Education or economics?

By Dannielle Furness
Monday, 28 March, 2016

Education or economics?

When it comes to selecting a pool cleaning system, there are the obvious considerations to determine the best option: size, location, surrounding environment, foliage and debris, but could it all simply come down to a case of economics?

Looking back at the last 20 years, you’d be hard pressed to find an area of our lives that technology hasn’t altered in some way; from improved communications to staggering advances in computing, from medical breakthroughs to never-ending new car technologies. With every change, entire industries are rendered obsolete and new ones created. Decades-old occupations become antiquated overnight and new professions emerge just as quickly.

In the midst of all this innovation and disruption, you can be sure of one thing — when it comes to technology, the first cab off the rank will be pricey. When Motorola released the first commercially available mobile phone in 1983, it sold for just under US$5000 (or around $9600 in 2015 dollars). When you compare it with today’s offerings in terms of functionality, mobility, convenience and price, it seems utterly ludicrous to pay that amount of money, yet people did. At the time it was revolutionary and with the advent of every new improvement, you’ll find the pacesetters — or the early adopters, as marketers like to call them.

Early adopters are the Holy Grail of research and development teams and marketers the world over. They are loved because they will not only pay the high price that a new technology commands, but they’ll typically be more forgiving of glitches and bugs and generally serve as a valuable beta-testing ground. From their perspective, they get bragging rights from being first in and will generally reap some sort of additional benefit such as lifestyle improvement — whether that be real or perceived. In the rough road from product development to commercialisation, someone has to bear the cost to enable manufacturers to keep developing — so thank you, early adopters.

During our initial roundtable discussion on pool cleaning systems, as well as subsequent input from other industry members who were invited to give us their opinion, the words ‘cost’, ‘price’ and ‘budget’ came up again and again. This was particularly true when we discussed ‘newer’ technologies such as robotic cleaners and in-floor systems.

Almost everyone we spoke to mentioned the falling retail price of robotic cleaners as being an influencer on sales, which is simple economics at work, but there are so many more factors to consider: maintenance requirements, location (surrounding and geographic) and even the finish of the pool itself. While many end users work from a price point when making a choice, it’s up to industry members to understand their clients’ overall needs and help guide them to the best decision.

Brian Goh of Waterco points out that recommending the wrong type of cleaner for a pool can be an issue.

“For example, not purchasing the right cleaner for a tiled pool, the cleaner won’t operate to expectations; or the wrong cleaner for a vinyl-lined pool could damage the vinyl liner,” he said.

“Also, if the pool doesn’t match the pool equipment, there’s an issue. If a suction cleaner is connected to a filtration system with a variable speed pump and the pump is operated at low speed, some of them just won’t work,” said Goh.

“Most end users don’t possess sufficient knowledge about pool cleaners and rely on pool specialists for their recommendations. Some pool owners may conduct some preliminary research, but at the end of the day they tend to consult a pool specialist. The opportunities this presents is for pool specialists to become more knowledgeable about the variety of pool cleaners in the market and also to add value to their retail offer by conducting home pool demonstrations. It is also important to conduct a site visit to make the correct recommendation,” he said.

Goh believes the best option for a new pool is an in-floor system and suggests it’s what he would have in his own pool. That said, he’s quick to point out that improvements in some of the other cleaning options have delivered a better product.

“Robotic cleaners and improved geared cleaners are the recent advances in the market — technology improvement of robotic cleaners, such the introduction of remotes, swivels, quick draining and improved reliability.

“I believe there is still a very low level of awareness of robotic pool cleaners. Also, most people know of diaphragm cleaners, which they still refer to as Kreepy Kraulies, but I believe the majority still don’t know much about geared cleaners. There are suction cleaners that are now designed to better suit variable speed pumps, such as incorporating the specially designed throats. In-floor cleaning is still not well known and there is a low penetration in the market,” he said.

Goh thinks that ease of use and more user-friendly features have been the focus in new developments and that the customer benefits.

“For example, robotic cleaners have been equipped with remotes, which allow the end user to guide the cleaner to spot cleaning. In-floor is an integrated system and eliminates the need to put in and pull out a cleaner, plus they can be easily automated. In-floor systems can now be operated by single pump configurations with a decent-sized variable speed pump.

“In-floor also circulates the water and chemicals effectively, decreases chemical usage and improves heating efficiency, so it provides the pool builder the opportunity to up-sell and make a good additional profit on the build and to provide the end user a better experience,” he said.

It’s not just in-floor that offers additional benefit, however. According to Goh, robotic pool cleaners are worth the money because of ongoing benefits.

“Robotic cleaners aren’t dependent on the filtration pump and therefore provide the opportunity to decrease operating costs by allowing a variable speed pump to be operated at a low speed setting.

“They also reduce filter maintenance, as the debris is collected within the cleaner and also it frees up the pool skimmer, plus it improves the pool water circulation.”

He thinks the notable shift towards robotics in the last few years is because there’s an opportunity to make money.

“There’s an opportunity for pool retailers to make more money from each sale and this has driven more and more retailers to offer robotic cleaners,” he said.

“There has also been vast improvement in the technology. The emergence of variable speed pumps has created a market for alternative cleaners to suction cleaners so that the pump can be operated at a much lower speed.

“The retail price of robotic cleaners has come down considerably, making robotic cleaners more affordable, and there’s the additional functionality, performance improvement, easier maintenance and the introduction of new product features such as the swivel to eliminate cord tangling,” he said.

But, as it always does, it all comes back to knowing what you’re selling and Goh is a believer in training.

“Training is very important to help develop an understanding of each cleaning option. The reseller must understand the suitability of the cleaner’s features and how they align with their customers’ needs. Understand the benefits of new cleaning technology and to be able to communicate them to the customer. Sales training is also important to provide the reseller the required skill set to up-sell the end user to higher end cleaners,” he said.

Which brings us back to in-floor. Some of our roundtable panel members mentioned speaking with clients that were disappointed that an in-floor solution had never been offered to them at the design stage. Who can say why this is the case, but the popularity of in-floor in overseas markets, such as the United States, suggests that it will become a more broadly adopted option here in years to come.

Goh thinks the sheer size of the market in the US is a major influence.

“Because of the competition in the US, affordability of in-floor systems is better in the US. Some builders in the US equip nearly every pool they build with an in-floor system,” he said.

“Improving awareness is key to the success of in-floor and also improving its affordability. There are now more choices in in-floor systems available as well as technological improvements. Australian builders are becoming more confident about in-floor systems as a result of the improvements of their performance,” he said.

Whether this means we will see a marked increase in sales of these systems over the next few years remains to be seen, but as long as we’ve got early adopters out there, someone will be willing to buy, so it never hurts to ask.

Image credit: © SSilver/Dollar Photo Club

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