The Covid-19 pandemic brought about many challenges, especially in the economic sector. Businesses closed, and people lost jobs and their loved ones. However, the pool industry came out unscathed. Since most people worked from home, they looked for ways to revamp their backyards. As a result, there was a surge in demand for pool services from homebound homeowners. Although this was a good thing, increased demand was met by a shortage of supply and labor.
Everyone is home!
A member of Algae Busters Pool Service, Dick Abare, states, “Fortunately, a good percentage of our clientele wanted to renovate their yards amid the pandemic. This was the reason for the high demand for our pool services. Subsequently, we’ve been dealing with pool equipment installation and updating old pool systems.”
Unlike before, customers are now home 24/7 during projects. Gone are the days when pool contractors had the privilege of working alone on site. Clients are no longer going to work. So, they have enough time to monitor the project during their free time. Shannon Sellers of Jeff’s Pool and Spa can relate to this. He says, “There was this customer who had never bothered interacting with our pool service technicians before the pandemic. After the covid-19 restrictions, he kept monitoring the project closely. Unfortunately, he kept finding fault in everything our technicians did. In fact, there was one time he dropped a penny intentionally to see whether our contractors would take it.” Now, customers are monitoring every step of the project. And this does not have to be a bad thing. Consider using this as a source of inspiration.
Is the increase in prices caused by high demand?
Typically, increased demand usually leads to an increase in market prices. But this is not always the case. In 2020, shipping became twice as challenging due to travel restrictions. Moreover, communication with vendors was a huge challenge. All this led to increased prices. Even so, some companies like Aquatic Pool systems chose to retain their prices.
“Market prices keep fluctuating depending on the condition of the pool industry. But we decided to retain our prices, and we are still doing okay. But we plan to review our prices soon. The price of everything is going up; so, it would only be fair to raise our prices.”owner of Aquatic Pool Systems, Rich Tarricone
What causes the supply shortage?
Unquestionably, the global pandemic is to blame for the shortage in supply. Currently, finding the latest pool products is challenging. In fact, Tarricone reports that he lost a customer because he couldn’t offer a specific product. Manufacturers are trying to keep up with the increased demand, but at the same time, they want to avoid stockpiling in the coming year. Customers think that we are lying when we say we don’t have a product.
How can pool experts deal with the supply shortage?
Some pool companies, like Tri-City Pools, choose to limit the products they supply at a time. This helps them prevent waste and supply what is needed.
A rise in theft cases
The majority of pool owners need pool equipment replacement services. However, it is impossible to offer what is not available. Unfortunately, some people end up stealing pool equipment. A customer whose pool heater, pump, and other equipment were stolen before she moved into her new house. Her pool service technicians had to find a solution to this problem. But after a few days, the equipment got stolen for a second time. Since people can’t find pool equipment easily, they resort to stealing.
The pool industry needs more workers
Most pool companies are experiencing a shortage of labor. Nowadays, finding a qualified pool service technician is not a walk in the park. So, it is challenging to keep up with the surge in demand. Not to mention, it is hard to find someone willing to stick with you through thick and thin. Abare says that teamwork is essential. His company deals with large and complex projects as a team.
Consequently, they are able to be more productive. And they recognize that we all need each other. He says, “You never know that you need people until work gets overwhelming.”
Pool services: Training and educating future pool technicians
The shortage of labor has led to training and education programs. The Florida Swimming Pool Association is now training aspiring pool service technicians. They offer a broad spectrum of courses that help in generating more labor in the industry. They provide virtual classes. Anyone who wishes to improvise their skills can register for the course. This kind of training will expand the pool industry in the long run. With this increase in demand, it would be beneficial to bring in more pool service technicians.
Pool companies should devise a solid strategy for dealing with the surge in demand for pool services. Although hiring more employees is expensive, it could pay off in the long run.
Randy Angell is a Pool Designers Designer
Randy Angell continues to push the boundaries of modern pool & landscape design
If you ask the top pool designers in the industry, many will tell you that Randy Angell is an innovator who continues to push the envelope and redefines the boundaries of luxury pool design with each and every project. Widely respected and in constant high demand, his work takes him from coast to coast, working on some of the most high end outdoor living projects in the country.
Angell’s long tenure in the pool industry first started roughly 35 years ago. Considered by many in the industry to be one of the crème de la crème when it comes to outdoor living design, his style has transitioned over the years. As homeowners tastes began shifting towards a more contemporary look, Angell adapted this new form as his maintstay. The modern style is one that has propelled his career in an unimagined trajectory.
