The story of how pool and spa industry distributors came into being is actually fascinating. Early company founders came from a variety of fields — there were bleach makers, car dealers, engineers and more. But even with different backgrounds and styles, all shared a love of the business. Thanks to their successors, their legacies have survived the decades, through challenges big and small. Here’s a sampling of distributors who have served the industry 35 years or longer.
Baystate Pool Supplies: Standing Strong
Thanks to the talents and powerful work ethic of two brothers, Baystate Pool Supplies came into being in 1960, albeit under a slightly different name — and the family-run business is still going strong more than five decades later.
Paul Arakelian saw an opportunity in the up-and-coming pool industry while working for his father’s firm, United Bleach Manufacturing. So he dove in, starting Baystate Chemical & Pool Supplies. His brother, Arthur, left his job as a teacher and together they began building up the new business, which covered manufacturing, distribution and retailing. Arthur handled sales while Paul focused on operations. Arthur’s son, John Arakelian, says they did pretty much everything in those early days, even loading and driving the delivery trucks.
Over time, the firm zeroed in on distribution, and that is its focus today. Currently Cambridge, Mass.-based Baystate Pool Supplies has nine distribution centers in 14 states.
A key division, Aquatic Parts Co., was begun in the early 1990s in Connecticut, offering more than 25,000 pool and spa replacement parts. It does a brisk business, sending out 3,000 boxes a day in season, says John, a company partner along with his brother, David Arakelian, and cousin Chuck Arakelian.
“Distributors are here forever, but we have challenges, such as Internet [competition],” John adds.
“There are still a lot of brick-and-mortar, ma-and-pa companies in the industry … and we want to help them compete, so we run a mini-trade show each year, with seminars.”
Bel-Aqua Pool Supply: A Dynasty
Murray and Nettie Silver started their company in 1955, and today, three generations of the family have sat at the helm of Bel-Aqua, a wholesale distributor of pool and spa products.
The New Rochelle, N.Y.-based firm carries SKUs from more than 200 manufacturers and delivers throughout much of the Northeast.
In 2004, the company relocated to an approximately 100,000-square-foot facility, and four years later, bel-aqua.com was launched, thus starting the firm’s B-to-B website.
“It was a huge event for us,” says Mark Warshaw, vice president of sales and marketing and a third-generation family member. On the site, customers can place and track orders, review customer history and check product availability. Bel-Aqua has a mobile app as well.
“When my grandfather started the company, he did some manufacturing of products as well as distribution,” Warshaw notes. “Hayward in 1955 was a machine shop located in Brooklyn, and not in the pool industry. My grandfather had Hayward make some products he needed, such as pumps, lights, valves and fittings, with many of his own molds. A few years later Hayward then began making products for others in the pool industry. Therefore, this makes Bel-Aqua Hayward’s first customer in the pool industry.”
Looking to the future, he says the years of distribution with large early-buys is over. “Just-in-time” delivery is the modus operandi for the industry.
Hachik Distributors: Early Adapter
Back in 1923, Gerabad Hachikian, a former chemist, sold his own chlorine bleach compound to Philadelphia homes via horse-drawn buggy. When launderettes arrived on the scene, he did brisk business delivering bleach to them. After college, his son, Vahe, joined the family firm, Hachik Distributors.
Then in the 1950s, as washing machines became commonplace in homes, the father-son team realized that swimming pools, which were gaining in popularity, could be a new market for them. So Vahe Hachikian began distributing pool products to retailers.
Fast forward to 1980, when his daughter joined the company after college. “Under my father’s wing, I slowly learned the business from the ground up,” recalls Nanette Zakian, company president. Unfortunately, Vahe Hachikian was diagnosed with cancer in 1986 and not given long to live. “At 28, I was thrust to the forefront,” Zakian says. She had to accelerate her training, surround herself with knowledgeable staff and get active in NSPI (now APSP).
Under her leadership, the Aston, Pa.-based firm thrived. Last year it celebrated its 90th birthday, and one reason for its success has been a willingness to embrace new technology. Zakian says Hachik was one of the first in the industry to offer online ordering for dealers. In 2005, bar coding of more than 20,000 products was instituted in Hachik’s warehouse, which she notes “immediately improved our accuracy and speed at which we pull orders.”
