A group of pool and spa retailers, service technicians and builders
in Arizona are banding together to call out manufacturers who fail
to enforce their minimum advertised prices (MAP) online.
If Internet prices continue to drop, the entire industry’s
profit model is under threat, according to members of the Arizona
Pool Dealers Association.
“If this situation keeps deteriorating, retailers,
distributors and independent sales guys won’t be able to
compete. Direct sales will be the only option left for
manufacturers,” said Dale Howard, president of B&L Pools in
Phoenix and an APDA member. “And that model doesn’t
support a quality product; it supports the cheapest product
While Howard emphasizes that some manufacturers do police their MAP
effectively, many others have assured retailers that they’re
investigating the problem — while prices for their products
online continued to plunge.
For the past several years, brick-and-mortar retailers have been
growing increasingly frustrated with the situation.
“We’ve got customers coming in to return products,
telling us we’re ‘crooks’ for charging so much
more than the Internet price,” Howard said.
“And, of course, those customers won’t be coming back
to a brick-and-mortar pool supply store after that. From then on,
they’re Internet shoppers.”
Thus, in February, Howard decided it was time to take a stand. He
began drafting a proposal for a program of “preferred
dealers” and “preferred manufacturers.” The
process would involve a mutual agreement between a manufacturer and
a dealer. For its part, a manufacturer would sell products and
provide incentives only to dealers who abide by its MAP, while
dealers would be obliged to provide reliable sales and support for
that manufacturer’s products.
“Manufacturers are losing their own market share against
people on the Internet who are selling thousands of units at very
low profit margins,” Howard said. “These online
retailers are controlling the market through sheer
While online sellers do bring in a lot of volume, their actions can
hurt the industry overall, especially in terms of quality control,
APDA members said.
“The manufacturer has to take a position on how they want to
sell a certain product,” explained Bart Mitchell of Litchfield
Park Pool Service in Litchfield Park, Ariz. “If
we’re going to sell the product, warranty the product and
educate the customer about it, then we should be able to make a
profit when we sell it.” Mitchell also was involved in
drafting the agreement proposal.
Meanwhile, even some online retailers agree that such an
arrangement would likely prove beneficial for them as well.
“We strongly believe in adhering to MAP pricing on the
products we sell,” said Sarah Brown, product development
manager at Aquabots.com in Boise, Idaho. “It’s a
system I agree with because it keeps us from ending up in price
APDA plans to present the agreement to manufacturers later this
year, after an official draft is approved by its members. Though
manufacturer acceptance may not be universal, those who adopt the
agreement are likely to win faithful support from the retail