Taking a Spa Day

The first week of January, 2015, I have been asked to speak at a conference held by BioGuard, a major specialty brand in the pool & spa industry.  (Announcement)

As I have studied and prepared, it has been incredibly interesting to find out how many similarities this industry shares with other specialty goods industries that still support a network of smaller, independent dealers.

Few people today are unaware of the challenge that mass market retailers have presented to mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar businesses.  Some say that this is just the march of progress as the more efficient gobble up the less efficient.  Are they right?

Not so fast.  If we believed that, then we should not try to preserve plant and animal species faced with extinction or build dikes to hold back floods, either.  Nature taking its course is one thing, but nature can ruin things that are very useful to us.

Specialty stores, when well-operated, optimally give consumers something that no other channel does: concerned hand-holding through the process of first entering into, learning and participation in an activity with complex products, without which they likely would never enjoy.  Specialty stores also offer brands something invaluable — direct, thoughtful feedback from consumer experiences.

In fact, most specialty brands (meaning they offer special, above-the-cut experiences) cannot introduce themselves as new brands or introduce new products without specialty stores to educate consumers.  Websites and big box chains simply fall short, especially the more complex the product is, requiring more explanation and demonstration.

I wrote  a white paper (download)(hard copy) in 2013 that comprehensively laid out the case for specialty brand management in another industry which was met with a range of everything from enthusiastic acceptance to disdain (which came mostly from brand owners trying to sell everywhere at the same time, undermining their specialty dealers).  The paper took college-level economics concepts and put them in terms any businessperson could relate to.  Change the industry-specific labels, and the paper could apply to many other durable goods industries today.

Check back later – I expect I’ll probably have thoughts to share after the engagement.

Jeff Koenig