Monday, June 04, 2007

The Wal-Mart Effect

According to Word Spy - a web site devoted to lexpionage, the sleuthing of new words and phrases - the term Wal-Mart effect is defined as follows;

Wal-Mart effect n. The economic effects attributable to the Wal-Mart retail chain, including local effects such as forcing smaller competitors out of business and driving down wages, and broader effects such as helping to keep inflation low and productivity high. Also: WalMart effect.

I’ve always felt rather immune to it, myself. That, and those other things in this day and age that seem to go hand in hand with it. Like the time that AOL sent someone to my house to troubleshoot a DSL download speed problem. We got to talking and it turned out he had a degree in software engineering and his job had been offshored - once again, back to Word Spy:

offshorable (awf.SHOR.uh.bul) adj. Capable of being moved to another country, especially to reduce costs; capable of being performed by a person in another country, especially at a lower wage or salary.—offshore v.—offshoring pp.

- and he had been reduced to $20 service calls, using his own vehicle and gas, to fix people’s AOL problems.

Being a Pool Guy has always made me feel immune to all of that. I still sympathize with folks who get stuck in those crunches - like losing your job to an Indian guy who makes $3,500 a year for doing what you were charging $100,000 - but I don’t see them figuring out a way to offshore pool cleaning. Yet. And until filters and pumps and heaters are plug and play devices, I’m safe.

I hear guys all the time complaining about the Mass Marketers hurting their business, about Home Depot cutting into their chemical sales, about Sam’s Club having tablets cheaper than their wholesale distributors, about The Internet selling stuff cheaper than they can buy it. Their argument is that people want bargains, and that they can’t compete with that.

My answer has always been not to compete. If a customer says to me, "I can get that filter for five hundred dollars less at the IMA POOLWHORE Internet Pool Store", I say, "Be my guest!" and move on.

They are obviously not in my market. Because if they were in my market, they would be My Customer, and they would trust that the price I was quoting them was fair, based on a fair mark up and a fair price for installation labor, and the fact that I’ll be there - probably the same day - if anything goes wrong. They wouldn’t be looking at some low ball price on the internet and wondering if they could beat me up with it.

You see, I’m their Service Provider, and that’s really what I’m selling and that’s really what they’re buying. And the smart ones know that. And the not-so-smart ones find themselves looking for a new Pool Guy.

So, how does all of this relate to the Wal Mar effect? Like this:

I’ll still be here when salt systems are nothing more than a bad memory. Because I’m the constant in this business. Me and the guys like me; the Service Providers. And the reason I’ll still be here is because I provide the service to the End User; the Pool Owner. And currently, part of that service includes a stiff warning to my customers not to waste their money on a salt system, for all the reasons I’ve spent the last nine months writing about.

Because you knew that some day this had to happen, when there was enough money in that salt system market, Wal Mart would throw their hat into that big, fat, profit bloated ring, like this:

Introducing the new Intex Heavy Duty Saltwater Pool Filter System for $186.00. It includes the electronics, the salt cell and a flow switch. Here’s what they say in the product description:

"This saltwater system easily connects to most above ground pool filters and sets up in five minutes or less. Just add an undetectable amount of pure, natural salt to your pool water and set the automatic timer to get fresh, clean water using no packaged chemicals. Since this pool filter doesn't use chlorine, it is an attractive and environmentally responsible product."

How many lies did you count? I counted four. As you can see, they are hewing close to the marketing path blazed by their salt system predecessors.

My favorite lie is "since this pool filter doesn’t use chlorine..." That’s how little Wal Mart knows about a device whose byproducts include explosive hydrogen gas. It’s a pool filter that doesn’t use chlorine. The salt business has become even more dangerous.

You know, there’s a warning in the owner’s manual on page two that reads, "Do not operate this product when pool is occupied". I assume the reason is because the system isn’t bonded and it doesn’t even have a GFCI built into the plug, like my wife’s hair dryer does - which we bought at Target, by the way. It bridges a couple of amps (2.5, to be exact) through the water with only a glancing nod to electrical safety, by warning not to use extension cords and only plugging it into a GFCI receptacle.

Yeah, that’ll happen. A guy will spend $186.00 for a salt system and then how many hundred more for an electrician to come out and install a code compliant GFCI outlet within reach of the unit’s power cord so he doesn’t have to use an extension. Sure. And I’m sure they’ll always remember to turn the system off every time the kids want to jump into the pool.

But it’s okay because in bold print they’ve added, "FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE WARNINGS MAY RESULT IN PROPERTY DAMAGE, ELECTRICAL SHOCK, ENTANGLEMENT, OR OTHER SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH." So, you see, if anything happens, it’s okay, because they put in on page two of the owner’s manual, and everybody reads page two of the owner’s manual.

I mean, what do you want? Low prices or safety? Give a Wal-Mart High Five! Slap, Slap!

BUT, when you compare this thing’s performance side by side to say, the Jandy AquaPure 1400, it produces the exact same amount of chlorine. The Intex owner’s manual claims 24 grams per hour maximum chlorine output, and the Jandy AquaPure 1400 tech manual claims 567 grams in 24 hours, or 23.63 grams per hour. Zodiac’s LM2-24 is the same. Their LM2-40 is higher, up to 40 grams per hour, but it’s Duo Clear is lower, only 15 grams per hour. The Intellichlor IC 20 is lowest, at 13.2 grams per hour, and their IC 40 is highest at 26.45 grams per hour. I couldn’t find Goldline’s output in their tech manual, and all the rest of the in-line salt systems have such a small segment of the market that I could really care less.

Of course, all these fat rich guys selling these brand name salt systems will crow about how Intex is producing that higher level at the cost of burning out their cells all that much faster. Intex has an answer for that, too:

Replacement electrolytic cells for $119.00, as opposed to somewhere around $450 at one of the rock bottom pool whore websites, and as much as $800 retail - which, if you’re paying attention, is enough to buy four Intex systems and have enough left over to take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese.

So, hey! All you Salt Peddlers. Time to get a new gadget. Maybe you can dust off ionizers, or buy the rights to the old Laars corona discharge ozonator. Or maybe you could start pouring liquid copper in the pools again, and call it an alternative-sanitizer-never-mind-the-stains.

But you really ought to listen to me on this one. At this point, the only people left selling salt to their customers are in it for the money, and once that "money" gets under fifty bucks a unit, even they won’t stick around.

It doesn’t matter much to me what you do. I’ll still be here, watching over my pools, keeping you guys and your next gadget out of my backyards.

Oh, and one more thing... Bu-bye.

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