Sunday, May 20, 2007

Victory Lap?

I’ve really enjoyed this last week. You know, being right and being vindicated and all that. It kind of puts a spring in your step to see that a few people armed with nothing but The Truth and a Free Blog can make a difference in an industry.
I have no proof that salt sales are going down. And the sales reps don’t leave me e-mails crying on my shoulder how they’re late on their boat payments ever since we started pointing out that the Emperor was Naked as a Jaybird.

It’s all in the details. Like this detail: I talked to a customer who said she saw the WFAA report - which you can find here, by the way:

and here’s the print version:

and she Tivo’d it to show to a friend of hers who works for the INSERT REALLY BIG, VERY HIGH END DALLAS REAL ESTATE FIRM HERE and that her friend had passed the word to everyone during a sales meeting to WATCH OUT when they’re representing homes with salt pools, and More Importantly, to WATCH OUT when their clients are buying homes with salt pools. Turns out lots of the people at the meeting had seen the report too, and corroborated what was being said.

So, there’s about 75 or 100 real estate agents that’ll be looking at the coping and decks every time they show a house. It’ll start getting mentioned in the inspection report - Salt Damage to Coping and Decks... Ladders and Rails Corroding... Light Ring Tarnished Due to Salt - and then other realtors at other agencies will start to notice that they’re negotiating salt damage costs more and more when they’re trying to sell a house. And the next thing you know, when someone lists their house for sale and the realtor shows up for the appraisal, the first thing they’ll say is, "Oh, my God! Get rid of that salt system or we’ll never be able to sell your home!"

The Salt Box is proving to be just another gadget who’s time has come. It’s fifteen minutes are up. The Sales Reps can talk all day long about "the reality of adjusting to this new salt environment" until they’re blue in the face - or more bluish green actually, the color of the tarnish that salt causes on stainless steel and copper - but it’s all just talk.

And their bosses back at the plant can go ahead and upgrade their heaters to cupro nickel and do away with brass wells and brass thermistors, and maybe they’ll even force all the ladder and rail manufacturers to offer a higher grade stainless option for awhile - not to say that there was anything wrong with the stainless steel that they were using for the one hundred years before the advent of salt - but it’s all just a tempest in a teapot.

All of their grand plans of reshaping the industry from inside their Ivory Towers - the same Ivory Towers where they created the problem by pouring salt into pools and now sit around and atavistically try to find ways to repair that damage - are going to be flushed away by the same thing that they swear drove the salt craze to begin with; Consumer Demand. Except now the Consumer will be Demanding that you get that Damn Salt Box out of their back yard.

But this whole salt fiasco has been a great learning experience for me. I’ve learned that Sales Reps can actually drive an entire industry with Empty Phrases.

Empty phrases like these:

"The difference with the resurgence of salt technology is that this time the demand is coming from the consumer."

No, it really wasn’t. It came from the salt system manufacturers making a much harder push with the builders and retailers to create another profit center. And you can’t blame the front line guys for looking for another profit center. Let’s see, a guy’s building 150 pools a year, and the Salt Rep says he can make an extra 500 bucks a pool... That’s Three Kids In College kind of money. So much bigger than Polaris Cruise kind of money. Before long, it was included in the menu of options of every builder’s sales wheel and every store had salt system displays front and center. And the Consumer Demand that was created by these efforts lasted about as long as Feeling Slippery and No Red Eyes could last against Thousands of Dollars in Stone & Metal Damage, which started showing up en masse about one year ago. In a few years, only the Stupidly, Irresponsibly Rich will be still be saying I Love Salt. Like, you just know that Paris Hilton will still have a salt swimming pool five years from now.

And my Other Favorite Empty Phrase is:

"Everybody just needs to adjust to the fact that salt is here to stay."

No it’s not. I remember years ago when the Sales Reps were blathering on at the shows that "Ionizers are here to stay!" Yeah, right...

You know, the consumer took the hit on Lo NOX heaters here in Texas and out in California because they had to. The state governments made them. The upcharge was inescapable. But what’s going to rise out of the ashes of this Salt Debacle is a group of sharp builders who are going to put together a sales package that’s going to show that they can bring a pool bid in for a lot less and offer a much wider range of building materials if the owner will just opt out of salt. And this will happen once all the dirty little secrets about salt damage are common knowledge - which started last week when Goldine threw in the towel on stone damage. Read about it here:

and click on the "Goldline Controls Full Statement to WFAA" in the "Also Online" box.

