In a groundbreaking move, Hayward Pool Products is shifting how its products go to market. It’s moving more than 900 SKUs into the company’s Expert Line, making them unavailable for online sale and increasing their warranty. The prices for the 20% of products not moved to the Expert Line, staying in what Hayward calls its open line, received a 15% increase in April.
“It’s a strategic decision for the long-term health of Hayward as well as our pool pro partners,” says Dave MacNair, vice president of marketing for Hayward. “Hayward’s business and our brand reputation is built on decades of partnership with trade dealers. Those are the people who are selecting the right products to put into people’s backyards; they’re the people who are installing those products correctly; they’re the people servicing them to make sure they perform at a high level. That’s the foundation for Hayward; we have to continue to build that foundation. Everything else flows from that.”
All Expert Line products, with the exception of some robotic cleaners, will have a minimum three-year parts and labor warranty when installed by a Totally Hayward dealer. Open line products get a one-year parts and no labor warranty.
“We think there’s a role for online sales, but it’s a different role than the business that flows through our trade partners,” MacNair says. “We want to recognize those differences.”
MacNair says the cost to service online customers is higher than when the product is bought by brick and mortar retailers or service professionals — like transportation costs and damages during transportation. “And we have a higher cost of servicing that product once it’s installed,” he adds. “That’s likely because it is more often not installed or maintained properly.”
The company started working out the details and plans for the move last year, but MacNair believes the idea has been bubbling in the industry for years.
“A few years ago, most of us didn’t have a lot of experience with online marketing,” MacNair says. “In some ways it’s a wonderful new world, however the online channel comes with some flaws that can sometimes lessen the consumers’ experience with our products and can lead to additional hard costs. We’re not trying to penalize anybody, but we are trying to reflect the learning and the reality.”
Hayward chose which products to put into the Expert Line and which to put into the open line based on a number of criteria and conversations within the company. For instance, products that are more easily shipped might end up in the open line, while products with higher return rates, those that have a more difficult installation or where it’s technically difficult to choose the right model, probably went to the Expert Line. But any product that is in the open line has an Expert Line counterpart that will have extra features.
As of June 1, the new Expert Line and open line catalogue of products will be available to order, and open line products will no longer earn Totally Hayward points. (Expert Line products will continue to earn points.) On June 17, the updated MAP pricing schedule goes into effect, reflecting the increased open line prices. August 31 is the last day that anyone may sell the old open line products — now Expert Line — online.
Hayward is working diligently to inform its customers of the changes. “People are going to have to update their systems, update their files and documents — it’s some work,” MacNair says. “That’s all going to be very temporary and lead to a better marketplace situation.”
But even people who are concerned with the changes they are going to have to make are still excited about the program, MacNair says. “The trade partners that we’ve spoken with, and we’ve spoken with many of them now, are extremely excited.”
The company has hired a third-party firm to help them monitor and police online sales, starting September 1. “Monitoring and enforcement are going to be extremely important, and we are very committed to it,” MacNair says. That third-party partner monitors an unlimited number of SKUs on a real- time basis.
Hayward originally started its Expert Line in 2015 and has steadily added products to it each year. “We have heard lots of frustration from the guys who built this industry who weren’t being rewarded for the value that they’ve been creating,” MacNair says. “They’ve been frustrated with some of the halfway solutions that manufacturers, arguably including Hayward, have offered over the last several years. We think this is not a halfway solution; we think this is a complete solution to what has been a big problem for the industry. This fall the marketplace is going to look very different and our trade partners are going to be much happier in their role and their ability to be rewarded.”