While many enjoy lower fuel bills, firms in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma are experiencing varying levels of impact as oil companies undergo massive layoffs.
With oil prices most recently hovering around the $30-$40 mark, producers have pared way down. As a result, some pool and spa companies are seeing reductions in business, while others prepare for difficulties or just wonder if business could be better. Still others report a very robust first quarter so far.
“The area most affected would be new pool construction,” said Manuel Perez de la Mesa, CEO of PoolCorp in Covington, La. “We are seeing modest impact — the growth rate is not what it would be normally. But there’s not a major downturn.”
Some are hit harder than others. The southwest portion of Louisiana feels the consolidation. The Lafayette area, where exploration takes place, is hit hardest, said Joey Tassin, president of Sabine Pools, Spas & Furniture in Lake Charles, La. Sales of larger-ticket items, such as construction and furniture, suffer the most. The local petrochemical industry benefits from lower oil costs, but not enough to offset lost business. “We’ve seen a drastic drop in leads and contracts,” Tassin said.
In Texas, it’s more complicated: Last year brought a very wet spring, which held up construction for most. This year, some report a pent-up demand unleashed by a mild fall and winter. “We had a lot of sales going into fall,” said Debra Smith, co-owner of Pulliam Aquatech Pools, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder based in Fort Worth.
Then there is the fact that some areas have diversified industry since the 1980s oil crisis because they were uncomfortable with an exclusive reliance on oil. The most prominent example is the Houston metro area. Still, there are reductions in business. PSN Top Builder Cody Pools reported a 25 percent drop in leads in its Houston locations. “We’re a little bit concerned, but we’re not in a panic mode,” said the company’s president, Mike Church. “We’re going to ride it out. We haven’t made any cuts.”
Service and renovation are somewhat affected as well. Some who haven’t lost their jobs worry that they might, so they’re setting aside monthly service and renovation plans. “I think people see pool service as a luxury: They can do it themselves and save a couple hundred dollars per month,” said Michael Miller, owner of Houston-based Miller Pools, which has lost 25 of its 750 weekly pool service accounts. “It definitely has affected us, but not as dramatically as initially anticipated.”
He has noted some changes that tend to happen during recessions: Customers choosing repair over replacement, and less extensive renovations. “Some people are doing the bare minimums that they need, and waiting to do [more extensive work] at a later time,” he said.
The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex is seeing less impact. There is still an influx of industry and people moving in from different states. Because of that, Smith expects one of the best years for her company. “A lot of people have been affected by it, and a couple people have cancelled because they lost their jobs,” Smith said. “But other than that, [business is great.] I have been happily surprised that it hasn’t affected us.”