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Competition from the internet and big box stores has long been a concern among many industry professionals, particularly retailers and service/repair technicians. Some allege the playing field is not level, with major distributors and manufacturers selling products directly to the public at lower prices. Here, POOLCORP CEO Manny Perez de la Mesa addresses those concerns, offers advice to industry entrepreneurs and explains how his company supports the trade.
Manny Perez de la Mesa: First, be passionate about the business. We are all fortunate to be part of a great industry that enhances the quality of people's lives. Appreciate that and immerse yourself in the business. Second, invest in your people to develop them both professionally and personally. Invest in tools to enhance the customer experience, in innovation to find ways to do things better, in marketing to promote the industry and your business and in products to further enhance the breadth and depth of your business.
MPDLM: We have over 300 individuals whose primary responsibility is to work with our customers to help them succeed in their business. Included are retail specialists that are specifically charged with helping retailers succeed. In addition, we host the Retail Summit each year that brings together leading industry retailers to help them grow and succeed. In order to make all of this happen, we invest in the training and development of our people as well as in marketing tools and programs geared to helping our customers succeed.
MPDLM: The internet has been around our industry for over 20 years, but it was more disruptive 10 to 15 years ago than it is now. Part of that has been the maturity of our industry to develop products and services that compete effectively against the internet channel. In addition, manufacturers have become more aware of the importance of the trade and specialty retailers. Specifically, more retailers have geared their websites to their local customers, customer education and ways customers can buy from them more conveniently. (Ordering online and picking up in store, home delivery, etc.) In addition, many specialty retailers have learned to better merchandise their stores and invested in enhancing the consumer experience. The internet channel has been the most recent of many retail evolutions over the past 150 years, including catalogs, grocery stores, shopping malls, etc. In each case, this progress resulted in enhanced opportunities for those that invested in their business and worked to enhance the customer experience.
MPDLM: We are a collection of local businesses, as each one of our sales centers is focused on serving the market in which they are located. I believe what makes us unique in the industry is not our size, but our ongoing commitment to investing in the growth and development of our people (providing a significant level of empowerment that few other businesses, in any industry, provide), our investments in tools and programs to help our customers succeed (technology, marketing programs, inventory, logistics, education, etc.) and resources (like our retail specialists) that all together enable us to provide a truly differentiated value proposition for our customers.
Our professional trade customers are selling their talent and their time with the products we provide. Their success is premised on maximizing their time billed by having a rich backlog of business and being able to operate efficiently. I believe that we enable that better than anyone else in the industry. Our specialty retail customers need to create store traffic and have a trained staff and well-merchandized stores to succeed. We work with our customers to help them succeed in every aspect of their business. The bottom line is that our success is entirely dependent on the success of our customers, so we have a vested interest in helping them succeed and we continue making investments to help them further their success.
MPDLM: First, we are a wholesale distributor that sells exclusively to the professional trade and to retailers. Unlike others in the industry, we DO NOT sell direct and HAVE NOT sold direct to the public. We are fully invested in helping our customers succeed. Second, we have no control over the prices at which our customers resell products, whether those customers are professional trade customers and/or retailers.
In regard to the internet channel, we established our policy in May 1999 and that has remained in place since. Specifically, as a collection of local businesses, our local managers are empowered to sell to their local customers at competitive prices. Those prices do vary by market, customer and product, and there have been instances when we have had to address issues where certain prices may have been too low or too high — but those are rare exceptions.
What I have observed most frequently are instances where manufacturer-provided dealer or consumer incentives are reflected in one retailer's price, while another retailer may not be aware the same incentive is available to them, as well. I have also seen retailers use loss leaders to create traffic but, again, that's not based on the prices at which we sell, but the prices at which retailers and/or professional trade customers sell. Manufacturers have developed professional and trade-only products to help our customers differentiate themselves. We have been major advocates on behalf of the professional channel for almost 20 years. In that time, we've encouraged manufacturers to develop trade-only products as well as differentiated warranties for professional installation, the enforcement of MAPP or LAPP and investing in the development of innovative products that help our industry grow.
To summarize, we are in a great industry with manufacturers that are investing in new products and constantly improving quality in every aspect of their businesses; distributors that aggregate products from many manufacturers and make them locally available, which helps the professional trade to be more efficient; and professional trade and specialty retailers that help transform the outdoors into a destination for family and friends, altogether enhancing the quality of people's lives.
Wholesale distributors play a critical role in the day-to-day function of the pool and spa industry. While retailers, builders and service technicians work the front lines, distributors are behind the curtain with the potential to make or break the end goal: customer satisfaction.
But what makes a good distributor — and what should front-line businesses expect from the people that charge a healthy product markup in exchange for warehousing and product support?
Whether you're an independent service technician or CEO of a major manufacturer, whether you sell to directly to the consumer or to the trade, it hurts to see customers leave. Because staying in business largely means retaining the business you’ve fought so hard to win, understanding why your customers decide to take their patronage elsewhere is critical, if not at times a little painful.
When customers say goodbye in the pool and spa industry, there are plenty of reasons to assign...
Pleatco, a leading manufacturer of cartridge filters for the pool and spa industry, has closed a deal to acquire APEL International Filtration, a top designer and manufacturer of pleated filter cartridges, pleated bags and other filtration products for industrial air applications, and MPF Engineered Filters, a key producer of industrial air filtration products located in Ontario, Canada. APEL will be merged with Milton to create a single industrial air filtration division and the formation...