their pools are very clean without looking — all because of an ingenious machine invented in the small town of Springs, South Africa, called Kreepy Krauly. This machine has taken the hassle out of keeping the pool clean, and the gentle putt-putt noise it makes as it rounds the pool is a balm to the ears of many a blue water warrior.
Kreepy Krauly may arguably be to pool cleaners what VW Beetles are to cars -- first in its category, lovable, and endlessly dependable. The Kreepy Krauly unit is a small, bread-box sized mini-tank that attaches to the pool’s suction hose and works by literally crawling along the sides of the pool sucking up dirt and debris. The name Kreepy Krauly is synonymous with automatic pool cleaners in South Africa and the US. And despite ferocious competition from less-endearing brands — like the US-based Barracuda – Kreepy keeps putt-putt-putting along.
Kreepy Krauly has its genesis in the feel-good 70’s. In 1975, Daniel Chauvier was selling pool equipment door-to-door and discovered that dirty pools were often the result of a difficult, time-consuming process of hand vacuuming. He and his father Ferdi – a former hydraulics engineer – imagined an automatic cleaner that would take the sweat out of the job.
According to the company’s longest serving employee, chief accountant Rachel Luckhoff, Ferdi immediately sat down and drew up the Kreepy Krauly prototype on the back of a cigarette package. The Chauviers built the very first Kreepy Krauly units in their garage and went on to sell the product pool by pool. The almost instant success of the Kreepy Krauly soon led Ferdi to sell his service station and build a small factory in a suburb of Springs.
The original Kreepy Krauly unit has been refined over the years to become all plastic, with no screws, nuts or bolts to rust in the pool. In 1983, Daniel took over control of the company after his father passed away and just over ten years later, in 1994, the millionth Kreepy Krauly was sold. To date, there have been over 1.5 million Kreepy Krauly units sold worldwide.
Kreepy’s differentiators are quality, location and noise. Each Kreepy carries a five-year guarantee, but according to company literature most machines “far exceed this lifespan.”
“The basic engineering of the Kreepy Krauly is so sound that even after [27 years]…it is still the company’s main product line,” said the company’s former financial director Adrian Grafe. The product was so attractive, in fact, that in 1999 Chauvier accepted an offer from the US-based Pentair Pool Group to acquire Kreepy Krauly, an offer which included the proviso that the company’s factory and base of operations remain in South Africa.
Which brings us to the next differentiator, location. When people think of the Kreepy Krauly product, said managing director Cyril Dusheiko, they should remember that it is “proudly South African.” Additionally, “there is a certain warmth associated with our products and our instantly recognizable machine design and logo.”
Kreepy Krauly dominates its home marketplace despite stiff competition from outsiders. “Kreepy Krauly is an integral part of South African culture,” says Dusheiko, and the “rapid growth of the black middle class and the integration of black people into previously white-only suburbs has meant that our advertising approach has had to embrace this change.”
Kreepy promotes its brand name in South Africa and abroad through heavy sponsorship of yachting and car racing activities – televised events that are sure to attract the attention of the company’s target market: male homeowners between the ages of 30 and 65.
On top of a serious promotion effort in South Africa that brought Kreepy Krauly products to “all the major chain stores in South Africa” and the introduction of a cheaper Kreepy that “enlarged out shelf presence,” Kreepy Krauly has appealed to its largely male market through the use of sports celebrities.
But what about the noise? Barracuda, the company’s chief rival, uses a non-moving parts system in its pool cleaner that enables it to work absolutely silently. Kreepy investigated this technology briefly, but decided against it after local pool owners complained that they could never be sure if the Barracuda was working — the reassuring, lazy putt-putt of the Kreepy doing its job indicated that nothing had become blocked or broken over the course of the last kid’s pool party.
But there is more to bringing a brand from the hinterlands of Southern Africa to the pools of the world than simply a good invention. The secret lies in “being passionate about your product,” said Dusheiko. This means a company that hopes to become a worldwide brand has to “maintain an image which is synonymous with leadership.” A company that hopes to flourish also has to “invest in research and development to ensure [its] product keeps abreast of new designs and competitor’s advancements. Finally, Dusheiko says, companies who want their brand to go for the long haul have to “endeavor to keep [their] marketing and advertising strategies fresh and one step ahead.”