Brick-and-mortar retailers are seeking a stronger voice within
the pool and spa industry.
In recent months, a number of store operators have come forward
to express a need for a national group that would empower retailers
and encourage a healthy exchange of ideas and best practices.
“There are groups that cater to so many different parts of
the industry, but retail really hasn’t been tended to,”
said Barbara Hilburn-Pankratz, president/general manager of Nohl
Ranch Pool Supply, based in Orange, Calif. “The more we
share, the better we will be.”
This call to action was sparked, in part, by the mounting
pressure that online retailing has placed on brick and mortars and
the pricing concerns related to Internet sellers. Recently, a group
of Arizona dealers began lobbying for stricter enforcement of
minimum advertised pricing (MAP). Some think this is an example of
what could be done if retailers had a national organization
dedicated solely to their industry sector.
“Originally, my idea was for a smaller group in which
independent retailers in like areas that face similar problems
could exchange ideas, but you’d always hope it would
eventually turn into a larger one,” Hilburn-Pankratz,
These sentiments are echoed across the country in Pennsylvania
by Richard Giamusso, business manager of Olympic Pools’ three
stores in the Scranton area. He said such a group would enable
retailers to approach manufacturers with suggestions on how both
sides can come to an understanding for the sake of their mutual
“If you had 150 dealers to go to a manufacturer and say,
‘Listen, you better start thinking about us or you
won’t have anyone around to do business with anymore,’
we might be able to control what’s going on with the
Internet,” he explained. “You need to be heard, and you
have to have a position of strength where you can make demands of
While insiders agree this could lead to powerful and effective
communication, some point to the Association of Pool & Spa
Professionals and other groups as supporters of all branches of the
industry, including retail. However, even Brian Quint, past
chairman of APSP, said that while the association may be a good
starting point, there possibly are legal issues, such as
anti-trust, that could prevent it from hosting talks regarding
pricing. Additionally, while he believes the idea of a national
group is invaluable, he cautions against creating one and holding
meetings without consulting legal counsel.
“If we could get around the constraints of anti-trust and
price fixing, I think it’s a great idea,” said the
president of Seattle-based Aqua Quip. “I think we have to
engage manufacturers, distributors and the like in those
conversations. We would need to go in with our eyes open and have
good legal advice so we don’t get into a squeeze down the
Establishing a national organization for retailers isn’t
only about pricing and communicating concerns with manufacturers,
Hilburn-Pankratz said members would benefit from brainstorming
new and effective approaches to marketing and other issues related
to operating a brick-and-mortar store in an ever-evolving retail
climate. It could even lead to a more formalized approach to
spreading the word about the industry. If done properly, all
members of the organization would partake, resulting in a universal
message being passed down from stores to consumers about the
importance of supporting pool and spa brick and mortars.
“I see the local pool supply like any other kind of
service company such as a hairdresser or a mechanic, where people
get to know and trust and come back to because they have a comfort
zone,” Hilburn-Pankratz said. “It’s one thing to
sell something and quite another to feel sincere about it. So if
you could promote that somehow, it would be beneficial.”
Good intentions aside, there are clear logistical issues in
creating a national organization, Giamusso said. First, a few
individuals would need to step forward to assume some sort of
leadership roles. Second, it would be a challenge to organize
members from all over the nation. Not to mention, there are obvious
differences in which companies operate in areas where climates and
seasons range in temperature and length and how businesses meet the
varying needs of their customers.
Perhaps of greatest concern to Giamusso is the competition he
still experiences from similar nearby stores. Unlike
Hilburn-Pankratz who has a healthy, positive relationship with
retailers in her territory, Giamusso said competitors in his area
view each other as enemies.
“Mostly, everybody is cutthroat,” he said.
“It’s a shame because we are all in the same
To meet some of these challenges, Hilburn-Pankratz suggests
following in the footsteps of other industry organizations to set
guidelines and parameters on how to properly share without
encroaching on another’s territory.
In the meantime, creating an online forum using a popular social
media platform such as Twitter or Facebook to see if there is
enough demand would be an ideal place to start, she said.
Of course, the idea is in the early stages and no formal leadership
is even close to being established, she added.
“It’s something that would take time, but if you
start small and throw out some ideas, maybe something will
stick,” Giamusso added.