For retailers, the X factor in every pool season is the weather. With some exceptions this year, Mother Nature has been the helping hand stores need to increase sales.
The warmer regions especially report a healthy year to date.
“We had a good start to the season with warm temperatures and nice weather,” said Dale Howard, who owns Phoenix-based B&L Pools. “That kind of increased chemical sales [already] and it gets people in the backyard, thinking about pools.”
As in the rest of the country, outdoor rooms and kitchens continue to be popular, topping off backyard projects that include makeovers of the spaces and new-pool construction or hot tub installation. By all reports, the demand for those items is stronger than in recent years.
In areas outside the Sun Belt, spring sprang early, leading to on-time pool openings and early customer buys.
A mild winter in the Northwest meant strong first-quarter sales for Olympic Hot Tub Co. in Seattle, marked by an increase in add-on purchases at a rate that surprised co-owner Alice Cunningham.
“People seem to want the extras. They want music, they want salt, they want Covanas,” Cunningham said, referring to an automatic cover that converts to a gazebo when raised. “… People want the whole thing. In the recession, people just wanted to buy the tub.”
Products that are selling well there include better cover lifters, fully loaded mid-range hot tubs and more large spas.
Usually the third quarter of the year performs strongest for the hot tub store, and already sales in the first two quarters indicate this will be a very strong year for the business.
Over in the Northeast and Midwest, very similar circumstances are showing different results.
Last year, multiple polar vortexes swept through the regions, making for colder-than-usual winter temperatures, with record-breaking snowfalls in some areas. Expectations for spring 2014 were that, after an off-season that drove people inside even more than usual, customers would have a pent-up desire to get outside, enjoy their backyards and — most of all — open their pools and swim, buying chemicals to keep the water pristine and accessories to maximize backyard enjoyment. Disappointingly, that hope didn’t translate into sales in many areas last year.
But after a second brutal winter, early predictions suggest a very different sales outlook.
“Last year [the Northeast] had the polar vortex, but it ended earlier than this year. … It was more severe last year, but this year it extended,” said Mark Koide, CEO of Anthony & Sylvan, now based in Doylestown, Pa. “Nevertheless, we think we’re positioned well for retail this year.”
All indications that Anthony & Sylvan sees for the retail side of its business in the Northeast point to a solid year. The stock market’s performance in the past 12 months led to hefty bonuses for some Wall Street traders, which should help business in the metropolitan New York area.
Even businesses that were fortunate enough not to have a slump last year are predicting even better sales and more business for 2015.
“We had a real good year last year — the best year we’ve ever had,” said Lana Carr, owner of Carr Pools & Spas.
The business saw a 3- to 5 percent increase, but that probably came from the service side, Carr said. While it doesn’t offer weekly service, the Broken Arrow, Okla., company installs new equipment and opens and closes customer pools.
Store traffic so far isn’t as busy as it was the same time last year, but is on par with previous years. Customers were able to order their entire season of pool chemicals at an early buy event in February, and those sales are on track.
“We’re expecting an excellent year,” she said.