Dealers transition their chemical strategies as shortages continue
Hot tub dealers remember fondly the days of chemical surpluses. DesRochers Backyard Pools and Spas near Chicago used to sell as much product as possible to whomever came into the stores.
“We welcomed new customers in with open arms,” says owner Brooke Rossi. “We were able to order product and receive it in two days, so there were no worries if we ran out of something and then needed to restock and get what was needed in a moment’s notice.”
But that was before a pandemic, fires at chemical manufacturing facilities debilitating chlorine supplies and supply chain stress impacting everything from shipping to bottle caps.
“The 2021 season changed everything,” Rossi says.
Now, because manufacturers are allocating dealer chemical purchases, DesRochers has to limit the amount of chemicals customers purchase. “We had to cut off pretty much all advertising or sales on chemicals to not create any sort of panic or motivation to overbuy,” Rossi adds.
The company focuses on making sure VIP customers — homeowners who have a long-term buying relationship with the company or who have recently bought a full chemical program — get dibs on what is available. The company emails and texts them when new chemicals come in, making sure they have what they need before selling those products to new customers.
“When new customers come in, we have to make the decision if we are able to sell them what they need,” Rossi says.
Josh Arnold, general manager at Southern Pools & Spas with two stores in Tennessee and one in Virginia, says the skyrocketing hot tub sales in the past two years are a main factor in the chemical supply shortage. “Once you have two years of selling a record number of hot tubs,” he says, “now you’ve got that many more customers needing chemicals.”
Arnold also says the chemical supply shortage is partially because of factory fires that have occurred since the pandemic began: BioLab’s Louisiana factory suffered production-halting damage from a fire in August 2020; Qualco is recovering from extensive damage to its warehouse from a fire in January.
“It’s all just crippling the chemical industry on the spa side,” Arnold says.
Arnold has thus far gotten enough chemical supplies to satisfy his customers’ needs. His strategy: Buy as much as the manufacturer will allow with every order and then store it. Southern Pools & Spas did not have any warehouse space in 2019, but now has four warehouse facilities on its Virginia property.
“If I’m out of stock, then there is just none to be had,” he says. “We’re so jaded now to something like this [chemical shortage] happening. If I find I can’t get a product, then oh well. Whereas two or three years ago, you’d be devastated or shocked. It’s definitely a new way of doing business.”
Obtaining as much product as possible is also the plan for Cavanaugh Pool Spa & Patio in Owensboro, Kentucky. “Right now I think you buy as much as you can afford or have room to stock,” owner Chris Cavanaugh says. “Luckily, we have the ability to stock a large supply of chemicals, around 50% more than we typically do, mainly heavy on the hard-to-get items like spa oxidizing shock and chlorine.”
Cavanaugh is not limiting what customers can buy just yet, but has informed them of the chemical shortage and price increases, and recognizes he may have to limit purchases in the future. “Most customers understand, but you still have some who don’t and may not buy,” he says. “But if they do not buy that day, a lot of times they come back because luckily the big-box stores near us are not stocking spa chemicals currently.” He recently signed up for the new spa chemical line from Solenis, and says the company is promising to have bromine tablets and sodium dichlor available for spas. While he hasn’t seen a delivery yet, he’s hoping for the best.
Cavanaugh recommends dealers find a chemical program that reduces chlorine consumption in the spa water.
Arnold sees benefits to keeping all customers engaged — not just the ones who purchased a hot tub from them. “If they’re coming to us for chemicals, we have them,” Arnold says. “We keep them coming back with free water care, good customer service and good prices.” Recognizing the industry-wide chemical shortage helps Rossi prioritize. “The bottom line is everyone is struggling to get what they need right now,” she says, “but if you plan appropriately with your vendors and focus on your longtime customers, you should be able to sustain your business.”