Since 2010, several swimming pool and spa chemical manufacturers have rebranded their products. This is not uncommon, but these updates are occurring at a greater rate than in years past.

In fact, half of the manufacturers who responded to an exclusive Pool & Spa News survey said they rebranded in the last two years to create a new image for their swimming pool and spa lines.

Following are the results of the survey along with a discussion about the rebranding initiatives and dealers’ responses to the changes.

Information Age

Traditionally, companies tend to undergo a rebranding every seven to ten years. However, these days it’s occurring much more frequently.

From firms that recently launched their products to legacy brands with more than 50 years on the market, manufacturers are reinventing their look to better connect with the consumer while still retaining a core identity, also known as “equities” or “anchors.”

The increased frequency of rebranding comes, in part, as a result of consumers’ reliance on the Internet. This has created an environment where consumers want the latest and greatest, and if manufacturers don’t respond immediately, their products may be overlooked. What’s more, the Internet and the abundance of resources available have compounded the already confusing nature of chemicals, a common complaint cited by a high number of the survey’s participants.

“It’s the Internet Age, and information is so readily available but a lot of it is not factual, which has added layers of complexity for the consumer,” says Joe DeFuria, brand manager for BioLab’s Pro Dealer Division. “People are very spur of the moment and if the consumer doesn’t have the information at their fingertips, you have lost them.”

The Lawrenceville, Ga.-based manufacturer hoped to meet this dilemma head on with its rebrand in 2010. In response to consumer focus groups, the company redesigned its core products to address concerns expressed by the end users as well as the dealers who sold the product.

In addition to tweaking its logo, BioGuard also established five categories for the user’s specific need, including Maintain, Inhibit, Remedy, Improve and Off Season. This coincides with a color-coded system to distinguish the categories more and make the products “pop” on the shelf. For example, the algaecide now is labeled as a “remedy” and is color coded orange. 

New competition

While consumers are turning to the Internet for information more regularly, the number of those making purchases online also is quickly increasing. Until recently, the chemical category remained a safe place for dealers because consumers were reluctant to  purchase those products online, primarily because they don’t have a strong grasp of what they need to treat their water. However, 36 percent of dealers who responded to the survey categorized the threat of online chemical sales last year as having “increased greatly” while another 31 percent indicated the threat had “increased slightly.” Granted, 27 percent noted there had been no change, but in general it is a growing concern among brick-and-mortar retailers.

Currently, chlorine tablets seem to be the most popular chemical product purchased online, but in time this could change, observes Shawna Reynolds, assistant general manager of Pool World in Spokane, Wash. “Consumers don’t buy their full season of chemicals online, but it could have the potential to get there,” she notes. “But a lot of our customers do come to us for testing and knowledge they can’t get online.”

Indeed, e-commerce is slowly chipping away at in-store sales, but dealers are hoping their knowledge of specialty products, ability to test water, and friendly business practices will help to curb this shift. So much so that half of the dealers surveyed said they do not see the need for manufacturers to rebrand at all.

“We’re so hands-on with our customers and we are in a specialty business, so the idea is they need our help,” says Brad Schmoekel, sales manager of Ohio Pools & Spas in North Canton, Ohio. Schmoekel, one of more than 350 survey participants, said that his customer base is very loyal and consistently exhibits a need to rely on his staff for chemicals. During the summer, he even has a line out the door with people waiting to have their water diagnosed, he explains.

Modern world

Not all dealers see the rebranding as an unnecessary practice. In general, Troy Derheim’s customers also rely on the staff to recommend chemicals. But contrary to some of his peers, the president of the Fargo, N.D., retail store Tubs of Fun, says products with a modern look and clear language will appeal more to consumers and build trust between him and his customers.

“A generic bottle seems generic. A label that’s more appealing and easier to understand will build sales and people will be more dedicated to [the brand],” he says. “Everything you can do to bring the consumer to you and have them return is going to help.”

Despite this clear divide between dealers, chemical manufacturers are recreating their brands’ looks as a way to help bolster sales, influence buyers, drive business and moderize.

After 15 years, King Technology redesigned its logo, slogan and packaging in 2011 to do just that, says Lynn Nord, marketing manager for the Hopkins, Minn.-based firm, and a survey participant. As such, the company plans to update its design every few years as a necessity.

“There is no doubt that consumers are doing research online and they expect fresh new content,” she says. “By its very nature, the Internet isn’t stagnant, and we can’t be stagnant either.”

In essence, companies are counting on the refreshed look to add to the loyalty experienced by so many dealers because it helps consumers to draw a connection between the product and the seller. In marketing, this concept is called double insurance, says Terri Goldstein, CEO of The Goldstein Group, which recently assisted Lonza with a complete overhaul of its Poolife brand.

“Hopefully, you already have loyalty from the consumer to the dealer, but how about loyalty to the brand [the dealer] offers as well?” she asks.

As part of Lonza’s restaging, Goldstein conducted eight focus groups involving consumers and dealers. The participants evaluated Poolife’s packaging, language, logo and overall effectiveness in communicating with the consumer. The process took nearly six months, but in the end, the research pinpointed the changes needed to update the product line.

The brand officially relaunched at the 2012 International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in New Orleans. The packaging taps into the “fun” aspect of owning a swimming pool, a characteristic not often associated with chemicals. By settling on an image that evokes an emotional response, Lonza officials believe customers will associate on a more positive level with their purchases.

“People want to be reminded of the joy they experienced when purchasing their pool,” explains Gigi Carder, marketing manager of Lonza’s Dealer Direct Division in Atlanta. “What they see is sparkling blue water, family and friends. Then we bring chemicals into it, and it becomes boring and technical.”

The language used on the packaging also is a concern to many as manufacturers seek to connect with consumers and reinforce their brand’s identity. Such is the case with SeaKlear, which also unveiled its new product line, the Mighty Pod, at the Expo. The packaging includes clear and specific symbols and language to help users understand the product’s function, such as a heart for Weekly Pool Care and a cross for Weekly Pool Cure. This may be the future design inspiration for SeaKlear as the manufacturer considers a rebrand that could also include a new naming convention for its existing pool and spa products.

“We’re trying to get closer to the end user and Mighty Pod is the first foray into that effort,” says Kate Bovey, senior director of marketing and communication for the Bothell, Wash.-based firm’s parent company HaloSource. “We’re in planning mode for 2013.”

Some changes are less about the language and more about overall aesthetics. Take Haviland Enterprise’s Proteam Spa packaging, for example. After nearly 20 years of the same design, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company replaced the product’s dated bottle with one that resembled a shampoo bottle, with a pink, pearlescent color. The strategy, says marketing manager John Bereza, was meant to target the mid-50s female buying market, one of the largest to purchase spa chemicals.

A simple explanation of a product’s purpose can also help dealers who have had to downsize due to the economic climate but who still have busy days during the summer months.

Having product with concise messaging on the shelves may reduce some of the burden placed on a store’s staff, says DeFuria.

“In the current business climate, most retail stores have fewer staff, so having something that is simpler is a big help,” he says.