A surge in regulations governing inflatable pools has industry retailers concerned.
But while this recent spate of fencing and permit requirements has hit cities across the country, it isn’t lost sales that worry pool and spa professionals.
Instead, dealers are apprehensive about the long-term backlash when employees at big-box stores fail to inform customers of local codes requiring safety products, which can add considerably more to a relatively low pool purchase price.
The result, many fear, will be a souring on the experience of pool ownership.
“These are our future customers,” said Blair Lynch, director of operations at Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio in Anderson, Ind. “People start out owning these inflatable pools to see if they’ll use them, whether the kids like them — that sort of thing. Then they’re told to take them down or invest hundreds or thousands more dollars into them, and they may decide against owning one down the road.”
Inflatable pools have grown in popularity in recent years due to the product’s attractive price point and ease of use.
“It brings people into the market because it’s below entry-level price,” said Ed O’Hair, owner of Casual Patio in Katy, Texas, who doesn’t carry inflatables but does encounter customers who own them.
Indeed, specialty retailers — including those that may not sell inflatable pools — often do sell steel- or aluminum-wall above-ground vessels to inflatable owners. For example, Fun Center Pools & Spas in Mansfield, Ohio, has made three or four such sales already this year, according to service coordinator Angie Sinclair.
But city councils from New York to Texas have proposed or revised ordinances of late to require owners of pools more than 18- or 24 inches high, in many cases, to install fences, self-locking devices and alarms. Some locations also mandate grounded electrical hookups or additional permits.
Sinclair and others generally support the added safety measures, but question whether mass merchants such as Walmart or Sam’s Club properly inform customers of the added expenses they may incur.
Representatives from Walmart did not respond to requests for comment.
Mermaid, which doesn’t sell inflatable pools, nonetheless finds value in buyers of the product. Lynch said many frequent his store for water-testing services, chemicals and even enhanced equipment.
“Probably one of the strongest categories for us that we’ve been able to capture for these pools is selling [owners] upgraded pump and filter systems,” he said. For Lynch and others, however, there’s greater significance beyond opportunities to boost the bottom line.
“The important thing for us really is educating people about water safety and why these laws are in effect,” he said. “As pool pros, that’s really where we need to come in — to stress the importance of these things and make sure they’re aware of all the aspects of owning a pool.”