Sunday, December 17, 2006

CAVEAT VENDITOR

Did you hear the one about the sales rep who sells salt systems AND limestone sealant?

It’s not a joke. Ask around.

It strikes me as so odd that a guy can take on a product like a salt system to rep. Then, for years deny his customer’s - the builders and the service guys - complaints that it’s ruining their pools. Then, turn around and start reping a limestone sealant without admitting any liability for the damage his product did all those years he was in denial.

The very fact that he now sells a product to seal limestone from the ravages of salt - a very expensive sealant, by the way, that has to be reapplied every mumble, mumble - while still reping the salt system that caused the damage in the first place just boggles my mind.

It’s like Bizarro Pool World.

It’s like selling someone on the idea of hitting themselves in the head with a hammer, then selling them a helmet to deaden the pain.

For me, the only positive thing to come out of this salt system fiasco is to try to learn lessons by observing our industry’s true colors. Like the story above. It is not a joke. I’m not making it up. There really is a nationally recognized sales group reping both salt systems and stone sealant. Maybe some of you are reading this and still saying to yourself, “Well, yeah. So? What’s wrong with that?” So, let’s take it step by step.

1. You’re happily building pools. Then, a guy comes into your office and wants you to start selling his salt system. He tells you how great it is. Tells you how much your customers will love it.

2. You buy it and resell it. Everything’s fine for about a year. Then, customers start calling you and complaining about deteriorating coping and rusting diving board stands and a whole host of problems. You look into it and everythng seems to point to the salt system.

3. You call the rep. He denies that it’s the salt system or the salt doing any of the damage. This goes on for about three more years.

4. The same rep comes to your office and wants to sell you a sealant for limestone so that you can keep buying his salt system. When you point out that this is tacit admission of liability and so would he mind cutting you a check for all the warranty damage you’ve paid for these past four years, he says he’s not responsible.

5. You keep buying stuff from this sales rep.

Like I said; Bizarro Pool World.

But these next few years ought to be great theatre. We get to see which of the manufacturers and distribution companies and sales groups and builders and service organizations step up and say, “Yes. I sold that thing that damaged your pool and I take responsibility for it and I will make it right,” and which ones don’t.

There’s a food chain kind of aspect to all of this that will play out over time. First, there’s the builders, like the Big Texas Builder I talked about a few weeks ago, who have already stepped up and done what’s right and tried to fix the pools that got screwed up by the salt systems, and then stopped selling salt.

After them, or along side of them, are other builders, who are trying to crawfish away from salt, trying to stop selling it, but at the same time trying to deny any responsibility for the pools that got screwed up because of the salt systems they sold.

Each will suffer in their own way.

The Good Guys will lose financially, but at least they’ll have a decent reputation at the end of the day. “Yes. He sold me that dogmeat salt system. But when it dissolved my coping, he sent his mason over to repair that stone.”

The Bad Guys will keep more of their money because they’ll only take care of the problems when they’re faced with a lawsuit. And if they keep enough of it, they’ll be able to do enough advertising to make up for all the dissatisfied customers they create. Because all that crap they spout about, “A happy customer tells two or three people how great you are. But an unhappy customer tells everyone you suck,” is amended by the rule that, “one twenty second ad on prime time TV puts your name and phone number in front of more people than you can piss of if you live to be one hundred and ten.”

As P. T. Barnum said, there’s one born every minute.

At the other end of the food chain are the manufacturers. They have lawyers. Lots and lots of lawyers. And these lawyers believe that everyone deserves competent representation when they’re in the docket. Even cigarette companies. So, a product that does a mere five to thirty thousand dollars of damage to something as innocuous as a pool is a walk in the park for these guys.

Now, you watch and see. Over the next couple of years, these manufacturers will start to walk away from salt systems. At first, they’ll still sell them, but they’ll be at the back of the booth at the shows. Then, they’ll be available, but not even at the show. Then, they’ll announce that, “due to a waning consumer interest in salt systems,” they’re stopping production. They’ll still provide parts support, of course. Akin to picking the bones completely clean. Then, they’ll even stop supplying parts, and the systems will slowly disappear from the back yards.

And in the middle are the Sales Reps. That’s where they thrive. In the middle. They don’t manufacture equipment. They don’t build pools. They don’t lead research efforts. They don’t create anything. They just sell stuff.

When it’s a good product, they make sure to remind you that they’re the ones who sold it to you. When it turns out to be something like a salt system, they say, “Huh? Liability? Oh, no. I didn’t build that thing. Talk to the manufacturer about that. But, hey, while we’re chatting, have I told you about this new product I’m reping?”

A B C... Always Be Closing.

If you’re one of those Sales Reps, you’re laughing right now, because you know it’s true. But come Monday morning, you’ll wipe the smile off your face and pretend proper outrage over what I’ve said.

And if you’re not a Sales Rep, but you think that what I’m saying is out of line or just not fair to your friends, the Sales Reps, then ask yourself how many builders and remodel guys you know who have been cut checks from the sales groups and the manufacturers to cover the cost of all the damages they’ve shelled out for because of salt.