“I’ve always been drawn to a modern aesthetic personally. The Frank Lloyd Wright influence has been there my entire life.”Randy Angell – CEO of Randy Angell Designs
A Pioneer of Modern Pool Design
Angell has since become one of the most acclaimed designers of modern & contemporary outdoor living designs. Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence can be clearly seen in Randy Angell’s award winning projects. “I’ve always been surrounded by his designs and his work. I was always drawn to a plain modern aesthetic.” said Angell. “As I began to see his designs around the world, whether it was a resort, or a hotel or a residence, I really started honing in on those clean modern examples.”
In previous conversations with the industry elite, folks like Shane Le Blanc and Dave Penton often refer to Randy Angell as one of their favorite designers. His body of work in the field of landscape and luxury pools continues to inspire the most critcally discerning professionals working in the industry today. Known as a Pool Designers Designer, Angell has had a stellar career the past three and half decades.
Great Minds Think Alike
Angell said that it’s seems almost symbiotic that often the designers that he inspires, he feels a great admiration for. “Shane has some incredible designs and details and that’s one of the things that I tend to focus on. As far as things that inspire me – companies like Design Ecology. Just seeing some of the detail work that they do, the overall aesthetic that they’re bringing into play with the modern architecture down in Austin.”
“One of the designers that has become a brother to me and has been a true influence on me in a lot of ways is Kirk Bianchi.”Randy Angell – CEO of Randy ANgell Designs
“Kirk Bianachi does absolutely stunning work, and again details and concepts and ideas that take me outside of that typical pool builder mentality and try and view the world a bit differently and push the envelope.”
With an impressive body of work that continues to grow each year, Angell said that he has never been as busy since recent events in 2020. Like many in the industry, Covid-19 brought him a sudden unexpected surge in business. “We got a little nervous the first few weeks. Nobody knew quite what to expect. But then the phone started ringing – and it hasn’t stopped.” said Angell.
“It’s wild!” explained Angell, “The number of projects increased. The size and scope of projects increased.” We asked him how he’s coped with the surge. “The biggest issue for us was trying to manage that influx of business,” said Angell, “Making sure we were still taking care of our clients and not letting the overwhelming influx ruin that experience.”
As a designer that has been working with homeowners all over the country for years, the pandemic has not slowed this dynamo down one iota. Easily able to transition to working at a distance, Angell adapted video conferencing and virtual 3D walkthroughs to help during Covid. Still he says, the majority of homeowners long for that face to face interaction that truly connects him with their vision.
“In many regards our system didn’t change through all this. I wanted to minimize the impact of all of that on our business and not lose those personal connections and have the shutdown effect us in a negative way.” said Angell.
Although Angell isn’t a builder, he closely associates with pool builders on every single project he undertakes. A member of Tributary Revelation, Angell works with the very best of the best in the industry. He identified with many of the struggles builders are facing, and said he doesn’t envy the challenges they’ve seen while coping with demand during the pandemic.
When discussing the current shortages, Angell said that he could be taking on even more design work, but he’s limited by the shortages in materials and man power currently hindering builders this pool season. “Its a little challenging because we’re introducing our clients to builders and then the brakes get slammed.” said Angell.
“The clients seem to understand the realities of what is going on and everybody has been really patient which has helped to make it an enjoyable year even amidst the chaos.” said Angell.
Homeowners Recalibrating to a Post Covid World
With a renewed focus on swimming pools, more homeowners than ever want a completely custom, high end backyard. In discussing the recent surge in demand, Angell remarked how last year and 2021 have been the busiest in his 35 years in the industry.
“It certainly seemed to recalibrate people to where there’s a new emphasis being placed on the importance of family time and relaxing at home. ” said Angell, “It’s about enjoying your full property, as opposed to just getting home from work at night and shutting down when you get there.” he continued.
Focusing on The Entire Space
One thing that has differentiated Angell from many other designers throughout the years, has been his focus on the complete backyard and not just the swimming pool. “What really helped set me apart,” said Angell “Is that even though technically I was a pool designer, I approached things more from the perspective of a landscape architect or a home architect. I was taking into account the entire space.”
“I can’t see doing it any other way at this point.” said Angell “The way my brain works I see the entirety of the property. My background in residential architecture plays into it.” Angell’s ability to see how all the subtle nuances of the design comprise the property as a whole, is a differentiator that put him in the upper echelon of designers.
Setting Realistic Expectations
Angell’s deep knowledge of home and landscape design provides him a unique insight as to how much an over the top luxury pool project really costs. Angell’s design firm focuses on high end luxury outdoor living projects. As such, he is all too familiar with exactly what goes into creating one of the Pinterest dream board projects that homeowners often claim to have be envisioning.