For Example, a builder will be able to say:

"I can save you money on your heater if we stick with a copper heat exchanger instead of the cupro nickel marine grade heat exchanger."

"I can save you money on your ladders and rails if we stick with standard grade instead of marine grade stainless."

"We can use softer stones like limestone and Oklahoma flagstone and it won’t turn to mush if we don’t use salt."

"I can save you all the money you’re going to spend on masonry sealer with salt. If you use salt, you’ll have to seal everything every XXX months. If you don’t use salt, you don’t have to use sealer BECAUSE WE NEVER DID BEFORE SALT AND SO WHY WOULD WE NOW?"

"I can save you $800 three years from now when you don’t have to replace your salt cell."

And then there’s My Personal Favorite in this era of Save The Planet Let’s Everybody Go Green: "You know, the wastewater treatment issue is a big one with a salt pool. They’re looking at slapping surcharges on folks with water softeners because of their chloride pollution. Salt swimming pools can’t be far behind."

Not to mention how much harder a sell salt’s going to become when everybody on the building end is insisting that the customer sign a Release of Liability from Salt Damage waiver.

All of this will take a little more time to come to pass because our industry really bit hard on this salt bait. Like the other day I went into a pool store to get some borate test strips to test the pools where some of my homeowners are using Twenty Mule Team Borax from Home Depot at $2.95 for a 4 lbs. box to soften their water and get rid of the red eyes thing. If you want to learn more about doing that, go here:

I saw that this pool store is so ate up with salt that they now sell bags of salt with sodium tetraborate pentahydrate in it - which is wholly different than Twenty Mule Team Borax sodium tetraborate decahydrate; five water molecules different to be exact (penta... deca... get it?). Except, of course, in California where they can’t sell sodium tetraborate for swimming pools at all.

I meant to ask the clerk how much they were getting for a bag of this stuff, but I was laughing so hard I was beginning to hyperventilate and so I stumbled outside to catch my breath.

Once the market for that kind of stuff winnows down to that narrow group of consumers I like to call The Ones Who Will Buy Anything, it will naturally cancel out that last Empty Phrase that makes me want to open a vein every time I hear it;

"Just look at the cost savings with salt..."

And when I look at this industry that I do love so much, it looks more and more, the longer I look and the more I try to look Behind The Curtain at the Guys Pretending to be The Wizards of Our Oz, that we’re intentionally trying to screw our customers like stump-tied goats.

Is it stupidity, expediency or just plain old dishonesty that ever made us say, "just look at the cost savings with salt"? Because in addition to all the physical damage that salt has wrought on our pools, I can walk into a pool store in California and probably pay five or six times the going price of what Loews or Home Depot would charge me for a plastic bag that’s 95 to 98% salt. The only difference between it and Home Depot’s salt is that someone’s added 1 to 2% cyanuric acid so they can call it Better and charge that price for it. Less than one pound of stabilizer somehow makes this bag of salt worth all that much more? $1.75 to $3.50 worth of stabilizer - using average pool store highest price per pound pricing - adds that much bang to forty pounds of this stuff?

And how do I know all this? Because I read the Material Safety Data Sheets instead of the Sales Brochure. The Sales Brochure calls it a "proprietary blend of elements and stable minerals". The MSDS calls it "Inorganic Salt", 95 to 98% by weight, and "cyanuric acid", 1 to 2% by weight.

Which is why you should always look Behind The Curtain before Drinking the Kool-Aid.

And another thing. Do the math. There’s up to 3% of the bag that’s unaccounted for. If you ask the people who bag salt for a living, they’ll tell you it’s for the sand and other impurities that are part and parcel of the air drying process of granular salt.

Which only goes to show you that salt pellets are actually cleaner than granular salt, unless that granular salt is Food Grade, in which case it’s 99.9% NaCl (sodium chloride).

But wait. I started out celebrating a victory of Truth Over Bullshit and now it turns out there’s yet another rock to turn over and shine a light under. Not to mention that I heard a very reasonable explanation the other night for why Texas and Arizona are the most hard hit by salt damage, and it's better than the old stand-by; "it's the poolman's fault". But that’ll have to wait until next week. It’s nearly summer and I’ve got a business to run.

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