You see, that’s what this blog is about. It’s about a bunch of pool guys out there who have been doing their level best to help their buddy’s, the Sales Reps, meet their sales goals, and a lot of these pool guys have been having great success and selling lots and lots of salt systems for the past three or four years. And what they have to show for their effort is a few hundred dollars profit off each sale and several thousand dollars in potential liability for each of those sales when the customer finally wakes up and realizes that the reason his pool is always dusty is because the salt has dissolved their decks and coping into the pool. It’s one thing if you’re a Big Builder who just built a sixty thousand dollar pool and you have to go back and give it up for some coping and deck work. It hurts, but not near as much as it hurts a Service & Repair Guy who just sold them a salt system, and now, two years later owes them a hundred feet of new coping because the Rep who sold him the salt system didn’t start reping that sealer, or even admit it was necessary, until just this year.

So, to you Reps out there reading this, stop being angry about the difference between Super Chlorinate and Boost, stop arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and try to see it from our side. Whether you knew you were doing it or not, you guys have screwed us to the wall and we will be years and years recovering from it. You, on the other hand, will keep getting your paycheck without missing a beat. And to top it all off, you can look at all the damage being caused by salt and then look us in the eye and tell us to put zinc balls in the pump pots and keep selling salt.

When will it stop?

The comment section of this blog is open. The only reason I have it set for Review Before Publication is to keep the spammers out. I’ll publish any dissenting points of view about salt systems or the people who have saddled us with them. In four months and twelve posts, I’ve had about eight hundred visitors and exactly one dissenting comment.

Does that mean that everything I’m saying is true?

Somebody please prove me wrong.

And Caveat Venditor? Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

Caveat venditor is Latin for "let the seller beware". It is a counter to caveat emptor, and suggests that sellers too can be deceived in a market transaction. This forces the seller to take responsibility for the product, and discourages sellers from selling products of unreasonable quality.

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Comments:
I am a member of the Independent Pool and Spa Service Association (IPSSA), where I have my liability insurance through Arrow Insurance. In our IPSSA meetings we are constantly made aware of claims made against our members and ways to limit our liability exposure. For example, we can receive key clips that we cam clip our car keys to the water faucet when we turn it on so as not to forget to turn the water off to the pool before we leave. We are also offered a "drain and acid wash" waiver that we are instructed to have our custmers read and sign before we drain the pool for any reason. I have seen first hand the damage to coping, decks, rock waterfalls, as well as to the equipment of swimming pools that have salt systems installed on them. I have sold,installed and serviced salt systems in the past. I no longer sell these devices and ecourage customers to become better educated before making a bad decision. I am somewhat concerned about legal recourse associated with my involvement with selling and servicing these systems. Just by servicing something someone else has sold puts me in the the legal loop. As an IPSSA member I have the protection of 3 claims at $1 million in damages each w/in 2 years. It would only take 3 claims of $10,000 here $4,000 here and 15,000 there to relieve me of my liability protection within IPSSA. To my knowledge IPSSA has not had a claim against a member involving salt. If there has been one I would like to know. The problems associated with these salt systems are real, and begining to be more apparent. I wonder what if any stance our insurance provider will take reguarding salt systems. Time and more importantly law suits will tell.
 
Dear Salt Free,
You bring up very valid questions about the nature of your own liability when it comes to the salt systems you sell. I'm not a lawyer and I don't know. Hopefully, now that you've posted, we'll hear from some other IPSSA members about their experiences with salt systems and what they've done to remedy customer complaints. Perhaps even your insurance provider could weigh in on this. He certainly ought to be looking into the potential for claims now and in the future. Thsnks for posting. What you've said here is the plain spoken unvarnished truth. I appreciate that. A lot.
 
After reading your blog I can clearly see why you are annoyed and negative on salt systems.

However, having sold salt systems for a very long time indeed I can vouch for their longevity. The problems you are showing are those we had around 20 years ago. I am surprised your industry did not learn from our experiences.

On the other hand it is a slight on your chemical know how that you did not think through the issues salt water may create. Clearly metallic fittings are not suited to a salt water environment, and whilst a stainless ladder should be okay the grade of stainless has to be up to the job and not the cheapest grade available.

If you call around your paving suppliers I would think you should be able to get salt resistant paving as is available in other countries, and grout as well.

Grout will dissolve in salt water not so much from the salt but more from the depletion of calcium in the water making the water in turn hungry for calcium.

This can be alleviated to some degree by the addition of calcium to the water, however the salt cell will remove the calcium leading to a never ending cycle.
 
Dear Dynamic,

What kind of salt systems are you selling? You left that part out. The part about what industry we were supposed to have learned these lessons from.

You're right that we all got caught with our pants down by not thinking through the issues of salt water and metal, but it's hard to envision a pool and spa without a heater. And until plastics get a lot more heat resistant, we're stuck with metal heaters. I also think you're downplaying the fact that galvanic corrosion doesn't really care what metal you put in the electrolyte. It just pits anode versus cathode.

I appreciate your comments about the grout, but could you explain a little more in depth what you mean about the depletion of calcium in the water. We balance our pools to maintain the water as not aggressive and robbing it's environment of calcium, and not base and shedding excess calcium to the vessel. So, I'm not following you on the grout being dissolved due to the water's hunger for calcium.

Overall, a good commnet, but it would be made clearer if we knew what systems and industry you're referring to that have had the bugs worked out.

Thanks and Keep Posting!
 
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