Angell explained that a typical luxury custom pool can cost upwards of $150,000 all on it’s own. The price can be even higher when builders face a complicated elevation and numerous engineering and hydraulics challenges.
Factor in a luxury custom mosaic tile interior and that price jumps up exponentially. This well before adding on additions like landscaping, decking, lighting, and outdoor funiture. Opt for amenities like a fire pit, pergola, retaining walls, or other similar options and the price tag can quickly turn into sticker shock for consumers.
Of course, homeowners can go even further with their dream backyard explained Angell. “Some homeowners opt for outdoor kitchens, custom fireplaces, cabanas, or pavillions.”
“When we’re going through our portfolio and clients are pointing out projects they like,” said Angell, “I explain the prices. I get into that conversation with them. If we’re just talking about the pool, the project was probably around $150,000 for the pool and decking.” he explained, “When we’re talking about the complete project, the total was probably around $250,000. That was for all the other elements landscaping, furniture, lighting.”
Angell said that he tries to do builders a favor by educating and preparing his clients ahead of time. He does this by setting realistic expectations of what is involved with creating an award winning backyard. Angell explained the importance of preparing clients for the costs of labor. He also prepares them with a realstic timeline necessary to build their ideal outdoor living environment. That picture perfect backyard the homeowner envisioned when they saw that first photo on Instagram has a final price that can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Angell Continues To Up The Bar in Design
Angell’s most recent projects see him doing alot of work with Aqua Terra Outdoors and Elite Outdoor Living in Texas. He is particularly excited about one of his recently completed projects that he considers to be one of his own personal best. Angell said that the technology and materials finally became cost feasible to do the incredibly intricate detailed tile and coping work he’s always envisioned.
“Everything on this project was hand fabricated. Miter cut porcelain pavers. Very clean, modern aesthetic. For years I wanted to make something like this happen,” said Angell “but it was so expensive to fabricate. I always had to compromise and go back to normal coping with the waterline tile. All of these things took the cool factor out of it.” he continued, “Completing this project was major for me.” said Angell.
Elaborating on some other triumphs that make this project one for his highlight reel; Angell said, “The PAL lighting with the LED strip that was the other element I could never really get to happen.” he continued “All of the old LED lighting would last for a couple of months and then it was toast. We could never really accomplish what I set out to with this type of design in years past.” said Angell.
Angell said he’s excited to have Jimi Smith the industry leading photographer come out and photograph his newest project once it’s completed. While he didn’t want to tip his hand too much, he indicated that will be yet another incredible project that he can hang his hat, and one that will define his career for years to come.
Listen to our complete interview with Randy Angell on the Pool Magazine Podcast.
Pool Supply Shortages Are Real
Ongoing shortages continue to beleaguer the pool construction and pool service industry
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 effected 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 it’s 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 who 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 on 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 which 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 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.”
PVC Shortage Looms On The Horizon
Rising costs of PVC are also creating a serious problem. Last years Hurricane impacted production for Petrochemical plants in Texas and Louisiana. The ramifications of that shut down 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 shock 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 masters 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 which 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 home owners 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. Some manufacturers say that there is no shortage and some say there is. Stuck 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.
Featured Photo Credit: Alan Smith Pools
Shortages Delaying Pool Construction
A series of shortages are causing pool construction delays across the nation
Shortages continue to plague the pool industry and have now begun to cause tremendous delays for pool builders. Experts say a serious plastics shortage is trickling down and impacting builders across the pool industry. Diminished supplies and rising costs for raw materials are causing prices to skyrocket with distributors. Supply chains have been dramatically affected by a recent surge in demand for pool products as well as the COVID-19 shutdowns. As manufacturing plants begin to come back online, many in the industry are beginning to wonder if it’s too little too late to save this year’s pool season. Supply delays are already causing serious problems for pool builders across the nation and the situation looks to only be getting worse as the season goes on.
Shortages Cause Distributors to Raise Prices
Across the board – prices for chemicals, components, and machinery have gone up with major distributors. PoolCorp announced price increases earlier this year that are set to start on May 3, 2021. Many pool companies however, have reported wide spread price increases from other distributors in the months prior to the announcement taking effect. Stock on many essential components are in short supply due to Covid causing a series of wide spread factory slowdowns. This following an unprecedented demand for pool and spa goods in 2020.
Hurricane Laura sparked a fire at one of the main chlorine production plants, shutting down more than 40% of the chlorine tablet production in the United States. We have seen significant price increases on chemicals, especially chlorine. The price for chlorine tablets is predicted to increase up to 50% by mid July according to analysts.
