Early buys are in full swing, and many industry members are reporting participation is up slightly compared with the past few years.

For some, it’s an indication of a strong upcoming season, especially those who already have jobs lined up for early 2013.

“We are participating more for core merchandise,” said Randy Budd, president of Budd’s Pools & Spas in Deptford, N.J. “The larger players in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware have some work on the books and are fairly confident that it will be better than 2012.”

Though Budd anticipates a healthy season, he still opted to purchase the same amount as last year in certain categories. He is signing on to more early-buy programs overall, however, adding to a few key segments, such as equipment.

This confidence spreads to the Great Lakes region, where some are counting on the discounts seen from early buys as leverage when attempting to compete with e-commerce.

Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio sees making these purchases as an opportunity to offer better pricing while still meeting margins.

“Most of the early buys are things we know we are going to be selling, and save even more to put back into the company as well as to be competitive with the Internet,” said Mark Hostetler, parts manager at the Anderson, Ind.-based retailer and pool builder. “Now we have the flexibility to offer what the customer sees as a fair price as opposed to if they were shopping online.”

The firm is coming off what he characterized as “one of the best seasons in several years across the board.” That influenced the company to pursue new opportunities that were overlooked in years past.

One area of interest is robotic cleaners, a category that posted high numbers for the company in 2012. Last year, Mermaid did not order robotic cleaners as part of its early buys, but as of press time Hostetler said he planned to do so.

For many brick and mortars, the Internet played a major role in their decisions to opt out of, or reduce participation in, several programs.

Despite reporting consecutive growth since 1993, Waterworks Pool and Spa in Oak Ridge, Tenn., held back on its advanced buying, in part because of mounting concerns over competition from e-merchants.

“I usually have two to three suppliers that I make bulk purchases from, and this year the one I do the largest with I cut in half,” said co-owner Pat Kearns.

Meanwhile, others report vastly different motives behind their buying decisions.

For Warminster, Pa.-based Carlton Pools, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder, early buys are up slightly because of a supply problem that presented itself last year when the firm ran short on several items, including salt generators and pumps. The lead times also changed on some products, sparking a renewed interest, said President Joe Solana.

“We’d go out to do a job, not have the pump and then have to go back once it arrived at our warehouse, and it’s costly,” he said.

Because of the credit extended as part of the programs, some approach them cautiously.

Such is the case for Ocean Quest Pools by Lew Akins. The Belton, Texas-based firm did make some early-buy purchases in 2012, but company President Lew Akins said that option is not for everybody, though. “I try to limit [them] because nothing frightens me more than debt,” he said. “We have no debt. We own our building and vehicles, and the absence of debt got people through the tough times.”

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