Why Chemical Pods Have Staying Power

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From the consumer's perspective, water care is the most important and thorniest of pool upkeep issues, and anything that demystifies and simplifies maintenance is a welcome relief. For this reason, the chemical convenience movement is one of the most important industry advancements in recent years.

As crucial as it may be, pool and spa maintenance is well down the priority list for most pool owners. On any given day, there are a half dozen clearer and more present demands on a pool owner's time, from work matters to their kids' soccer games.

This intuitive analysis is backed by ample anecdotal evidence as well as owner surveys that register discomfort and anxiety regarding water care. And among potential buyers, the burden of maintenance is cited as one of the major arguments against pool and spa ownership.

So it has been a bright and encouraging sign to see manufacturers working to create packaging and premeasured dosing systems that make the job of chemical pool and spa treatment easier. A number of chemical companies have come to market in the last few years with simple, precise chemical packaging to relieve the mental and physical effort required by owners, and even water care professionals, to treat a pool or spa.

"After listening to our customers for years, we've found a lot of confusion — about which type of product to use, or how much of a product is needed, or about which products worked with one another. So we developed our kits to address that need for simplicity and for a straightforward solution," says David McLaren, vice president of business and product development for Periodic Products, a company that has recently released kit packaging for its metal sequestering chemicals.

"The whole movement toward making pool care easy is really important," he adds. "It's ease-of-use that wins customers."

Making the job of water care easier has given Dale Kleiner, owner of Swimming Pool Discounters in Pennsylvania, a new revenue stream. He has seen profitable results from convenience products both for his customers and also for his business.

He sells the Blue Cube from Spec Chem, a toss-and-go clarifier dropped in the skimmer basket every 30 days. Citing the consumer compulsion for simplicity, he says, "Pool owners don't want to be bothered with measuring and doing chemistry once a week. They want to simply add a pill once a month."

These premeasured toss-and-go products have seen wide consumer acceptance in other product markets such as the detergent and coffee industries, and for similar reasons. Consumers would rather not take even the minimal amount of time and effort necessary to measure out a dose.

"The trend we see is that consumers are willing to pay a premium for convenience," says Terry Arko from SeaKlear, a pool chemical company based in Bothell, Wash. His company sells toss-and go-pods that actually cost more per gallon of water treated, but have found a market in time-pressured consumers.

The Price of Convenience

With the simplified products still relatively new to the industry, the market is still searching for a point of equilibrium between the price of the chemical and the price of convenience, i.e., the point when convenience becomes too costly.

Nick Scappini, president of Spec Chem has considered the matter: "A liquid quart bottle of clarifier at 1 ounce per 10,000 gallons will treat 320,000 gallons. Even if you double the dose to 2 ounces, you could treat a 20,000 gallon pool for 16 weeks on a single quart of clarifier costing roughly $15-$16 per quart."

That is considerably cheaper than the convenience chemical alternative. "Some consumers might realize the difference and might not want to pay the premium. Others are not price sensitive," he adds.

"Toss and go technology is convenient but it has to make dollar-sense. Is it worth it? Sometimes the tried and true liquid makes the most dollar-sense, assuming no waste," Scappini says.

Convenience For Pros

Despite the expense, there is a rationale for service technicians to use premeasured convenience products for the time-savings they provide. As any tech will affirm, saving a couple minutes on each stop can add up over the course of a week or a year.

Mark Howard from MEH Pool Services in Phoenix, Arizona believes the products are a net gain because of the efficiencies they provide. "We started using the SeaKlear Pods Service Bucket last season and it has been a huge benefit for our business. Not only does the product take up less space on our trucks, but it is also so much easier to inventory and deploy with less labor involved and the elimination of overdosing and wasted product."

Other service companies remain skeptical due to the new products' price and lack of established record. "We are very aware of the convenience products but have not yet incorporated them into our business," says Steve White, Underwater Pool Masters, West Boylston, Mass. "Part of the reason we haven't is that most of the 'pills' include a variety of products such as a clarifier, algaecide or a phosphate remover. We don't really believe in introducing a product into the water if it doesn't need it. For example, adding a phosphate remover if the pool water doesn't have phosphates just doesn't seem to make sense."

Longstanding procedures have served Underwater Pool Masters well, he adds. "Our clients all come to us by word of mouth. Basically they come into our store and say: 'My neighbor uses your company to test and service their pool water and they are very happy with what you tell them to do, so we would like you to tell us what we need for our pool.'

"So we are very big on doing water testing and have invested heavily in the equipment to do so. By analyzing the water, we know exactly what needs to be added and what doesn't. We do the test, determine what products are needed to clean and clear the water and then we give them the chemicals they need for their particular pool water with a dosing recipe."

White agrees that customer convenience is crucial, but likes the approach of automated controllers as a means to that end. "To make water chemistry more convenient, we are putting more and more controllers on residential pools. We find controllers are a very reliable way to make sure pool water is properly balanced. When a residential pool owner tells us they want less hassle with chemicals, we recommend a controller, which is terrific solution.

Again, the issue is finding the balance between affordability and convenience. Consumers want both.

"Although the price tag of a controller might not be for every consumer, there are more and more consumers who don't mind paying for the convenience of automation," White says. "Not only do consumers not want to take the time to pour chemicals and remember to treat the pool water, they also don't want to get dirty pouring chemicals, and a controller reduces the handling of chemicals overall."

Take The Convenient Road

Modern consumers have a great many demands on their time and a low threshold of frustration over which they must not be dared to step. If we, as an industry, focus on convenience and simplification throughout pool care, we will gain pool and spa converts. A confusing maintenance challenge, however, constrains growth.

"Let's face it, pool owners are consumers that are now accustomed to having maintenance be simplified and easy," Kleiner says. "Dishwashing is a prime example. Very few people measure out their detergent now — they pop in a pill. No dirty, smelly hands, no spilling, no waste. Simple. Our industry has adopted this simplicity in chemistry because consumers are demanding it. If we want consumers to be happy with their pools, that means not spending time maintaining the pool water. We need to make it easy for them."

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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