Some local homeowners have made a big splash during the coronavirus pandemic. They've bought swimming pools to compensate for fewer entertainment options and more time at home, creating a boom for pool dealers.
“I’ve always wanted one, and the interest rates are low, and with the pandemic, we found ourselves staying at home more,” said Kristi Vance, 49, of the Caddo community in Lawrence County, whose inground pool was installed in June.
“We’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ve had nieces and nephews and neighbors over here. My husband Donald was outside (Thursday) swimming in it.”
According to the Decatur Building Department, building permits issued for swimming pools, which include inground and above-ground models, from April to July were 13 this year compared to two during the same months in 2019. City records show 21 pool permits have been issued so far this calendar year compared to 11 for all of 2019.
Melinda Wallace, owner of Julia’s Pools in Decatur, called this summer’s business “a season like no other.” The pandemic kept people from traveling, and they wanted to invest in their homes and “make their backyards a stay-at-home vacation spot,” she said.
“In early April about every other call was inquiring about a purchase of a pool, and in May just about every caller was wanting to buy a pool,” she said. “The pandemic has created a different season, definitely a windfall for us.”
Wallace said sales of above-ground pools were up about 30% and supply sales were up 25%. Julia’s Pools doesn’t sell inground pools, Wallace said. “We have about 30 or 35 people on our waiting list wanting to buy a pool.”
She said round, 24-foot above-ground pools were the most popular.
Mike Morgan, owner of Morgan Pools in East Lawrence, said his business has nearly doubled on above-ground pools and is easily up 20% for inground pools.
He said when the government stimulus checks started arriving, business boomed.
“When people got their stimulus checks, they went wild,” he said. “There wasn’t a pool builder around who wasn’t busy. It seemed like everyone wanted a pool installed.” He said he installs pools across all of north Alabama.
Morgan Pools manager Ragan Bailey said the 18-by-36-foot inground pool is the most popular they sell. "The phone has rung constantly," she said.
H&H Truck and Outdoor in Decatur, which sells above-ground pools, saw a “significant increase” in sales this spring and summer, said store manager Austin Jolley.
“Around March when COVID shut things down, people started calling,” he said. “We had a huge spike in calls from people wanting pools. We sold out and replenished our stock twice and are out again. We’re telling customers wanting a pool now it will be next spring before we can get to them.”
According to Homeguide.com, a website dedicated to home improvement, the average cost for an inground pool including installation is $35,000 with supplies ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 annually.
Homeguide said above-ground pools average about $3,000 including installation.
The National Pool & Hot Tub Alliance based in Colorado said the Decatur-area pool dealers are not alone. Alliance President and CEO Sabeena Hickman said the industry is seeing “historic” numbers across the nation.
“As of the end of July, pool construction permits were up 32.2% over the first seven months of 2019,” she said. “Given the normal slowdown in pool permit activity in the third and fourth quarters, we project the final year-end number to be up about 20% or more. That would be historic given the highest growth year since 1970 was in 1983 when inground residential pool segment finished up 16.4%.”
Hickman said 45% of the pool builders are forecasting summer season revenue up 10% or more, with 60% of the builders expecting sales easily surpassing 2019 numbers.
Local dealers said the spike in business hasn’t come without headaches. Because of the high demand, there is a shortage in supplies, building materials and labor, they said.
“Replacement liners regularly take two weeks to come in on order. Now it’s a minimum of four weeks,” Morgan said. “It took me a month to find a pool heater. I couldn’t find a customer a slide.”
He said some supply manufacturers closed down their plants when COVID-19 arrived in the U.S.
“An even larger problem was finding the labor to install the pools. The government was paying them more money in unemployment than I could pay them working. I could have sold 100 more pools, but I couldn’t find anybody to help put them in,” Morgan said.
He said the enhanced unemployment compensation program, where recipients were paid $600 a week in addition to the $272 regular compensation, shrunk the labor force. The federal assistance program ended July 31.
Wallace said pool owners will need liners, filters, cleaners, chlorine and other supplies during the life of their pools.
“Next year we anticipate demand for supplies will be higher,” she said. Hurricane Laura and a fire destroyed Bio Lab Inc., a chlorine tablet manufacturing plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in late August, and that could cause chlorine, a cleaning agent for pools, to be in short supply next spring, Wallace said.
Kevin Graves, 54, of Landersville, said the coronavirus scare and grandchildren were two driving factors for his family getting a pool this summer. He said he had a 16-by-32-foot inground pool installed in late August.
“Because of the pandemic, we didn’t take a vacation this year,” he said. “On Labor Day weekend, we had the entire family over here including the seven grandchildren. Everybody was out enjoying the pool. Now they have another reason to visit us.”