Independent pool stores face heavy competition from online retailers, big- box stores and even large pool store chains that are continually expanding.

A new cooperative wants to help retailers fight that competition with collective buying strength as well as a fresh approach to online retailing and educational opportunities.

“A lot of the small, family-owned retailers that have one store or two stores have really gotten squeezed,” said industry veteran Rod Sterling, president/COO of the National Pool Retailers Cooperative, based in Memphis, Tenn. “They’re getting squeezed from the dynamics of the pool industry side, and then they’re also getting squeezed from Amazon, Home Depot, Ace, Lowe’s, Walmart, Costco.”

PRC could bring together the more than 10,000 independent pool retailers in the United States, Sterling said. The new not-for-profit organization plans to start taking membership applications before Nov. 1. The co-op is exhibiting at the upcoming International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in Orlando, Fla., and will have staff available to answer questions.

“The real benefit to joining is to be able to buy better,” Sterling said. “That’s the crux of it.”

But unlike traditional buying groups, PRC won’t have territory restrictions. And members also will own a pool supplies website and participate in its profits — even for items not shipped from their stores.

An exclusive member-owned equip-ment line and a chemical line, Freestyle Pool Products, also will bring benefit.

Bringing new ideas and options to struggling retailers is valuable.

“Anything that can help the industry grow is beneficial,” said Debbi Leclerc, co-owner of The Pool Doctor of Rhode Island in Coventry, R.I., and member of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals Retail Council. “There are a lot of small dealers who might be able to grow their businesses if they’re buying better or getting better education.”

LeClerc is a member of the Carecraft buying group, based in Carlsbad, Calif., which she credits with helping with networking opportunities and better pricing for products.

The cooperative’s lack of territory restrictions could be seen by retailers as a positive or a negative. One plus is that retailers who previously were excluded from larger buying groups now will have an outlet to turn to for securing more competitive pricing. But the networking and collaboration within the cooperative could be between retailers trying to attract customers in the same areas.

“While it’s a great idea, it might pose a challenge to some retailers,” said Kelly Reed, operations manager at Contemporary Watercrafters in Gaithersburg, Md., and APSP Retail Council member. The store is a member of United Aqua Group, based in Las Vegas.

PRC membership cost will be a one-time fee of $1,000 per store, and $199 per month. The first 200 memberships will be complimentary.