If there’s one good indication the economy has finally turned a corner, it’s that there is less competition for pool service professionals in the commercial sector. When the market crashed, some pool builders abandoned their construction practices and focused on servicing lucrative commercial pools. Now that homeowners again are demanding new pools and renovations, some in the service trade report an exodus of builders-turned-techs.
“It’s opening a void in the commercial side,” said Todd Starner of Starner Brothers Pools Inc. serving Bradenton, Fla.
Commercial accounts make up a full one-third of his business. How does that compare with last year?
“That’s the first time it’s ever been a full third of my business,” said Starner, who also serves as president of the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association.
Confident in the economy, homeowners are sprucing up their pools and springing for automation equipment, helping to get 2015 off to a stellar start, Starner said.
But with a more pool-friendly marketplace comes increased competition — not all of it legal. Techs report more unlicensed activity this year than last. That’s why some service pros plan to combat unlicensed undercutters this season by targeting affluent clientele who are more prone to hire — and buy from –—qualified contractors.
Ana Labosky realized she couldn’t compete with lowball bidders offering $50-a-month services. So the owner of Aqua Nita Services in Pompano Beach, Fla. has been backing out of routine maintenance and now focuses more on selling and servicing smart-phone-controllable automation equipment, such as variable-speed pumps, salt generators and heaters.
“This is a different homeowner that has this type of equipment,” Labosky said. These more affluent customers are more likely to pay their bills and call for repairs.
Likewise, Texas faces a glut of new service companies, drawn to opportunities in the Lone Star State’s ever-sprawling cities.
“I’ve probably seen 200 to 300 start-ups in the last five years,” estimated Todd Swearingen, owner of G&S Pool and Spa Services in south Austin.
Whether they’re legal or not is difficult to say. In Texas, pool service providers only need a Residential Appliance Installers License to work on equipment. If they’re maintenance only, no license is required. But at the very least, many of them are uneducated, which has its benefits. Swearing is frequently called to fix another pro’s shoddy work.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to make pools work that don’t work,” he said.
In California, the drought is generating opportunities to service pools with water-wise equipment.
Ray Johnson, the owner of Ray’s H20 Purification System in San Diego, anticipated that water districts in the Golden State eventually might restrict homeowners from refreshing their pools by draining and refilling. So last November he invested in a mobile filtration unit. The trailer houses a generator, filters, injection tanks, ultraviolet rays and industrial-sized membranes that filter water to its purest state. Pools are never drained empty; dirty water comes in as clean water returns to the pool.
Johnson purchased the system as a complement to his 9-year-old service firm from Pool Services Technologies. The San Marcos, Calif.-based company has sold eight units in recent years, citing the drought as the main motivator. Johnson’s booked six weeks out and has an existing customer-base to tap.
“I have 70 clients,” he said. “I should be able to talk them into it.”