The world’s largest distributor of pool and spa products just got bigger.

Covington, La.-based PoolCorp has acquired National Pool Tile, a division of Pentair Inc., in a move announced Feb. 21. Terms of the deal, which is expected to be finalized this month, were not disclosed.

NPT is a tile distributor based in Anaheim, Calif., and officials at PoolCorp believed the firm was a smart buy for the future.

“As swimming pools have become more mainstream in many markets, particularly Southern markets, the demand for the types of products distributed by NPT should grow at a faster rate long term than the overall pool market,” said Manuel J. Perez de la Mesa, PoolCorp’s president/CEO.

PoolCorp has had its eye on NPT since Pentair acquired NPT’s parent company, Essef Corp., in 1999, Perez de la Mesa said. He added that he made a point of staying in regular contact with Pentair executives about the proposition.

“Periodically, I’d say, ‘By the way, NPT is not a good fit for Pentair. If you’re interested in selling it, we’re interested in buying it,’” Perez de la Mesa said. “That plug was made repeatedly until in the latter part of 2007, when Pentair told me that they were maybe ready to do something. That’s when the talks began in earnest.”

NPT, with annual net sales of $60 million, has 15 showrooms in seven states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Texas. PoolCorp will soon begin expanding that presence to some 200 distribution centers nationwide.

“NPT used to have to ship to [smaller] markets,” Perez de la Mesa said. “But we have a physical presence there and, over time, we’ll have those products in those markets. So it will be more efficient to buy from us than from other [tile] companies that ship into those markets.”

PoolCorp has acquired many companies over the past few years — mostly smaller, privately owned distributors. But the acquisition of NPT ranks among the company’s most significant recent moves. PoolCorp purchased Superior Pool Products Inc. in 2000; Fort Wayne Pools in 2002; the distribution division of Litehouse Products Inc. in 2003; Pool Tech Distributors in 2004; and Automatic Rain Co. and its subsidiary, Horizon Distributors Inc., in 2005. PoolCorp also bought Wickham Supply Inc. and its subsidiary, Water Zone, LP, in 2006.

Pentair said it sold NPT because it was not a good fit for the company’s long-term plans. It will use the cash proceeds to pay down debt.

“National Pool Tile’s business model is inconsistent with that of our core pool equipment business,” said Randall J. Hogan, Pentair’s chairman/ CEO. “And as the leading wholesale distributor in the pool industry, PoolCorp is a logical buyer for the business.”

Industry insiders said PoolCorp’s buyout of NPT is in keeping with the company’s history of acquisition and expansion.

“It’s logical,” observed Brian Quint, CEO of Aqua Quip, a retailer/builder based in Renton-Wash. “It makes more sense for a distributor like PoolCorp to be involved with NPT’s tile business than it is for a manufacturer like Pentair.

“Paying for freight and warehousing are two of the biggest challenges for that product, and PoolCorp can manage that well,” Quint added.

PoolCorp’s acquisition comes on the heels of the publicly traded company revealing news of a rough fourth quarter of 2007.

The firm told investors last month that gross profit for the year decreased 2 percent, or $9.3 million, and base business sales fell 1 percent in 2007. Operating income for 2007 dropped 20 percent, and net sales in the fourth quarter slipped by 6 percent compared with the same time in 2006.

“We continue to weather an unprecedented external market environment,” Perez de la Mesa said. “The real estate market issues, with falling home values and tighter credit, intensified throughout 2007 … negatively affecting our 2007 results.”

He reiterated that the decision to open 29 new sales centers since the beginning of 2006 “is estimated to have had a dilutive impact” on the earnings per share of the company’s stock.

Less than two years ago, PoolCorp stock was a hot seller, demanding more than $50 a share. At press time, PoolCorp stock was trading at or below $20.