A forthcoming product called pHin will make it even easier for homeowners to buy pool chemicals online through a unique, subscription-based service. But the inventor doesn’t want industry professionals to see it as a threat. In fact, he’s looking for partners.
Justin Miller, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Valley startup ConnectedYard Inc., said he wants to bring pool care into the “IoT” age.
IoT refers to the Internet of Things, a catch phrase that describes any device that is embedded with a Wi-Fi-enabled sensor, allowing it to exchange data over the Web.
In pHin’s case, it’s a wireless device that floats in the pool to continuously monitor pH, ORP, total alkalinity, total hardness and cyanuric acid levels and sends readings via a mobile app.
It’s not a groundbreaking concept. At least one product, the Swim Time ePool Smart System, introduced the industry to a similar technology several years ago.
But here’s what makes pHin different, and perhaps a little spooky for brick-and-mortar retailers: The mobile app will instruct homeowners to drop in water-soluble, single-dose pods to bring their water back into balance. These pods arrive on their doorstep once or twice a month. In other words, subscribers won’t have to buy chemicals at their local pool store.
That doesn’t sit well with Debbie LeClerc.
“There is nothing that can replace a trained, experienced pool professional,” said the co-owner of The Pool Doctor of Rhode Island.
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Miller agrees that a robot is no substitute for human expertise. That’s why he wants to establish a network of pool professionals whom pHin users could hire, through the mobile app, for one-off services such as equipment repairs and filter cleanings.
Not unlike Amazon Home Services, among other contractor/homeowner matchmaking programs, ConnectedYard will make a small percentage on each transaction based on pre-negotiated rates.
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While Miller acknowledges that pHin is taking water balance out of the equation for retailers and service professionals, he contends there are plenty of other, more lucrative, ways for them to make money.
“It’s going to allow them to focus less on basic testing and more on higher-margin opportunities,” said Miller, whose background includes leadership roles at Plaxo, Comcast, eBay and Apple.
Miller said he’s been working closely with a prominent local pool service firm and a pool chemical expert, whom he declined to identify, to develop the product.
ConnectedYard is finalizing contracts with major U.S. pool chemical manufacturers to supply the single-dose pods. He declined to name those, as well.
Industry response so far, Miller said, has been positive.
In fact, ConnectedYard plans to develop a pro version of pHin that will allow service professionals to monitor pools remotely and respond only as needed, reducing time spent on the road.
For now, the consumer version is available for pre-order. It will begin shipping early next year.
Miller said he hasn’t finalized a retail strategy, but doesn’t think the product will be available exclusively online.
“We think going broad makes sense, whether that’s Leslie’s or Home Depot,” he said. “Wherever people go to buy chemicals, we want to be an option.”
Just don’t expect to find it at The Pool Doctor of Rhode Island.
“I don’t believe it will give my customers the right answers,” LeClerc said.