Recently, I was on a plane on my way to a conference and started chatting with the man seated next to me. An insurance broker in his early 30s, he owned a townhome in a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. When I told him what I do for living, he said, “I keep meaning to put a deck on my roof — you know, an outdoor fireplace, maybe a fountain. But I haven’t done it.”

“Why not?” I asked.

The man shrugged. “Don’t know. Just hasn’t happened.”

This felt important, so I pushed, wanting a better answer. “Can you be more specific? I’m curious as to why you haven’t called a contractor. There are a number of good ones out there.”

He shrugged again, and actually looked kind of puzzled. “Honestly, I don’t know. It’s on my list, but … I don’t know.”

I would describe that man’s relationship to his outdoor room in one word: flat. He will probably coast along doing nothing until he meets a designer who inspires him. Failing that, no roof garden.

In a way, this flatness is a metaphor for the entire American economy. And, as the current saying goes, “flat” is the new “up.” So what are we to do?

As an industry, our mission right now is to motivate that insurance broker and others like him to take action. We need to aggressively pursue every scrap of business that may be on the horizon. But this costs money. Some of the changes that company owners made in 2009 were smart, nimble and competitive, while others may have cut too deeply and cost themselves valuable profits.

The pool and spa industry is composed primarily of small to medium-sized individual business owners, which is a great advantage during tough times. Most firms in our market have no board to satisfy, no large investors to please and, it is hoped, no crushing debt load that makes reinvestment impossible. This gives most pool and spa business owners the freedom to cut and add resources as they see fit.

I don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but I do know this: Companies that are prepared to meet it will survive, while those that have cut their core products too deeply will die. It is the mission of Pool & Spa News to help the industry navigate these rocky waters. Here’s to making “flat” more profitable.