by Mark Garcia January 27, 2015
Once upon a time, there were only OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts available. If you had a Hayward filter, and it broke, you would visit your local Hayward dealer and buy or order the replacement OEM parts you needed.
Nowadays, with the advent of this here internet, pool owners jump online and search for replacement pool parts. Easy-peasy! Unless you notice some of the products look slightly different, and are priced much lower than other suppliers.
With easy access to decades of sales reports of the best selling pool parts, importers have been able to mass produce the most popular replacement parts. Very small companies can have popular parts reverse engineered; molded, sewn or assembled in a foreign land, and imported by sea container for a small investment.
A common term in the automotive industry, an "Aftermarket" product is one that is designed and manufactured to the specifications of the original equipment manufacturer. It has largely replaced the less desirable term "Generic", but it means the same thing. Also meaning Generic are terms used such as "Replacement for..." or "Replaces p/n...". Online retailers of aftermarket product will stuff their product titles and descriptions with keyword rich OEM part numbers and naming conventions. Sometimes you have to look closely for any slight mention of the part being a generic replacement or aftermarket item. It's not always clear.
Some items may be interchangeable across different pool equipment, such as hardware, o-rings and seals, but most pool parts are designed differently and only work on the equipment it was designed for. Will it fit? That's a good question, when it comes to parts that have close tolerances like o-rings and seals, or threaded items.
It's all legal, as design patents only last for 14 years however, after which other companies are free to produce similar items, within certain guidelines to avoid infringement.
Some are, and some aren't - it depends. Some aftermarket companies try hard to make a product that meets or exceeds the OEM part, in terms of materials, workmanship and durability. Others focus on making the part fit, and may substitute less expensive products, or 'streamline' the product production to reduce manufacturing costs.
We've sold OEM and generic parts for years, and in my experience, about half of the people would rather pay more for OEM, and the other half would rather pay less for generic. I suppose it's based on past experiences; a strong belief that OEM is always the right choice, or a strong desire to always pay the lowest possible cost.
I'm not going to call out any of the importers who sell inferior products, but you may see them online, especially in these areas:
Generally you will notice them by their price, as much as half the cost of OEM pool parts, in some cases. Read the fine print and look for those keywords mentioned above (generic, aftermarket, replacement). Look at the image close-up for indicators of the manufacturer.
Read the reviews on the product if available, in many cases previous purchasers report that "yes, it costs half as much - but it didn't last half as long!" Take notice of reviews that have "Caveat Emptor" in the title, or "Piece of Junk" - you'll never see that in a review of OEM products. If a manufacturer has a product or part flaw - it usually has an obligation to fix them.
I hold a lot sympathy for the OEM, good companies that have worked hard to research, develop and market their products - it's a shame that others are allowed to copy their designs and sell counterfeit parts and products. It can also damage the OEM's reputation, when it is not clear that a part is not made by nor endorsed by the manufacturer.
Manufacturers spend millions on attorney fees trying to thwart start-ups from making money on their designs and intellectual property. They spend millions more convincing consumers to "Buy Genuine ----- Parts" and millions more incentivizing dealers to sell and install only original replacement parts. They've also spent many past millions advertising their products and supporting dealers and consumers.
There are some generic products that perform as well or better than the OEM, but there are more that don't. Like most things in life - you get what you pay for with regards to pool parts. And here's another mantra to live by - if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
The problem is not that generic pool parts exist - if there is a demand by the consumer for cheaper parts or products, by all means supply the demand. The problem is when generic or aftermarket parts are passed off as OEM, or labeled with vague terms that confuse consumers. They think they are buying OEM at a great price, which makes other dealers pricing seem too high.
And if the part does not perform as expected, or last for very long, it is the OEM who loses face, and takes the calls from angry customers - because you can't contact the importer, they don't even have a website! All you can do is write a poor Amazon review.
Thanks for Reading!