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
Pool Contractors Gift New Pool To Grandma After Disaster
A group of pool contractors are the answer to one homeowners prayers. For years, Kitty Smitth, an 80-year old resident of Indianapolis, had dreamed of having an inground swimming pool for her 29 grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy. Smith had just recently used her life savings to purchase a home and property in South Indianapolis that she was hoping would allow her to finally realize those dreams.
Smith acknowledges that the home she purchased needed a lot of work inside, but held out hope of enjoying the backyard with her family. For Smith and her grandchildren, the backyard pool meant a safe haven from the dangers of the pandemic that was sweeping across the country last summer.
“They were here, swimming and playing. I can’t tell you how great that was. This has just been my dream my whole life,” she told reporters.
Future summer dreams would be put to an end this February when a winter storm caused her pool to collapse into a heap of disintegrating concrete and collapsed fiberglass walls. Smith was horrified to find that her backyard pool had collapsed in on itself in the night. “My whole body just started going numb and shaking. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she told reporters.
An engineering report was conducted to determine the cause of the failure. Analysis determined that a leak may have contributed to its collapse. A new pool cover, which had just been installed, combined with the inadequate water level in the pool may have contributed to adding stress on the walls of the pool.
To add insult to injury, Smith quickly found out that her homeowners insurance would not cover the damage. Despite being a customer of the same company for over 40 years and having a policy that includes the replacement cost of an inground pool, her insurance company refused to pay a cent. They claimed her policy excluded any leak in the structure of the pool.
Smith was faced with an impossible problem. The cost of installing a new inground pool would be at least $60,000 plus an additional $20,000 for hauling away the debris from the old pool that had collapsed. “I just put everything into my house”, Smith told reporters, indicating that she didn’t have the financial resources to rebuild the pool. She stated that she felt like her insurance company had left her high and dry.
Smith contacted investigative reporters and discussed her problem with them. The reporters shared her story with some folks they knew in the pool industry that could help lend a hand. Ultimately, eight separate Indiana companies came together headed up under Automatic Pool Covers owner, Michael Shebek. Shebek pooled his resources and network to help put together a team that will help rebuild Smith’s backyard.
- Crone Customs Pools – Project Lead / Permits
- Only Alpha Pool Products – Donating Steel Walls
- Pools of Fun – Donating and installing the liner. Provide the water to fill the pool.
- Modish Pools – Donating concrete and labor to rebuild the decking
- Hendrick Pool and Lawn Service – Donating plumbing work for the pool
- C Ray Pools – Donating plumbing and electrical work.
- Automatic Pool Covers – Donating a new pool cover and providing other help.
- Cover Care – Donating installation of the pool cover
What is truly incredible about this story is that although some of the companies on this list are competitors, they are all united in the single goal to help one local resident recover the usage of her pool.
Shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday, Smith was greeted with the surprise of a lifetime. The contractors who have agreed to rebuild her pool at zero cost, showed up at her house along with the 13news team to break the good news. Overwhelmed with emotion, Smith hugged them all and said “I don’t know your names but I know your hearts,” telling the contractors, “I love you.”
Smith will hopefully have a new pool to enjoy with her grandchildren this summer. The contractors have all assured her that the unsightly mess in her backyard will be removed and a new pool installed. The entire cost of the project is estimated to cost approximately $90,000.
“Just no words. There aren’t words big enough to thank everyone,” Smith said. “I’m just so thankful.”
Las Vegas Pool Builder Receives Top Industry Award
Joseph Anthony Vassallo, CBP of Paragon Pools Named PHTA 2021
Builder of the Year
(Las Vegas, NV) Nov 21, 2021 – Las Vegan Joseph Anthony Vassallo, Vice President & Chief Design Executive of Paragon Pools was named the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA) 2021 Builder of the Year at the Awards ceremony held on Nov 15th in Dallas, Texas during the Pool, Spa, Patio & Deck Expo.
The PHTA annually recognizes prominent achievements and outstanding performers in the pool, spa and hot tub industry of which include the Individuals Awards and the International Awards of Excellence Design Awards.
The Builder of the Year Award is a peer-nominated award given to one PHTA builder member who has advanced the pool building profession through outstanding achievements and dedication to the industry.
Nominees must meet a strict set of criteria, including commitment to being a positive role model for the profession and peers, have a proven track record of meeting or exceeding industry standards in designing and building pools and spas, must have been employed in the pool, hot tub, or spa industry for at least five years, has actively participated with PHTA at a local or national level and must be a current employee of a PHTA member company in good standing.
Vassallo, who is often referred to as Joe Jr. began his career as a design apprentice in his teens (1989). He found enjoyment in the challenge of conceiving and developing pool and landscape plans to complement the home’s architecture and restrictive plot layouts while designing a stunning custom design for the homeowner.
Following high school, he studied architecture, marketing, and small business management. He has continued to further his professional and technical skills with PSI Leadership Seminars, Tom Hopkins Seminars, Auto CAD-2000, Structure Studios 3-D training, PHTA University curriculum, ART- Artistic Resources and Training, as well as CEU’s in industry business and technical topics.
