Like it or not, automated water-testing kiosks are a reality.
HTH Pool Care Products, owned by Swiss biotech company Lonza, recently installed 215 self-service water-testing stations at Walmart locations throughout the United States.
The in-store kiosk, called Test to Swim, guides a user through a series of questions on a touch-screen display, diagnoses a water sample and, based on test results, generates a list of recommended HTH products and dosing requirements.
The machine has some independent retailers concerned because water testing has long been a staple for many pool and spa stores.
“It certainly doesn’t make me happy,” said Kelli McBride, store manager at New York-based Pettis Pools, a Lonza dealer. McBride, who began her career as a water tester, added, “I’d hate to see those positions go by the wayside.”
McBride echoes the concerns of industry peers who’ve long prided themselves on offering something that — until recently — the big-box stores couldn’t.
Though retail giants have increased their pool product offerings over the years, independent dealers have been able to maintain something of a competitive edge by expertly analyzing water quality issues and walking customers through their maintenance needs. Some fear that these self-service labs will erode that already-slim advantage.
But Lonza officials said they don’t intend to slight their pro dealer network. “We understand that the HTH Test to Swim kiosk will not replace the local pool care expert, but for the busy mom who’s already shopping at Walmart, this water-testing station will add clarity to her pool-treatment routine and enhance her pool-care experience,” said Julie Price, mass water marketing manager at Lonza.
HTH, however, could soon face some kiosk competition of its own.
Blue Ocean Corals, an aquarium industry leader, is equipping pet stores with a similar machine. While the Thrive WaterLab was developed specifically for the fish tank market, the Deerfield Beach, Fla., company believes that — with a few tweaks — the technology would be applicable to sellers of pool and spa chemicals.
“We’ve been actively looking into that segment,” said Dean Tapper, vice president of sales, noting that Thrive WaterLab’s user interface is similar to that of HTH’s. “It’s very close to what the pool industry is doing,” he added.
Because Blue Ocean Corals doesn’t make chemicals for pools and spas, it would need a pool industry partner to buy into technology.
But why would any self-respecting pool chemical dealer want this in his or her store? For the same reason sellers of pet products are installing these units: to save on labor costs and give customers a self-service option, Tapper said.
While Blue Ocean Corals has been receiving inquiries from pool retailers about the machine’s potential, not all are on board with the idea.
Asked if she’d consider automating her water-testing process, McBride quickly rejected the prospect.
“No,” she said, bluntly. “I like getting paid.”