Pool Supply Shortages Are Real
Pool supply shortages continue to create real problems for the industry as we move further along into the 2021 pool season. One unexpected side effect to the Covid-19 pandemic last year was a renewed interest in swimming pools. For the first time ever, the pool industry has had less competition for discretionary dollars than any time in it’s history.
The Pool Industry Grew 24% in 2020
Pool & Hot Tub Alliance said the industry grew by 24% last year. That kind of growth however, has not come without some noticeable consequences that are beginning to affect the industry in a number of ways.
While popularity for swimming pools has dramatically increased, manufacturing and production has had trouble keeping up with demand. A widening gap between available labor to build swimming pools has created delays in production. The pool construction and pool service industries also continue to struggle with rising costs for essential materials such as PVC pipe, valves, tile, heaters, concrete, the list goes on and on.
Every conceivable component or sector that is involved in the construction, manufacturing, or installation of inground pools has been impacted this year to some degree. Some companies are beginning to notice the impact faster than others. Already large volume builders have begun to find themselves in serious hot water as they seem to be directly affected the most by shortages in labor and materials.
Widening Gap in Labor Force & Manufacturing
The disparity in available bodies to build and service pools is creating a widening gap. The bubble only continues to grow as Americans still find themselves largely still under home quarantine. Despite assertions from the White House that we’d all be vaccinated by May 1st, a large portion of the country still remains unvaccinated. Travel has not yet begun to resume to its normal pace. Currently, only 32.8% of the population is fully vaccinated. This certainly means that as we rapidly approach the height of the summer months that we can expect a repeat of 2020 in terms of demand.
Coping With Pool Shortages & Price Increases in 2021
How does this bode for pool companies that already have signed contracts with customers based on estimated prices and deadlines? Many builders and service companies we’ve spoken to stated the situation is creating increasing stress on customer relationships. They are concerned that ongoing delays and scarcity can lead to more and more angry customers.
Experts predict with the rising costs of materials and equipment, the average price of a swimming pool will continue to increase from last year. Pool service companies are also impacted. With the rising cost of chlorine tablets and other essential components, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find able bodies to build and service pools.
The Perspective In The Trenches
We spoke with Stephen Little, CEO of Claro Pool in Palm Desert. Little runs a large pool service company that maintains and services roughly 10,000 pools a month. He is also a contractor on the front lines of the issue that has experienced shortages first-hand. From his viewpoint, the delays in manufacturing are a large part of the problem. “Manufacturers have shut down due to shelter in place orders.” said Little “They aren’t producing, when they are producing, they’re short labor. With the shelter in place orders, folks are required to stay at home.”
Little suggested that recent changes in the legislature may also be contributing to the lack of available labor. “The last 12-15 months it’s become so tough to get the products we are accustomed to getting easily,” said Little. “I’m used to placing an order with distribution and getting it within 60 minutes. That is not the case anymore. We have to be much more strategic when we place an order.”
Rising costs of PVC are also creating a serious problem. Last year’s Hurricane impacted production for Petrochemical plants in Texas and Louisiana. The ramifications of that shutdown are coming to light this pool season. “PVC has been a problem.” said Little “We’ve seen price increases across the board in fittings, filters and pumps and anything made of PVC.”
Shock & Awe at Soaring Prices
“It has been shocking and awe” continued Little “because we’ve had double and triple-digit increases in the products and pieces we buy. From labor to PVC, to dry chlorine products, to parts and equipment.”
Although prices are increasing, swimming pools still need to be properly maintained. Regardless of how chlorine prices may fluctuate this season, experts say – not adhering to proper maintenance guidelines can create a serious health hazard.
The reality is pool service companies are struggling to honor pricing commitments to customers with the increases they’ve seen from distributors. As costs for chemicals continue to rise, Little suggested that now is not the time for consumers to start being penny wise and dollar foolish when it comes to proper maintenance
“Think about the absolute catastrophe if people stop maintaining their pools” said Little “Let’s throw 8 or 10 million pools with algae into the mix and you will have a nuclear pandemic.”
Using Tried & True Alternative Products
Little who holds a master’s degree in organic chemistry, says his company has not been impacted as hard by the recent chlorine tablet shortage as the rest of the country. He suggested that pool service companies begin switching to liquid chlorine.
Borates that decrease the amount of chlorine needed are also part of his regimen. “Hydrogen borate is part of our value proposition when servicing pools. It reduces chlorine demand,” said Little “when you buffer alkalinity and you keep the pH stable, we can keep healthier pools with less chlorine consumption.”
Labor Force Can Make More Staying Home
One of the major catalysts for rising prices has undeniably been a shortage of available skilled labor. The Covid-19 relief bill may have had one major unexpected side effect. Much of the skilled labor pool is still at home this pool season.
Little indicated that a large percentage of the workers that build, service and maintains pools would simply rather collect unemployment right now. “It is possible to protect your employees and your clients in the workplace.” said Little “When an employee can make $25 an hour to stay home in perpetuity or can go to work and make $20 bucks an hour, they won’t even come in for an application.“
It it a hot button topic for many in the pool industry. Pool company owners say that while demand has skyrocketed, the available pool of skilled labor has not kept up. This disparity seems to have created the perfect conditions for rising prices and the shortages the pool industry is now facing.
Shortages Seem Real Enough To Those On The Front Lines
Steve Goodale, also known as Swimming Pool Steve, is one of the most popular bloggers in the pool industry. We asked him to weigh in on the issue when we contacted him Saturday afternoon about the shortages. “In my 30 years in the pool industry, I have never seen the supply chain so dried up at this time of year. No pipe available, no valves, pumps, and heaters in very short supply” Goodale continued “I definitely believe that chlorine is going to run short this year, along with a great many other things.”
Goodale explained some of the issues he felt were the underlying precursor to the shortages. “There has been unprecedented activity and interest from homeowners in their pools. Record numbers of pools being used, built, fixed… and the supply chains have all been hobbled by Covid for over a year now.”
Comparing This Year’s Shortages To Last Year’s Toilet Paper
Many in the industry have drawn an analogy between the announcements of this year’s shortages and last year’s toilet paper craze. Goodale replied, “I definitely do not want to be an alarmist and cause a shortage where there is none, but in my experience, this is going to be a very hard year for pool owners and pool industry workers alike.”
All over America, supplies are skyrocketing in cost and retailers are explaining it’s because of dwindling supplies, yet the industry itself is sending out mixed messages. Poolcorp is saying one thing, Hayward is saying another, and somewhere in the middle are consumers who don’t know what to make of the situation. All they know is a bucket of tabs costs substantially much more than it did last year and are in limited supply when they can find them. Most consumers aren’t even aware of the issues with PVC and other supplies yet because Chlorine shortages are currently monopolizing the media’s attention.
We reached out to pool companies on social media and asked what kind of shortages they are experiencing. They weren’t shy about sounding off:
One Reddit user ‘just_tryin_2_make_it‘ said “We have a shortage of pipe fittings down in Texas. People are hoarding and creating a shortage for profit due to the disaster and those in need are without.”
As the pool season progresses, one thing is certain – a lack of available manpower and supplies are real problems that pool service and pool construction firms alike both have to contend with this summer. Listen to our entire interview with Stephen Little, CEO of Claro Pool on the Pool Magazine podcast.