Pool and spa professionals across the country are reporting a more upbeat tone to early buys in 2012.
Vendors say unusual weather during the 2011 swim season has
prompted widespread caution, but that they expect somewhat more
robust equipment sales than in previous years, particularly in the
salt chlorination category.
“We’re ordering more electrolytic chlorine generators
this year,” said Mike Besso, general manager of Central Pools
and Spas in Framingham, Mass.
Retailers around the nation also noted that they anticipate heavier
consumer interest in automation technology — especially
variable-speed pumps — this coming season than in previous
years, and are stocking up in preparation.
Another developing trend among smaller retailers is an increased
diversification in product categories. In an effort to provide
one-stop backyard shopping, many stores have begun supplementing
their pool offerings with patio furniture and accessories, and
appliances such as grills.
“Once we’ve built a pool and a deck, the
customer’s ready to shop for chairs, tables and so on,”
said Jay Tucker, owner of Swim World Pools in Gallatin, Tenn.
“So we’re preparing to meet those needs.”
On the shipping end of the spectrum, conditions appear to be
improving. Over the past two years, many business owners grew
frustrated with the fuel surcharges that some vendors tacked onto
purchases to compensate for rising petroleum costs, and lean
shipping lines led to delays from some manufacturers — but
both problems are less widespread this season.
“I haven’t seen any fuel surcharges so far this
year,” said Ryan Carlson, owner of SkyBlue Pool Supply in Los
Gatos, Calif. Though others report that many vendors continue to
apply these charges, the overall number of manufacturers insisting
on them has decreased somewhat. Some retailers even report that
their vendors are offering free shipping on early buys.
However, a few shipments have been arriving later than expected,
leading some to suggest that there’s still room for
improvement in this area. “Typically, we’d get all our
orders in early December at the latest, but I’m still getting
truckloads in throughout early January,” said Nick Day,
service manager at Gohlke Custom Pools in Denton, Texas. Though he
adds that he’s received the majority of his products by now,
he finds himself among a sizable segment of independent retailers
who say they’ve been surprised to encounter these continued
Others, meanwhile, have expressed concern over another trend, one
that’s been ongoing for the past several years: Some
manufacturers have been raising the minimum purchase size necessary
to receive a bulk discount, forcing retailers to spend more than
they’d anticipated. “For one vendor, we had to spend
about $25,000 to get a discount,” Day said. “That seems
like it’d be out of the reach of a smaller
Insiders on the vendor side said such increases likely reflect
manufacturers’ concerns about adequate distributor-side
product support. “It’s probably to facilitate the
distribution of larger single-item quantities,” said Carlos
Del Amo, vice president of marketing and product development at
Pentair Water Pool and Spa in Sanford, N.C.
One of the major areas in which a distributor gets pushback from
dealers, Del Amo said, is whether their warehouse has a sufficient
stock of replacement parts readily available in case a piece of
equipment breaks down — and these increases appear to
constitute one attempt to address those manufacturer
Despite constraints such as these, vendors and retailers alike say
they expect a robust market for equipment and parts this season. In
fact, many report that their pre-season sales already represent a
significant year-over-year increase.
“The economy seems to be rebounding a little bit,” Day
said. “Our sales are increasing, so our order volumes are
increasing with that, across the board.”