In 2001, Vassallo joined his father in opening the family business, Paragon Pools in Las Vegas. As the Vice President, Vassallo has been instrumental in the success of the company and creating a high standard for design and construction for company projects earning an expansive list of international design awards and business accolades over the years, including Masters of Design Awards, International Awards of Excellence Design Awards, Aqua Choice Design Awards, Aqua 100 Hall of Fame, Nevada Business Journal Family Owned Business Honoree and Vegas Inc (formally InBusiness) 40 Under 40 Award to name a few.
In the nomination letter, Robert Blanda, CBP, PHTA Fellow, 2014 Builder of the Year submitted the following:
“Celebrating the 20th Anniversary Paragon Pools this year, Joseph Anthony Vassallo, CBP has had a long respected and celebrated career as a pool designer and builder in Las Vegas, NV.
He has been committed to ensuring and promoting professional development and the growth of the aquatic industry through a variety of activities including volunteering his time to serve on the Southern Nevada Chapter as well as the National Builders Education Committee (BEC) and Builders Manual Task Force…
Joe Jr. has always been very respectful of his fellow aquatic professionals. His high standards, design talents, knowledge of product and instincts are with true merit… He is eager to share his knowledge and elevate the skills of others. I and others have sought his advice on projects on numerous occasions. And his contributions to the 3rd and 4th edition of the Builders Manual was extremely valuable…
He is a fine example of what the BUILDER of the YEAR represents and has advanced the pool building profession through outstanding achievements and dedication to the industry.”
Established in 2007, the PHTA Builder of Year Award is previously known as the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP) Certified Building Professional (CBP) of the Year Award. Vassallo joins a short list of only 17 honorees that span the United States, including his father, Joseph Michael Vassallo, CBP who received the award in 2012.
The Vassallo’s are the only father and son to both receive the distinguished accolade. The duo also received an International Awards of Excellence Design Award for their unique design in the category of – Spa built in conjunction with a pool.
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ABOUT PARAGON POOLS Paragon Pools is an award-winning, custom, in-ground swimming pool and spa design/build construction company in Las Vegas, Nevada. The contractor specializes in new construction and major renovations of residential and commercial projects. Paragon Pools has received numerous accolades worldwide for its unique designs, trend setting applications and renovation projects. Their client list includes major hotels, casino moguls, sports stars, and celebrities. The company has been showcased in numerous TV, Cable and news profiles and featured on HGTV.com Designers Showcase. https://www.paragonpoolslv.com
Pool Industry Mourns The Loss of Grant Smith & Bob Lowry
The pool industry lost two of it’s best and brightest this week and was saddened to learn of the passing of widely respected professionals, Grant Smith and Bob Lowry.
This week many in the industry were gathering for the PSP Deck Expo in Dallas, TX. Colleagues were meeting after years of being separated by the pandemic and had been enjoying the opportunity to reconnect. The mood and energy were high at the Omni Convention Center. Pool Magazine editorial staff got to town early to help set up our own booth and cover some of the events being presented.
We were debuting our first printed issue of Pool Magazine, and I was personally excited to meet some of the industry professionals that I had been able to connect with virtually through social media. Over the past year, I had been corresponding with Grant Smith and engaging with him to become a contributor for our new publication. After a few easy-going conversations, Smith agreed to join our roster of op-editorialists.
I had published several of his op-ed pieces over the last year and was eager to get to meet him face to face and thank him for being a contributor. Shaking his hand and telling him how much I appreciated him being a part of our publication was something I was really looking forward to doing. I made sure to get one of his best op-eds in our first issue and wanted to hand it to him personally. Unfortunately, that never got to happen. Like many who got the sad news this week, I was on the expo floor when I found out that Grant Smith had suddenly and unexpectedly passed at the age of 50 years old.
His opinions were widely respected and from time to time would generate controversy on social media. Smith frequently inspired the type of intelligent debate that is the very lifeblood of our industry. A mentor and educator, he was eager to offer his expertise and help in any way he could. Evidently, that’s just the kind of person he was. The sort that have no compunction of giving their time and energy to help complete strangers.
For me, it was incredibly telling of the type of person he was and exemplified exactly what I’ve come to expect from those that lead our industry from the front. It should be of no shock to anyone that Smith was a United States Marine, they instill that type of character into their very best.
Bob Lowry, was equally greatly admired and respected throughout the industry. Known as a chemical service guru, Lowry was a thought leader on many issues pertaining to pool service. Many in the industry credit him with helping guide their career path and shape their approach towards water management. The author of a multitude of pool and spa water chemistry books, IPSSA manuals, and publisher of hundreds of technical articles and white papers over a 45 year span in the industry. He passed away in Lima, Peru on November, 17th after a long illness.
The news of the passing of both of these great educators in our industry leaves a hole in many of the hearts that knew and respected both of these incredibly warm and generous individuals. They will both be greatly missed.
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