores. It’s a real shame, as these retailers provide valuable services and information to pool owners that the Internet and big box stores cannot provide.”

Springsteed suggests that manufacturers should take a harder stand on what products can be sold over the Internet and who can sell them.

Hachik Distributors, headquartered in Aston, Pa., shares the same sentiment and has chosen to specialize in brands that are not available for sale on the Internet.

Although the Internet has provided the industry with an ample supply of headaches, some distributors have made friends with the beast, so to speak, and are using it to reach their customers faster. As an example, Allied Industries has introduced a new website that gives customers 24-hour access to product information, order tracking and technical data, Dixon says.

The outlook
Although the distribution segment faces many challenges, companies are cautiously optimistic about the coming year.

“We believe that 2016 will be a good year for the industry, with an increase in pool construction and overall sales,” Miranda says. “If homeowners are optimistic … it can be a great year. That being said, if the economy is doing well, but the individuals are pessimistic or scared (whether correctly or not) our industry will suffer again.”

Meanwhile, other businesses are already enjoying what 2016 has to offer. “The purchase of new pools and spas in 2013 and 2014 [has increased] the need for replacement parts in 2016,” says Raub. “The first quarter of 2016 has been the best start in many years.”

(800) 237-9937
Founded: 2002
General Manager: Marie Gerrish
Headquarters: Las Vegas
Employees: 40
Distribution centers: 1
SKUs: 10,000+
Key products:
• Pool and spa controls, equipment, accessories, electrical tools and more.
• Manufacturer of genuine brands of Len Gordon, Spa Builders and Brett Aqualine.
• Master distributor of Gecko Alliance electronic controls and Aqua-Flo pumps.
• A one-stop source for hard-to-find replacement spa parts and controls.
• Offering over 130 additional brand spa parts and controls.
• A fulfillment and assembly house along with injection molding capabilities.
What’s new for 2016:
• Continuously adding SKUs to expanded warehouse of aftermarket products.
• New website gives customers 24-hour access to valuable product information, including discounted prices, stock status, order tracking, technical data and much more.

(704) 786-7785
Founded: 1986
President: Donna Ketron
Headquarters: Concord, N.C.
Employees: 13
Distribution centers: 1
SKUs: 1,500+
Key products:
• Many national brands of chemicals, replacement cartridge filters and water testing for the pool and spa.
What’s new for 2016:
• Expanded inventory to include Aladdin Equipment items, as well as Zodiac/Jandy parts, cleaners, maintenance equipment and valves.

(800) 234-6700
Founded: 1997
Owners: Chuck, John and David Arakelian
Headquarters: Bloomfield, Conn.
Employees: 35
Distribution centers: 1
SKUs: 30,000+
Key products:
• Filter cartridges, DE filter grids and parts for pool and spa pumps, controls, heaters, cleaners, lights and deck equipment.
What’s new for 2016:
• Covering Virginia Beach, Va. and Buffalo, N.Y. areas

(617) 547-9145
Founded: 1965
Owners: Chuck, John and David Arakelian
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
Employees: 265
Distribution centers: 10
SKUs: 40,000
Key products:
• Above- and inground pools, spas, pool construction products, filters, pumps, heaters, automatic cleaners, chemicals and deck equipment.
What’s new for 2016:
• Covering Virginia Beach, Va. and Buffalo, N.Y. areas with Baystate truck fleet

Founded: 1955
President: Martin Silver
Headquarters: New Rochelle, N.Y.
Employees: 60+
Distribution centers: 1
SKUs: 50,000+
Key products:
• Equipment, pools, chemicals and additional supplies.
What’s new for 2016:
• Increased sales and customer service staff
• Added truck routes, also featuring covered flatbed trucks with truck-mounted fork lift for expanded job site and backyard deliveries
• Added many brick-and-mortar and trade-series-only products from various manufacturers.

(800) 365-4224
Founded: 1923
President: Nanette Zakian
Headquarters: Aston, Pa.
Employees: 45
Distribution centers: 2
SKUs: 30,000
Key products:
• A full line of pool and spa equipment and parts from the leading industry manufacturers.
• Specializing in brands that are not on the Internet, including Hachik’s SunGuard pool and spa chemicals, solar covers, replacement cartridges and winter and safety covers; AquaGuard equipment and SplashPro maintenance products.
What’s new for 2016:
• A new line of pool equipment imported from Germany, including stainless steel skimmers, water curtains, hydro-massage fittings and outdoor stainless steel showers. Also imported from Germany are the new AquaGuard Fiberglass AFM (Activated Filter Media) Filters.
• A line of AquaGuard cover pumps and large-capacity cartridge filters as well as SunGuard Triple Action Multi-Tabs have been added.
• All of these products are for brick-and-mortar dealers only. They are not available online.

(714) 739-6600
Founded: 1979
General Manager: Logan Ross
Headquarters: Buena Park, Calif.
Employees: 22
SKUs: 23
Key products:
• Enrich line of saunas and other full body saunas
What’s new for 2016:
• New sauna models. Adding to the Restore collection and adding more luxurious lines.

