Manufacturers dealing with minimum advertised pricing on pool and spa products are facing serious challenges enforcing the policy.
MAP has been lauded by many as a means to prevent dealers — often online vendors — from undercutting the market for certain goods.
Indeed, the recent announcement that chemical giant BioLab had launched a MAP program was received overwhelmingly well by retailers nationwide.
But major questions remain as to the most effective means of regulation.
“This is a new area for all industries, not just pool and spa,” said Charlie Schobel, vice president/general manager of BioLab in Lawrenceville, Ga. “Right now we’re looking at the best ways to monitor it. In some respects, we’re learning as we go.”
Though MAP policies still aren’t widespread among pool and spa product manufacturers, a handful have had them in place for some time.
Going back a half-dozen years, Hayward Pool Products was one of the first in the industry to adopt such a program.
The Elizabeth, N.J.-based manufacturer employs an outside company to patrol the Internet and identify dealers who violate its MAP guidelines, said Bruce Fisher, vice president of global marketing. Hayward then can withhold benefits, including marketing support and purchasing incentives.
Problem is, once Hayward’s products enter the distribution chain, the company’s enforcement options become more limited.
Some manufacturers have mentioned establishing agreements whereby distributors consent to helping enforce MAP policies. Business, therefore, would be contingent on cooperation throughout the chain.
“This is where distribution should play a greater role,” Fisher said. “I’d be curious to know how distributors support MAP [programs].”
Others, like Bill Kent, believe manufacturers have more leverage. Kent owns heat pump maker AquaCal-AutoPilot in St. Petersburg, Fla., and distribution firm HornerXpress in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Manufacturers own the rights to the brand names that appear online, in print or through other media, Kent said. Therefore, they are allowed to force noncompliant dealers to remove their brand from any advertising that violates the MAP policy.
Still, most manufacturers maintain it is nearly impossible to manage every Website that sells their product. At the same time, dealers often feel as though MAP violations draw little more than a slap on the wrist.
In Chandler, Ariz., Paramount Pool & Spa Systems is “strongly considering” launching a MAP policy for several of the products it offers through distribution, including drains, ozone systems and replacement jets, said Bill Burt, director of sales and marketing.
In addition to sorting out legal questions, for the past six months Paramount has been monitoring Websites that offer its goods. It is working to determine the extent to which its policy, which it hopes to have in place by early 2011, can be fortified.
“The whole thing is an interesting little web,” Burt said. “There are some gray areas there as far as what the rights are. And that’s certainly the challenge at this point.”