In hopes of reversing the effects of a historically
unpopular move, BioLab has revived its SUN brand and
re-entered the distribution market.
“The distribution channel is very important to
our industry,” said Charlie Schobel, vice
president and general manager of the Lawrenceville,
Ga.-based manufacturer’s professional division.
“I believe it has a strong future. For us not to
participate in that important segment was wrong, I
The firms currently selling BioLab products are General
Pool Supply in Rancho Cordova, Calif.; The Lynde Co., St.
Paul, Minn.; Conely Co., Salt Lake City; Quality Pool
Supply Co., Clio, Mich.; and Key West Chemical and Paper
Supply Inc., Key West, Fla. BioLab plans to partner with
distributors across the country.
BioLab first shocked the industry last summer when it
decided to drop the SUN, Hydrotech and Guardex labels and
take its OMNI line dealer-direct, thereby completely
eliminating distributors from the mix.
The move was less than popular with a number of industry
“To cut us off mid-season just left me with so
many SKU holes that I was doing my customers a
disservice,” said one former BioLab distributor,
who asked to remain anonymous. “[Then] they were
selling to my customers direct. It was not pleasant at the
end of last year for my loyal Omni customers, who I was
just trying to service.”
But BioLab management changed a few months later. When
former vice president of government affairs Charlie Schobel
took charge of the company’s dealer division, he
re-evaluated some of his predecessors’
“I took a clean sheet of paper and said,
‘Which decisions should we continue to go forward
on? Which ones do I think we could have done in a different
way?’ I think this is one we could have done in a
However, BioLab still doesn’t want to carry as
many products through distribution as in the past. The SUN
line has been streamlined from the dozens of SKUs the brand
previously included. Schobel said more will be added as
distributors request them. In addition, the firm decided
not to release SUN hot-tub products at this time. Neither
Guardex nor Hydrotech are expected to resurface.
BioLab’s move has met with mixed reactions.
Some have welcomed the more-than-40-year-old brand with
open arms. “I always wanted that product [back]
because it sells itself,” said Gilda Fernandez, a
partner in Key West Chemical and Paper Supply Inc.
“It has great packaging and a personality of its
own. Everybody knows it here.”
But other distributors said they’re not
interested in working with the company again.
“I am very surprised that a distributor would
even think about getting back into business with them,
unless they had a tremendous contract,” said Chuck
Arakelian, president of Bay State Pool Supplies in
Cambridge, Mass. “I can’t control my
destiny with a company like that at this
BioLab declined to outline the details of the contracts.
However, the firm remains conciliatory toward those
distributors who say they were wronged.
“I can understand how some of the distributors
felt,” Schobel said. “The way that we
exited distribution caused problems, and for that, I
apologize. For some of the distributors who have feelings
against us right now, I would hope that maybe we can work
through it because I think there are some really good,
long-term prospects for us working together.”
One incentive is the exclusivity agreement BioLab has
offered its distribution customers so far. For example,
General Pool Supply is the sole SUN distributor in Arizona,
Nevada and most of California.
“We would not have re-entered without the
exclusive arrangement,” said Phil Gelhaus, company
president. “If we’re building the brand
and it can also be available at all our competitors, we
wouldn’t do it.”
Some of the distributors who agreed to carry the
chemicals said bygones need to be bygones and the brand is
too popular to forgo.
“My first concern is my customers, and they
want the SUN line,” Fernandez said. “So
I’m going to try to get it for as long as I can,
and put [the history] aside. BioLab has gone back to the
drawing board, and they’re [doing business] like
they used to. That might make them strong
Gelhaus and Fernandez sold the SUN label for multiple
decades, and each believes that the name still carries
weight because only a few months passed between the
brand’s disappearance off the shelves and
BioLab’s recent announcement.
If anything will spell success in this endeavor,
Fernandez said, it is the brand’s longevity, and
the reputation BioLab had before the previous management
made some unpopular choices. “They’re
very lucky,” she said. “Anybody else
would have probably screwed up the market, and it would
have been dead and gone.”
Gelhaus acknowledged that not all his customers will be
as welcoming as he has been. “It’s going
to be a case-by-case scenario,” he said.
“But there’s already enough demand to let
us know that we made the right decision.”