Continuing economic troubles coupled with bad weather in the Eastern half of the nation have kept the industry from seeing the turnaround it had hoped for this season.
New construction continues to struggle, with financing remaining a challenge. Even the high-end market, which provides the most opportunity, is being affected.
Renovation and service remain the strongest sectors, particularly due to the fact that consumers now are starting to spend on items they’d delayed purchasing.
“A lot of people have duct-taped those products together as far as it can go,” said Robert Rankin, PoolCorp’s general manager of Southern California.
While retail also performed well in many areas, the sector was softer in the Eastern part of the country, which was plagued with a wet spring.
In fact, the Northeast overall was one of the regions most affected by weather. After a strong start in March, sales came to a halt during an unusually wet April and May. For many dealers, the season didn’t truly begin until around Memorial Day weekend, especially in upstate New York and New England.
“We had a strong recovery in early June, and June was in general a good month,” said Jon Hulme, PoolCorp’s Northeast general manager. “July is looking good for this time of year.”
Despite the weather, Northeast vendors report a slight uptick in sales over the same time last year — 5 to 8 percent, one distributor said. Some vendors even estimate new builds are up in the single digits over last year.
Aboveground pools did particularly well in this region, with sales rising 10 to 15 percent, vendors estimated. The product’s low price and easy installation worked to its advantage as consumers recalled last summer’s scorching temperatures. “We had record-breaking heat in the Northeast — unbearable,” said Chuck Arakelian, president of Baystate Pool Supplies in Cambridge, Mass. So I think there was a carry-over mentally into this year.”
The Southeast saw its share of weather issues as well. However, the region continues to hold steady, largely because of its relative economic stability.
Georgia — particularly the Atlanta suburbs — may have performed the strongest in the Southeast. The area, along with the Carolinas, is seeing increased migration from Florida in a phenomenon that some call “half-backs,” meaning residents who had relocated to Florida from the north and then decided to move part of the way back.
Still, Atlanta itself suffered the most foreclosures in the region and remains stalled, said Mike Echols, regional manager for the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic for Pentair Water Pool and Spa. Rural Virginia and other lower- to mid-income areas also continue to lag, particularly in vinyl-liner construction, Echols said. In this region, vinyl-liner consumers are more likely to need financing, which is still difficult to find.
Tornado-ravaged areas in Tennessee and Alabama are beginning to see increased clean-up activity, he added, now that many residents have repaired their homes and can focus on their backyards.
For its part, Florida continues to experience activity from Northerners drawn by low housing prices. The local industry reports an increase in new-pool construction of about 10 percent, with approximately 300 more new pools being built so far this year. The Southern part of the state is seeing a bump of approximately 13 percent, with the Lee County and Tampa markets proving the stronger performers. The pool market in Dade/Broward, on the other hand, is too saturated to accommodate much new construction.
Though pool service is performing relatively well, it’s “not knocking it out of the park,” said Rick Postoll, PoolCorp’s general manager of South Florida. Postoll, who characterized the retail sector as relatively flat, added that, “We’re so far down that being up is relative.”
In the center of the country, Texas also continues to hold steady. The state has seen permits rise about 14 percent, said Cary Mullikin, Zodiac Pool Products’ regional sales manager for the Southern region. Distributors in Dallas report that numbers are up 6 to 7 percent, while Austin suppliers are citing an increase of 20 percent in overall pool-product sales.
The three major pool markets to the West — Arizona, Nevada and California — continue to suffer from some of the most catastrophic foreclosure rates in the nation and are reporting little movement.
California observers report a year that is flat or a few percentage points above last year. Coastal regions, such as Orange County and the San Francisco Bay area, are holding steadier. Heavily foreclosed areas such as Central California, from Modesto down to Bakersfield, along with Riverside and San Bernardino counties, continue to struggle.
“New construction is slightly down vs. last year,” said Ernie Weigum, manager of SCP’s Rockland, Calif., branch, located just north of Sacramento. “Right now, we are at about 95 percent of where we were in 2010. Permits in the Sacramento area are slightly down compared to the same time last year.”
In Arizona, Tucson has experienced some growth, with overall sales increasing approximately 14 percent, according to Jason Anderson, Western regional sales manager for Zodiac. “Phoenix and Scottsdale are pretty level with last year,” he added. “It may be slightly up on new pool builds, but is level in equipment sales.”
Jessy Goodman, Dan Schechner and Ben Thomas contributed reporting to this article.