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Buying Pool Products Online Versus Brick and Mortar

This is a touchy subject discussed among ourselves in the pool retail industry but also one that has affected not just the swimming pool industry but more and more mom and pop businesses in any retail situation in downtown USA.

I will not sit here and speak for everyone in my industry but use our own experience as one to ask you the consumer to consider your local pool store the next time you think about buying a pool heater and other swimming pool equipment online. I have to admit I am bias as I think you should support your local businesses in your community as they often will be supporters of the community by giving back to youth organizations, sponsor charity events and usually give back to the community regularly. By supporting local business owners you also are continuing the flow of currency in your community allowing others to benefit from a robust local economy resulting in an increased tax base versus having no local business in town and having to accept an increase in personal taxes to support the town budgets. Often times the economics of purchasing everything on line does not resonate or enter our minds but it is time as consumers we think before we buy.

I am not going to sugar coat the facts, a brick and mortar store has the added expenses of rent, mortgage, employees, insurance, taxes, licensing and the carrying of inventory that online sellers may not, hence the differences in pricing. Years ago when this phenomenon began, most retailers didn’t pay attention and perhaps naively thought online retailing was a fad and that changes didn’t need to be made to their own business. Now that everyone sees that online sales continue to grow, the issue for myself and others is how to combat competition with pricing that is well below what we as a dealer can get from our own distributors. I admit it is quite frustrating to have someone who says they can buy what you sell lower than what you can purchase it for yourself.
Answering this conundrum is not always obvious as manufacturers play what I call the MAP game in which anyone they sell their product to is not supposed to sell below the MAP price, however I can tell you online today there are retailers selling way below these prices and nothing is being done to curtail the unfair disadvantage to mom and pop retailers across the country. They are volumn driven, not necessarily service driven.

You the consumer may very well think that’s too bad for you but great for me because I am getting the product at the cheapest price out there. Yet there are a growing number of products being sold that is not OEM or original to the manufacturer but fakes or seconds and refurbished. You need to be savvy as to the quality you are getting for the price as well as be informed to know about warranties, service and return procedures. Some products when purchased on line may come with no warranty by the manufacturer if purchased on line. Let me give you a few examples that I have had in the last couple of years.

I had a customer who purchased a brand name heater on line from a popular discount site, the same kind we sell but we were higher priced (our price did however include installation and our one year warranty for labor). This customer received his heater, and then called the gas company to hook up the gas line and another company to plumb the heater into the filter system, he felt embarrassed to call us because he didn’t buy from us. From day one it didn’t work, he contacted the company he purchased the heater from and it took a week to get a call back. They diagnosed the problem on the phone, and told him to call a local company to remove the part and send it back to them so they could replace it. By the third week of trying to get someone to remove the defective part he called us to see what we could do for him. He was obviously embarrassed and called us as a last resort because he didn’t purchase the heater from us, he was a good customer however, so we were able to speak with our brand name representative and had the approval to change out the part for no cost to the pool owner with in two days using a part from our inventory. In another situation, a customer called us for a price on a new cell for his salt generator. He said he could purchase it on line much cheaper and I warned him to make sure he purchased the correct cell size and that is was an official OEM part or the manufacturer would not honor the warranty. He called me later in the day to order his cell from us as the one he saw online was not an OEM cell, and was for 9000gallon pool and not 40000 like he had. He thanked me for pointing out what to look for and thought he would rather pay more and go with someone who is “watching his back”.
There are many more situations I could convey but these two give a good example of what your local business has in the way of value to you the consumer. So part of my answer is that a community business has to offer something of value that gives you a reason to pay a little more for our service and product. For us we continue to offer a service of convenience, solid quality products and a service and construction crew with over twenty five years of pool experience. We honor the warranty of the products we sell. We carry the parts to what we sell so you are never waiting a week for something to be shipped. We offer the in store knowledge of pool water chemistry, and knowledgeable staff that can usually walk you through a problem without spending money for a service call.

All of the above are just part of what we need to do to compete. In addition, we have funded updates on increased technology, customer loyalty programs and the addition of inventory in the lower to mid price ranges so that we can appeal to all types of budgets. For many who think the big box stores, discount warehouses and catalogues have cheaper prices for chemicals and accessories, I challenge you to check the pricing at your local pool store. I am actually lower in pricing for most common pool chemicals than these giant retailers and you get the benefit of someone who knows what they are talking about and selling to you only what you need.

For most of our long time customers they see the value of shopping locally. I know it is tempting to opt for price only but perhaps you could benefit by checking out your local pool supply retailer. We have all had to make changes to compete but for most of us our service has always been one of constant value. I don’t know where the mom and pop stores will end up ten years from now, I do know that it is all our responsibility to respond and change with the market and for the consumer to understand why it is important to be there for your local markets and what role they play in their choices.

For our customers, we thank you for choosing our company as we are aware that you have choices, we look forward to moving ahead with more to offer you.

For more information see my book on Purchasing Swimming Pool Equipment and other swimming pool guides at http://amazon.com/author/propoolgirl or contact me at propoolgirl@prospectpoolsllc.com
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