When I was first hired at this magazine eight years ago, the words “pool and spa industry” and “private equity” were rarely used in the same sentence. And why would they be? At that time, America’s aquascapes were built and equipped primarily by family-owned businesses. These companies chugged along quietly under the radar of Wall Street and mega-investment firms.
Today all of that has changed.
The pool and spa industry is being noticed increasingly by private equity firms, partly as a byproduct of the housing boom and partly, I believe, as a result of the meteoric rise of PoolCorp’s stock over the past few years. And while the enthusiasm of outside investors may have cooled off a bit since the market has slid downward, that will prove to be a temporary blip that’s sure to reverse once the inevitable rebound occurs.
But is private equity good or bad for the industry? To me, the answer is both and neither.
On one hand, this type of investment pumps vast amounts of resources and business acumen into everything it touches. Today, there are at least 150 private equity-sponsored funds worth more than $1 billion, compared with only 14 in 1995. Private equity firms can make a crucial difference for companies with great potential that are in need of money and management expertise to help them grow.
On the other hand, there is something so wonderful about a company that’s been owned by the same family for generations — it’s the embodiment of the American Dream. As more and more companies with Mom and Pop origins exit the industry, we lose vital institutional knowledge.
In this issue, we examine the impact private equity firms are having on the industry. Our in-depth feature looks at the positive and negative aspects of this ongoing trend. It’s impossible to know what the future will bring, but we do know one thing: As writer Jim Lakely found, “Money Changes Everything.”