This might sound corny, but to me it's true: I really believe in the family-owned business. I have all my life.

So it's no surprise I also love the pool industry — the very backbone of our industry is the family-owned enterprise.

Yet when looking back on the thousands of retailers I've spoken to over the years (and it really is thousands), I've seen a common thread: frustration.

Take, for instance, Ingrid, a pool dealer in Warner Robins, Ga. She's one of 11 family members who own two pool stores. They have 38 employees and 30 years of experience. This is what she told me one day:

"Rod, I shouldn't have to get up every day and fight with my major supplier," she said. "They ought to be my partner."

I'm sure a lot of you can relate. And I'm sure a lot of you agree when I say it shouldn't have to be this way.

With people like Ingrid in mind, I've been working on a new venture that I think can truly change the pool and spa industry. The goal is to create something that will make your day-to-day life less stressful. Less combative. More competitive. The PRC's goal is to help independent retailers like you serve your customers better. And the goal is definitely about helping retailers feel respected.

With all of that in mind, meet the Pool Retailer's Cooperative. We're here to help you get better prices on your products, to offer tools that will help you thrive in your competition with the Internet and big box stores.

What We Are

As our name states, the PRC is a cooperative. At first glance, a cooperative is like any other business in that money and goods are exchanged. However, unlike your normal company, a cooperative is owned by its body of members — you join, you're an owner. That means any annual profit generated by the group goes right to your pocket.

To learn more about how to launch a co-op, we turned to the National Cooperative Business Association. According to the association, there are about 30,000 active co-ops in the U.S. with more than 100 million members between them.

Just about every industry you can think of has a co-op. In fact, the people at the NCBA were shocked to learn the pool and spa industry didn't have one until now! They estimate that our industry is the largest they've seen go without a co-op.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get into what you really want to hear: How the PRC can help you.

Exclusive Products

As you well know, the biggest struggle independent retailers across all industries are dealing with: Customers rushing to the Internet or big box store for the items you carry. That's frustrating — but we're excited to announce something that will help.

Retailers who join the PRC will have access to an exclusive line of chemicals and equipment — as well as better pricing on well-known brands. Our exclusive products absolutely will not be available anywhere except the PRC website (more on that next) and your shelf.

We're especially excited about our equipment line. We partnered with Fluidra, the largest pool equipment manufacturer on the planet, to create our line of equipment, which will be called Freestyle by Fluidra. Fluidra is a trusted brand around the world, and only PRC members will be able to carry their products in stores.

As a matter of fact, Fluidra was so excited to partner with us that they moved their manufacturing assembly facility from Jacksonville, Fla., to Memphis, Tenn., just to be close to us. Trust us, this is a big deal.

However, our exclusive equipment and chemical lines are just the beginning.

A New Approach to E-Commerce

All the trends in online marketing are saying the same thing: It's about going local. With that in mind, one of the goals of the PRC is to harness the power of the Internet and make it work for you with the help of our B2C website, yourlocalpoolstore.com. Here's how it works:

Say Mrs. Jones lives in Madison, Wis., and needs pool chemicals. So she goes to yourlocalpoolstore.com and selects what she needs. When it comes to checkout, she can choose to get everything sent to her house or pay no shipping fee and pick it up at her local store.

When she types in her zip code, all the PRC members in her area pop up. So she selects the store she wants to pick up from and goes right to you.

But if Mrs. Jones chooses to get her products delivered, you don't miss out on anything. If you're a PRC member in her area, she will be listed as your customer.

Ultimately, we want our consumer site to drive traffic right to your store. This way, you'll gain new customers, form better relationships with your existing customers and, perhaps most importantly, make it easy for your customers to get what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

A Fresh Retail Approach

I've been to a couple thousand pool stores in 48 states. (I have not been to Alaska and I have not been to Idaho, for whatever reason.)

But if you go into these pool stores around the country, they all look alike. If you close your eyes and put aside the accents, you could be in the same store anywhere. We're trying to fix that, too, with an entirely new approach to what a retail store in our industry can look like.

To do that, we went to four different design companies in the restaurant and retail design business and challenged them to create something unlike anything we've ever seen. We're in the process of reviewing their clever, innovative ideas, and we're excited to help PRC members stand apart from the competition with a truly unique store layout.

Want to see it in person? That leads me to my next point:

The Training Facility

In early January, we signed a lease on a large warehouse and office facility in Memphis. Our target date for completion is fall of this year.

In it, we're going to have a 2,400-square-foot model retail store that exemplifies that fresh, new approach I discussed above.

That's right — you open the door and it's going to be a fully loaded store. It's going to have product and equipment, including our Freestyle line. It's going to have a high-tech water testing station and a POS system powered by our partner, RB Control Systems.

The best part: The facility is open only to PRC members. There, members can learn in a simulated retail environment or get professional training from vendors. The PRC facility is yet another way for our members to better themselves on a professional level — and therefore improve their businesses.

We're Low Risk

First of all, we have no contracts. If you sign up, you're a member. At the end of 12 months, if it didn't work for you and you want to walk away, we'll say, "Thank you, if we can ever be of service again, let us know."

Second, while some buying groups implement minimums or maximums for ordering through the program, we do not.

As a coop, we're saying, "Look, if you love what we're doing and want to buy everything through us, great. If you want to buy some products through us and others through your suppliers, that's great too."

The thing to keep in mind: Companies that purchase more through us will get a greater return in profit than those who purchase less. But either way, it's completely up to you.

Another thing to keep in mind: While there's normally an annual membership fee in the PRC, we're offering the first year of membership for free to the first 200 companies that sign up. All told, that's about as low risk as you can get.

Focused on Fun

If you're read this far, you can see the PRC has a lot to offer. But all of these things stem from one common purpose: Making it easier for the independent retailer to run their business.

We have another purpose, too. We're lucky enough to make a living in an industry that's entirely about making life fun. And we want to help you promote that message of fun to your customers.

Retail should be fun! Your customers should want to come to your store. And work should be something you look forward to doing! With our new retail initiative and customer campaigns (think contests like "best dog name"), we want to help you present your store as the threshold to a better, fun life.

The Bottom Line

I realize many of you are skeptical. Maybe you've been burned by buying programs, or maybe you're worried that this is too good to be true.

The PRC was created with you in mind. The family-operated business in rural Illinois with three employees. The group of five stores in the Northeast with 30 employees. The three-legged stool that does a little bit of everything including retail, service and construction.

Right now, the PRC includes 100 stores in 26 states. We'd love to include you, too. Give us a call — we're happy to talk.

To reach out to the PRC, visit www.poolretailers.coop or call (901) 591-8040.