While business flounders and doors close in the nation’s largest pool markets, some smaller regions have fared surprisingly well.
Certainly, no one has been immune to the economic downturn. But pool builders in Charlotte, N.C., and New Orleans as well as parts of Utah and Rhode Island have not experienced the sharp declines seen in the traditional powerhouse markets of Florida, Arizona and California.
Builders in Rhode Island, for instance, may have not been hit as hard by the housing crisis because of the predominance of aftermarket sales in the state.
“There are no home builders I’m aware of who would even package a pool with a house,” said Ron LeClerc, co-owner of The Pool Doctor of Rhode Island in the city of Coventry. “In comparison to some of the horror stories we’ve heard [elsewhere in the country], we fared pretty well.”
True, housing starts have slowed, but many Rhode Island customers don’t look to install pools until two or three years after they’ve moved in anyway, he added. Of course, most of LeClerc’s business is conducted in higher-income areas, where disposable income and available credit are less constrictive issues.
Similarly, Blue Haven Pools & Spas in Pineville, N.C., has been successfully selling to homeowners who can purchase pools independent of financing arrangements. Less than 5 percent of the firm’s sales in 2007 were financed, according to Frank Aylward, company president. And though the market took a hit in 2008, Blue Haven still managed to build 129 pools.
“Knowing what I know about this business … we’re going to recover before the rest [of the country] because we haven’t seen a loss in our home values. That’s the key ingredient,” Aylward said.
Charlotte was one of the stronger markets for Anthony & Sylvan Pools, according to Tom Casey, vice president/sales of the Mayfield Village, Ohio-based building firm.
“It was affected [by the economy], but it was affected later, so it hasn’t cut them as deep,” Casey said.
The Greater New Orleans area was late in experiencing the effects of the recession as well. As money has moved into the area within the past few years, more pools are being dug with the construction of new homes.
“My excavation contractor, who works for a lot of different companies, told me he’s got more pools to start in January than he’s had in the past two years,” said Charles Elfert, president of Pleasure Aquatech Pools in Metairie, La.
However, the figure could be skewed by pool orders held over from a much slower fourth quarter, he added.
The number of builders in the area has grown as outside companies have moved in and service outfits have ventured into new construction. Elfert cites increased competition as the primary force behind his company’s 25 percent decrease in sales.
Similarly, competition has stiffened in the Salt Lake City area. Builders from stalling markets in St. George, Utah, and Nevada have moved in to take advantage of steady home values and interested buyers.
Still, jobs are holding steady.
“We had as much work as we could handle,” said John Brady, president of Leisure Pool & Spa in Ogden, Utah. “I’m optimistic that it’ll stay the same.”
The company’s portable spa sales, however, were down by as much as 50 percent, he noted.