2011 was marked by Hachik’s renewed commitment to brick-and-mortar stores. “We do not do fulfillment for companies whose business is solely on the Internet,” Zakian explains. “We have invested in our own brands that are sold only through brick-and-mortar dealers.”
HornerXPRESS: Thinking Global
In 1969 Earl Horner, former sales manager for a pool products distributor, founded his own company, Horner Equipment of Florida. In 1972, Bill Kent joined the firm as a partner. The following year, however, health issues forced Horner to sell his share of the business to Kent.
Over the years, Kent made a number of strategic moves for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based firm. In 1985, he bought Discus Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif. This acquisition made his export company global, and now Horner has a presence in 90 countries.
In 1992, he purchased Lectranator Inc., the salt generator business now known as AutoPilot Systems. Kent also bought AquaCal, a manufacturer of pool heat pumps.
To date, branches of HornerXpress distribution business can be found in 17 locations throughout Florida.
For Kent, two developments in the distribution sector stand out in particular. “As the Florida pool industry developed into a mature stage of life, the rollup of distribution into one large public company created an unbalanced playing field, which still exists today. This is a challenge to any independent distribution company.”
For his own company, the biggest change has been in technology — in a good way. “Since the beginning of the 21st century,” Kent says, “the investment in technology to create an efficient and effective business has been remarkable.”
Imperial Pools: Meant to Be
Sometimes a company gets its name in a surprising way. Take Imperial Pools. In 1959, brothers Carmen and Goody Maiuccoro owned a Chrysler Imperial car dealership. One day, as a trade-in for a car, they accepted two “Easy Do” swimming pools. At first they weren’t sure what to do with the pools, then they decided to install them and build a reputation as pool professionals. But when they started exhibiting pools on the car lot, Chrysler objected: “We can’t have you displaying swimming pools on our lot. You have to pick one or the other.”
“Needless to say, they chose pools!” says Bill Churchman, the company’s CEO. “Since they had already paid for the Chrysler Imperial sign, they removed the word ‘Chrysler,’ turned the ‘I’ in Imperial into an anchor – and Imperial Pools was born.”
In 1966, the company incorporated as Imperial Pools Inc. Two years later, it moved into a new, single-purpose distribution facility, focused on pool kits. By 2003, the firm had 11 branches in the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest. In 1986 came the move to the current headquarters, a 130,000-square-foot facility in Latham, N.Y. Presiding over the operation today are Goody Maiuccoro’s sons, John and Gary, and John’s wife, Cathi Anne.
“We are very optimistic of what the future holds for distribution,” Churchman says. “We believe the role of the distributor is secure and remains an integral part of the supply chain. As our industry continues to rebound, the successful distributor must focus on listening to his customers. Understand his wants and needs, and then deliver!”
Pool Builders Supply: Filling Needs
Olen Morgan was a successful pool builder in North Carolina for years, but when he saw the need for product distribution to other builders in the Southeast, he took action. In 1976 he and wife Betty founded Pool Builders Supply.
“His background as an engineer, his entrepreneurial spirit and personal work ethic transformed the company into a major distributor in the Southeast,” says daughter Taryn Morgan Springsteed, vice president of the Charlotte, N.C., distributorship.
In the 1980s, the company began manufacturing package pools and covers and repacking chemicals — all while continuing its distribution business. “This allowed us to be a force in polymer pool kits and the construction, repair and service of all types of swimming pools,” Springsteed says. She notes that the firm has opened new locations in strategic cities in the Southeast, two in the last four years, and several more are in the works.
To cope with Internet sales, Springsteed says Pool Builders Supply must provide value by having products on hand at competitive prices, along with “great employees who provide service and knowledge to our customers.” Additionally, she points to the “vast amounts” SKUs that must be managed for all product categories.
“New products and automation are constantly introduced that require more SKUs, so our SKUs have grown from several thousand to more than 10,000 in recent years.”
Pool Water Products: The Call of the Golden State
The couple who established Pool Water Products got their start in the pool industry by working in service and retail.
In the early 1950s, Zee and Marvin Allred and their two sons moved from Arizona to California so Marvin could work on his Ph.D. Before he began, they summered in Newport Beach, where he took what was supposed to be a temporary job at a construction firm. He was quickly promoted to foreman, and they decided to stay in the Golden State.