(800) 874-7727
Founded: 1992
President: Ralph Raub
Headquarters: Tucson, Ariz.
Employees: 48
Distribution centers: 1
SKUs: over 65,000
Key products:
• Exclusive line of premium spa control systems with enhanced warranty.
• Replacement swimming pool parts and components.
• Replacement parts and components for inground and portable spas.
• Underwater LED lights for pools, spas, waterfeatures and perimeter applications.
• PAL LED Optics Perimeter Light and Waterblade Light System.
• Exclusive online parts identification system.
• Pre-rated shipping options offered at reduced prices with no handling fees.
What’s new for 2016:
• Dramatic expansion of pool offerings, especially pool cleaner parts.
• Largest inventory in breadth and depth in distribution
• Anticipating a new shipping location east of the Mississippi
• New exclusive distribution of proprietary parts
• New PAL LED digital lights and wall washer lights
• New pool controller that controls lights and four other appliances

(954) 432-6966
Founded: 1969
CEO: Bill Kent
Headquarters: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Employees: 460
Distribution centers: 15
SKUs: 10,000
Key products:
• Key brands carried include AquaCal, AutoPilot, StoneHardscapes, Lo-Chlor, Tropi-Clear, Pentair, Hayward, Century, Bluffton and Zodiac.
What’s new for 2016:
• New branch opened in Vero Beach, Fla.

(800) 223-5450
Founded: 1954
President: Charles Luecker
Headquarters: Concord, Calif.
Employees: 48
Distribution centers: 2
SKUs: 6,500
Key products: Commercial swimming pool equipment, chemicals and supplies. In addition, the company’s other brands include Lincoln, TEK and Champion.
What’s new for 2016:
• Roque Santos has joined Lincoln Aquatics as the new vice president of sales, reporting to CEO Charlie Luecker.

(888) 476-7665
Founded: 1976
President: Manuel J. Perez de la Mesa
Headquarters: Covington, La.
Employees: Approximately 1,000
Distribution centers: 80
SKUs: 150,000
Key products:
• Pool tile, pool finishes, coping, decking, decorative concrete, grills, grill islands, waterfeatures, fire pits, NPT Designer Surfaces vinyl liners.

(800) 564-1078
Founded: 1995
President: Eric Goode
Headquarters: Memphis, Tenn.
Employees: 20
Distribution centers: 1
SKUs: 20,000
Key products: Pool and spa parts, toys and tools.
What’s new for 2016:
• New and improved website. Increased inventory levels. Greater ground coverage area.

(704) 375-7573
Founded: 1976
Owners: Matt Morgan, Taryn Springsteed
Headquarters: Charlotte, N.C.
Employees: 130
Distribution centers: 8
Manufacturing centers: 4
SKUs: 7,000
Key products:
• Full-line distributor stocking chemicals, equipment, polymer and steel pool kits, construction materials, parts, safety covers, liners and aboveground pools.
What’s new for 2016:
• New distribution facility in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

(909) 673-1160
Founded: 1992
President: Andres Becerra
Headquarters: Ontario, Calif.
Employees: 250
Distribution centers: 24
SKUs: 40,000
Key products:
• Products from major industry manufacturers as well as plumbing, electrical, landscape and plaster supplies.
What’s new for 2016:
• New location in Long Beach, Calif.

(800) 968-8878
Founded: 1971
President: Cary Engelhart
Headquarters: Clio, Mich.
Employees: 90
Distribution centers: 6
SKUs: 70,000
Key products:
• A wide range of swimming pools, spas, equipment and supplies.
What’s new for 2016:
• Two new branches to serve pool and spa professionals.
• Launched a new Summit Spas private-label spa line.
• Distributing backyard kitchens and pergolas.

(800) 428-3254
Founded: 1965
President: Frank L. Jones Jr.
Headquarters: Louisville, Ky.
Employees: 40
Distribution centers: 1
SKUs: 25,000
Key products: Commercial swimming pool equipment.
What’s new for 2016:
• The new Wibit Roundabout modular inflatable is a circular speedway and is the centerpiece of the new AquaLoop, the first Infinity modular inflatable combination for pools — the ultimate aquatic playground.

(888) 476-7665
Founded/acquired: 1993
President: Manuel J. Perez de la Mesa
Headquarters: Covington, La.
Employees: 2,000+
Distribution centers: 175+ (North America)
SKUs: 150,000
Key products:
• Pool equipment, chemicals, parts, supplies, building materials, tile, pool finishes, pool kits, vinyl liners, aboveground pools, deck products, lighting, spas and more.

(888) 476-7665
Founded/acquired: 2000
President: Manuel J. Perez de la Mesa
Headquarters: Covington, La.
Employees: 1,000+
Distribution centers: 66
SKUs: 150,000
Key products:
• Pool equipment, chemicals, parts, supplies, building materials, tile, pool finishes, pool kits, vinyl liners, aboveground pools, deck products, lighting, spas and more.

(215) 947-3800
Founded: 1946
President: Dee Adcock
Headquarters: Huntingdon Valley, Pa.
Employees: 140
Distribution centers: 9
SKUs: 45,000+
Key products:
• A full-line distributor of swimming pool equipment and supplies, featuring prefabricated, vinyl and fiberglass pools.
What’s new for 2016:
• W.W. Adcock celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.
• Continue to adapt and innovate to serve customers more effectively.