Some independent pool and spa retailers are concerned over changes they’ve observed among manufacturers.
A number of vendors, they say, are producing smaller or fewer
brochures, pushing early buys back into fall, and raising the
minimum purchase requirements for free freight.
“When these companies cut back on staff, it affects marketing
materials, promotional items and overall dealer support,”
said George Catelli, owner of Sunshine Pool & Spa in Santa
Rosa, Calif. “They’re supposed to paint a rosy picture
of their products, but they’re actually giving you
In the past year or two, Catelli and others — many of whom
are members of buying groups — also have observed dealer
meetings at factories suspended; manufacturers’
representatives paying fewer visits; and shrinking inventories that
have retailers questioning whether manufacturers can respond to
“If you have a [product] that you’re not sure about and
it gets popular and you run out in July, that’s it,”
said Chris Callanan, owner of North Shore Pool & Spa in
Wakefield, Mass. “They’re not sitting on inventory like
they used to. They’re depending on distribution to keep
inventory, and I don’t buy through distribution.”
Approximately 500 miles south, in Gaithersburg, Md., Kelly Reed
said a number of her fellow retailers now are relying more on
just-in-time inventory. There’s no point in keeping it in
stock, she said, because storage space has shrunk in recent
“But the manufacturers don’t keep it in stock either.
They expect us to be the warehouse,” said Reed, operations
manager at Contemporary Watercrafters and a director on the
Association of Pool & Spa Professionals’ Retailers
“So while they’re increasing the minimums for early
buys, we also have less inventory space,” she added.
“The result is it makes it harder for us to take advantage of
those early buys.”
Dealers across the country also report that for some manufacturers,
free freight minimums have nearly doubled. One has taken to adding
a fuel surcharge to orders that ship after a certain date, said
John Hasselbach, owner of All Seasons Pools, Spas, Billiards in
“That trend isn’t going to change,” Catelli
added. “Fuel costs continue to go up, and that’s going
to impact us in a big way. We may have to increase our prices
anywhere from 3- to 5 percent on some key items before the
As for manufacturers’ reps, Reed said the impression is that
territories have become stretched to the point where the quantity
and level of product information dealers receive on products now
largely covers “just the basics.”
The technical and anecdotal information that once formed the basis
of understanding about a product and how to sell it have been
curtailed or sacrificed in some cases, she added.
“They’re relying more on electronic
communication,” she said. “And that’s good, but
online training isn’t what we’re used to in terms of
depth and interactivity.”
In response, manufacturers concede there’s little that can be
done to defray rising freight costs. Whether it’s due to fuel
or their own vendors passing on the expenses, “that’s
definitely a concern,” said Cassi Burt, marketing director at
Dimension One Spas in Vista, Calif.
And while the manufacturer’s marketing team has contracted in
recent years, Burt said the evolution that has occurred in its
communication processes are, in fact, geared toward greater
customization and efficiency."
“Everything is changing right now,” she said.
“Just like the dealerships are having to change the way they
market and the way they look at buying, the manufacturers are doing
the same thing.
“We’re trying to do different things and hoping that
what we do is most effective,” she added. “A few years
ago you’d see a lot of new POP for specific promotions, [but]
this year you’re seeing Facebook banners and social media
ads. It’s just not something that the dealers have been used
to, nor do they necessarily see the benefit. So I can see how that
might come across as ‘the [manufacturers] aren’t doing
for me what they used to.’ But it’s just a
At Pentair Water Pool and Spa, Carlos Del Amo said his company
hasn’t significantly altered its early buy program in recent
years. The vice president of marketing at the Sanford, N.C.-based
manufacturer also said no changes have been made to its freight
policies because of economic conditions.
“None of these decisions have been driven by a downturn in
the economy,” he said. “Any decisions have been well
thought out and industry-driven. I don’t know who has made
those types of changes.”
He did say the company has produced more electronic media,
“but that’s just another way for our customers to get
Indeed, in today’s evolving marketplace, it’s a new
reality the industry may just have to embrace.