They began a pool service route and, in 1958, opened Allred’s Pool Supply store. By 1964, they had decided to move into distribution, so they franchised their 18 stores and opened PWP. All was well until Marvin had a massive heart attack in 1968. Zee, who had left the office to care for their new daughter, returned to head the company. Unfortunately, Marvin’s health did not allow him to resume the leadership role. Eventually, the couple underwent an amicable divorce, with Zee retaining PWP ownership and Marvin taking over one of the less-stressful franchise stores until his demise in 2005.
Today, PWP has 300 employees at locations throughout California. The biggest challenge, Zee says, has been “surviving the great economic recession brought about by the collapse of the housing and banking industries.” She believes the pool distribution sector will experience some growth as the economy recovers, but warns that “current government regulations are not very favorable for any business. … I certainly hope this will change in the near future.”
Quality Pool Supply Co.: Bright Future
Quality Pool Supply Co. of Clio, Mich., has managed to achieve something not many companies can claim. “Due primarily to the commitment of our founder, Jack Engelhart, to provide stable employment, we have never laid off an employee for lack of work,” says John Coulier, vice president. “Providing quality jobs so men and women can raise families was his No. 1 satisfaction. This remains a core value of our company.”
Established in 1971 by Engelhart and Bill Morrish, the distributorship added a branch in Wayland, Mich., eight years later. In 2012, the ownership transfer to the second generation was completed, notes Coulier, who is Engelhart’s son-in-law.
The family-run firm also has faced down many challenges over time. The early 1980s were especially difficult, with high inflation and interest rates destroying any profits the firm made. “We survived and try to remember those days so we don’t repeat them,” Coulier says.
Looking ahead, he believes that as long as distributors continue to provide value to the customers, they have a bright future. After all, he says, distributors provide immediate access to thousands of items a dealer cannot logically stock; likewise, they help manufacturers reduce their production, storage, transportation and credit costs.
It’s also important for his company to remain resolute in its commitment to support brick-and-mortar pool dealers and builders. “We do not sell or fulfill drop ship orders for Internet-based retailers. We simply cannot cut our dealers’ throats to line our own pockets.”
Superior Pool Products: (PoolCorp) By Any Other Name ...
The saga of how PoolCorp’s business known as Superior Pool Products came to have its name is complex.
It began around 1959-60 as Consolidated Pool Supply in San Fernando Valley, Calif. A few years later, Consolidated teamed up with PoolMart from San Gabriel Valley and became known as Consolidated Pool Mart, managed by Don Walker. Later CPM was acquired by Kern Products. Don Kern and Larry Skeldon had formed Kern Products in 1974, when they acquired the pool supply business of Sears, Roebuck & Co. Their firm was acquired by Katy Industries, but still operated as Kern Products. Then in 1986, it was bought by Olin Corp. and the name was changed to Superior Pool Products Inc. In 2000, PoolCorp (SCP Distributors) purchased Superior.
But the story doesn’t stop there.
It’s almost as if Superior was destined to have that name anyway. Back when Don Kern was the owner, the company did not initially have a private label, says Randy Williams, who joined Superior in 1987 and was its controller. “Don Kern named a private label ‘Superior Products’ one day when he was asked by a potential customer the name of the company’s private label. The name came from a street sign that he happened to be standing by at that very moment!” explains Williams, who is now director of financial operations and analysis for PoolCorp.
Williams says the biggest challenge Superior has faced over the years is managing and keeping pace with the growth of the pool industry.
W.W. Adcock: Riding the Wave
Sometimes tragedy can turn into triumph. One August night in 1988, Dee Adcock got a call that the family’s main warehouse and office were on fire. The 50,000-square-foot building was destroyed. It was quite a challenge recovering from such a loss, says the president of W.W. Adcock, based in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. They rebuilt on the original footprint and added corporate offices. “We came back with something positive and better,” he says.
The 59-year-old distributorship is clearly a survivor. Founded by Dee’s father, Woodrow W. Adcock, it began as a plumbing supply company, eventually moving into the pool business. His brother, Dale, returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam to sell products, and they even had a retail store at one point.
Of course, there have been other challenges over the decades, and Dee points to the last recession as one. “We’ve had other recessions, but this was the most dramatic,” he says.
Of course, there have been other issues to deal with, such as Internet competition, liability lawsuits and government taxation and regulations for businesses. “Ultimately, you adapt and adjust, and work through the circumstances,” the distributor says philosophically.
Today, Adcock continues to work with small pool and spa companies, offering seminars to “help them be better businesspeople.”