Plastics Shortage Impacting The Pool Industry
ISM is reporting a plastics shortage that is already predicted to severely impact the pool industry. Raw material shortages for resin have dramatically impacted supply chains. Dwindling supplies were already tight say leading experts. The recent deep freeze caused by winter storm Uri, took many supplies off the market as pool owners in Texas experienced millions of dollars in unexpected pool equipment repairs.
The Petrochemical industry which is largely based in Texas, was nearly brought to it’s knees during the winter. Uri had disastrous implications on supplies which are impacting the inventory that pool companies have depended on being available for this seasons installation projects.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited S& P Global Platts, the freeze in Texas, one of the largest exporters of plastics and other petrochemical products, halted production of 75% of polyethylene, 62% of polypropylene, and 57% of PVC. Texas manufactures about 85 percent of the polyethylene used in the United States, making it the most commonly used plastic in the world. The manufacturing delays have triggered a global plastics shortage.
Maintaining Pricing Structures is Impossible
Maintaining existing pricing structures has already become untenable for pool service companies due to the rising costs of chemicals like trichlor and dichlor. Many pool service companies have begun to send out announcements to customers to expect price increases on weekly pool service this season. “We have absolutely no choice” said Mike Pompura of Pool Masters in Corona, CA. “Distributors have raised their prices considerably this season and unfortunately we are going to have start passing these price increases on to our customers.”
Pompura who has run his pool service company for the past two decades, says he has never seen conditions like this before. “I’ve been in business since 2001 and this is the worst I have seen it. We are having problems getting valves. PVC has also gone way up this year” said Pompura.
The problems Pompura is experiencing seem to echo the sentiments of many pool companies sounding off in pool industry groups on social media. The stress on plastic supplies and a surge on demand for resins are causing bottlenecks in the supply chain across the nation. Experts cite a number of causes for ongoing delays including port closures, over the road capacity shortages, and an increased demand on plastics for food packaging and PPE.
Emile Stinchcombe of Aqua Guard Pools in Detroit says the problem is bigger than just a shortage of materials. The Covid-19 relief bill has provided extra stimulus to the point where the industry finds itself suddenly short of skilled labor during the busiest months of the pool season. “We have a serious shortage of labor this year. Suddenly everyone wants to stay home and collect unemployment instead of work for a living. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years in the pool industry.” said Stinchcombe.
Winter storm Uri hit petrochemcial plants in Texas and Louisiana hard. Many industry experts fear that supply chains have not yet recovered to make a meaningful impact in time for this years pool season. This could very well be why major distributors are hedging their bets by stating that further price increases may be just around the corner.
Shortages Causing Prices to Soar
One thing is certain, with raw materials increasing in price – consumers can be certain to feel the trickle down effect in their wallet this pool season. The price of an inground swimming pool is predicted to increase 15-25% in most markets throughout the United States this year in comparison to last year. This is on par with the rising costs of raw materials like lumber contributing to an expected additional $36,000 to the price of average new home construction this year.
In addition, timelines for completing inground pool projects have also been dramatically impacted. There is an enormous backlog of homeowners waiting just to get on the list for pool construction. Consumers can expect extended timelines for construction to go up from the typical timeframe of 6-8 weeks to now 3 months or more in many areas of the country.
The news does not bode well for homeowners like Penny Lopez in Las Vegas who contracted with her pool builder back in January and is still waiting for her pool to be finished. “We were told that we would be swimming by May but I’m still looking at a giant hole in my backyard,” said Lopez, whose story seems to resemble that of other homeowners throughout the Las Vegas region.
The Trickle Down Effects
The pool and spa industry is just one of many industries affected by this crisis. John Schiegg, VP of Supply Chain Services for Houston-based home builders David Weekley Homes, said he’s seeing shortages and price increases on everything from siding to adhesives to insulation. After winter storm Uri, several PVC manufacturers reported to Schiegg they would be unable to meet their contractual obligations. Schiegg said he was surprised to hear distributors in other neighboring states were impacted as well.
New York based Confer Plastics, manufacturers of pool ladders, steps, and spa accessories; said they would be unable to deliver products planned or scheduled. They’ve already been forced to layoff 40 employees. Vice President Bob Confer said he’s never seen a situation like this in his 47 years in the industry. Confer Plastics is far from the epicenter of the Texas freeze but is still experiencing the long range ripple effects as are many other manufacturers throughout the pool industry.
Ask the Masters, Pool Pro & WU launch exclusive membership program
Randy Angell is a Pool Designers Designer
Worried about COVID-19 at the pool? Americans are split, survey finds
Pool Supply Shortages Are Real
Chlorine Tablet Shortage Due to Covid-19 & BioLab Fire
Shortages Delaying Pool Construction
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