Unruly children. Dogs in the showroom. Fraudulent credit cards.

If any of these circumstances sound familiar, you’re not alone. Pool and spa retailers across the country are reporting a surge in “consumers gone wild.”

Consider the following from Debra Smith, co-owner of Pulliam Pools in Ft. Worth, Texas:

“A customer called in recently to say he had purchased a 100-pound bucket of chlorine in 1999 and never received it. He felt we should give him another because, and I quote, ‘Right is just right, dammit!’

So we pulled the file and it showed that, in fact, we had delivered it to him back then. When we told him we had documented confirmation, he replied, ‘Oh, OK, can you go ahead and schedule a service call for me then?’ Just taking a shot, I guess.”

Explanations for such behavior vary. But many dealers agree that concern over a fragile economy seems to have shoppers expecting more for less on an increasingly frequent basis. Below are a selection of actual recent scenarios, as told by the industry professionals who experienced them firsthand.

Dale Simpson
Guiton’s Pool Center
Redding, Calif.
It is a pain, you know — all I want to do is build and repair pools and sell chlorine. But it’ll be OK. All in a day’s work, right?

Last September we checked out a leak on a remodel and determined there was some water passing between the skimmer throat and the pool shell.

The homeowner was losing about 260 gallons a day — not a large amount — and we did the repair and that was it.

Then, in December, he comes in and asks our service manager if he can discuss this leak he’d had. So we all sit down in one of the conference rooms at our retail store, and he pulls out this typed-up presentation that he had prepared on the leak.

Basically, the message is that he’s lost water, he’s calculated it out, and he’s determined that there are monetary losses associated with it. At this point the fellow goes down the list he had printed out:

Item 1 – A new filter gasket (OK, no big deal)

Item 2 – Four new cartridge elements (Again, doable)

Item 3 – A new adjustable hand skimmer

Item 4 – A new pool sweep and hoses (Now it’s getting a little more interesting)

Item 5 – A 5-gallon bucket of chlorine

Item 6 – A new test kit

Item 7 – Re-caulk or place new sealant around the pool’s coping

Item 8 – $10,000 cash

So everything’s going along, even to the point of OK, a new pool sweep — you start to look at your costs and say, I don’t know, do we have the ability to do this? But then, in the same tone of voice, he comes to that last item… and $10,000 cash.

His theory was that he had lost $100 worth of water over the last nine years, and somehow or another he’d come up with that figure.

So I’ve been in touch with my insurance agent, and I’ve since asked the customer if I can access his water consumption statements for the last five years. I’m just going to have to systematically go through it and see if we can either build or diffuse the case.

Update: Recently I obtained records from the city’s public works department showing that our customer’s water use was the same prior to our pool renovation. So there you have it.

Lynn White
Water Works Pool & Spa
Tuscaloosa, Ala.
They definitely are crazier about things. But oftentimes the mom-and-pop stores just have to suck it up, because some of these people spend a lot of money with you.

About a year and a half ago this female customer walks in. She’s from a small town called Centreville, which is about 30 miles south of here.

This particular customer would come in pretty regularly to have her water checked, but would never actually buy much.

Anyway, this one day she comes in with a water sample and asks to have it tested. So we run it through the system and I tell her that she needs a calcium hardness increaser — we don’t give them any specific name of a product, but rather just tell them what the pool needs.

And that’s it — she walks out the door.

So maybe 30 minutes later, right about the amount of time it would take her to get back to her hometown, she calls me from her cell phone. The woman proceeds to tell me that she’s in the swimming pool chemical aisle at Wal-Mart, and did I happen to know what Wal-Mart’s version of sodium bicarbonate was called.

And I’m just thinking OK, it’s bad enough that they let us do their water testing for free, and then act like they’ve got the chemicals at home and just leave. But to boldly call me from Wal-Mart and tell me you’re looking for the product I just got done telling you that you needed?

Are you serious?

Dale Howard
B&L Pools
In our system here at the store, we label certain people “Challenge Customers.” It’s only maybe 30 out of 9,000 or so. But after we help them we’ll usually include a note by their name that reads, “Do not resuscitate.”

We got a call in early January from a customer who said he was trying to heat his pool and the heater wouldn’t work.

It turns out that a valve had been put in the wrong position. So one of our repair technicians goes out and changes the position of the valve. And that allowed the heater to work.

Later that day, the customer calls back and says he doesn’t want to pay the bill because our company had been out to his home three and a half years earlier, and we must have been the ones that switched the valve.

“The only company that’s been out here is B&L,” he says, “and I’m not paying the bill because your guys must have changed the valve.”

So our store manager talks to the customer, who e-mails us a picture of the pool equipment from when he bought the house and went through the inspection process.

Well, we look at the picture, which was taken prior to us ever going out there, and sure enough the valve is in the wrong spot. So it took three phone calls and a picture to determine that the valve was wrong to begin with.

When the economy gets bad, they do come out of the woodwork. People are struggling with money and costs, so it happens.