When Sherri Fowler was asked to install a fiberglass pool on the roof of an apartment complex last year, she didn’t bat an eye.
“It’s lightweight and can be installed in a
week,” says the president/ owner of Premier Fiberglass Inc.
in Austin, Texas. “In general, fiberglass pools are
competitive with small gunite [vessels]. It’s a growing
Fowler will install 100 pools this year, up nearly 70 percent
from her 2005 figures. There’s still plenty of room to
expand, she adds.
In fact, until as recently as five years ago, fiberglass pools were
considered the ugly stepsister to vinyl-liner and concrete
projects. Now manufacturers report an average annual growth rate of
30 percent over the past decade, and high-end installations are on
“There’s still some separation today between
concrete, vinyl-liner and fiberglass, but I think fiberglass is
quickly becoming the mainstay,” says Scott Pearce, president
of Blue Water Luxury Pools & Design Co. in Bettendorf, Iowa.
His company installs more than 75 fiberglass pools a
Thanks to fiberglass’ diversity in styles and options, as
well as a knowledgeable customer base, dealers and manufacturers
believe it may eventually become the U.S. market’s pool of
choice. Yet emerging as a leader means the fiberglass pool industry
also will need to address rising costs and continue offering
In this article, Pool & Spa News looks at five
trends driving the growth and changing the face of today’s
1 Client demographics have changed.
predominant buyers still are families with children. However, more
and more purchasers of fiberglass pools are previous owners of
gunite or vinyl-liner vessels.
Dealers estimate that nearly 40 percent of second-time pool
owners opt for fiberglass. “Though they’ve had a gunite
pool before, when customers come in to buy their second pool, they
prefer the finish that comes with the one-piece fiberglass
composite vessels,” says John Anderson, owner of Anderson
Concrete Inc. in Murfreesboro, Tenn. “They’re tired of
the plaster and sharp surfaces.”
Customers see a number of benefits in fiberglass. For one,
shrinking backyards in many communities make a petite fiberglass
pool appealing. In addition, most companies offer strong warranties
and fast installations.
Still, it is the ease of maintenance that convinces many
customers to convert. “Fiberglass is inert, so you use the
same chemicals, just fewer of them,” Fowler says.
“It’s easier to upkeep for the average
2 More gunite and vinyl-liner builders offer fiberglass.
Another reason for the upswing in fiberglass pool sales is the
widening dealer network. Increasingly, concrete and package-pool
builders are becoming receptive to adding the product line to their
“We got on ServiceMagic about three years ago, and a lot
of people who wanted fiberglass pools contacted us. That’s
when I started researching the category,” says Ken Whitlow,
owner of Watercolors, LLC, in Atlanta. The high-end gunite builder
installed 10 to 15 fiberglass pools last year, and expects to do 25
to 30 this year.
“We won’t try to steer our customers from gunite to
fiberglass, or from fiberglass to gunite. They have an initial
desire and concept, and we simply fulfill it,” he
Anderson followed the same path. Nearly 15 years ago, the
longtime concrete-pool builder installed a fiberglass pool that
“looked terrible,” and he decided to stay away. But
then three years ago, he saw improvements in the product’s
quality, so he began offering it as an option. It’s fully
one-third of his business now.
Another reason that construction companies are expanding into
fiberglass is the product’s availability through distribution
channels. When Latham International acquired Viking Pools, SCP Pool
Corp., which owns a minority interest in Latham, began stocking
fiberglass pools at its service centers.
“Once SCP allowed the contractors to come down to the
distributor and buy a pool, more good conversations about
fiberglass vessels are occurring than bad ones,” says Kirk
Sullivan, president of San Juan Products Inc., a pool manufacturer
based in Lakeland, Fla. “It helped grow the market because
it’s exposing more builders, who are then interested in
3 High-end features abound.
high-end builders enter the segment, the product itself has taken a
leap from cookie cutter to cutting edge. Fiberglass pool
installations feature expansive decks, inlaid tiles and mosaics,
swim jets, elaborate LED or fiberoptic lighting, and complex
“We look at it like building a home,” Pearce of
Blue Water Pools says. “We have a palette of colors and
textures. We’re integrated with a landscape design company
[and] build the pergolas and bar features, and everything is
computer-integrated by touch remote inside the
Dealers estimate that 90 percent of fiberglass pools installed
today include waterfeatures. Nearly half showcase a spillover spa.
In many regions of the country, installations include a
cantilevered deck to cover the unattractive outer edge of the pool
“As short as five years ago, the majority of fiberglass
pools showed the lip,” says Jay Tucker, owner of Swim World
Inc. in Nashville, Tenn. “Now we do a lot of brick and stone
to form the coping over the lip.”
Builders reap the benefits of such customization. “My
average pool price is going up $10,000 this year, and most of it is
accessorizing — adding waterfeatures, rockwork, a bigger deck
and outdoor kitchen. [It creates] the whole backyard
paradise,” Fowler says.
Inlaid tile is another growing application. “Fully 90
percent of fiberglass pools sold in our area have waterline
Mosaics are also popular because the tiles adhere so tightly to
the fiberglass that they do not need service or maintenance,”
says Curt Prystupa, president of Sun Fiberglass Products Inc. in
4 Manufacturers offer more variety.
pool manufacturers are meeting the demand for high-end
installations by offering a wide selection of styles and
The engineering team at San Juan, for example, creates an
average of three new molds a year and currently offers 65 designs
to its dealers. Most recently, the company introduced
vanishing-edge and perimeter-overflow styles.
To combat the perception that fiberglass pools look like
“bathtubs,” manufacturers are rolling out a variety of
alternative finishes. At San Juan, pools can be custom-ordered in
14 colors, including untraditional shades such as canary yellow.
Leisure Pools USA offers five color options standard on its pools.
And Viking Pools, LLC, and Trilogy Pools offer their own patented
“Today, in Australia, fiberglass pools enjoy a 50 percent
market share [and] colored finishes are the driving factor of the
market,” says Ashley Gill, CEO of Leisure Pools USA in San
Antonio, whose company is based in Australia. “In the United
States, the trend has been to first build more shapes, and second,
to try and pretty up the pool with add-on options. The consumer has
not bought it, and fiberglass in the United States still represents
only 7 percent market share.”
Dealers seem to concur. “The colored finishes definitely
add the zing,” Fowler says. “You can’t get that
rich blue color with a plaster. The color has classed up what a
fiberglass pool is.”
Some builders would like to see the introduction of super-dark
finishes that mimic natural ponds but won’t fade over time.
The current body of colored gel coats and other alternative
finishes, they say, are more similar to the pebble aggregate
surfaces applied to concrete pools. “They have the greens,
blues and speckled finishes like a lagoon,” Whitlow
5 DIY installations are on the rise.
interesting trend is the increasing number of do-it-yourself
fiberglass pool kits being sold, notes Jason Housel, Western
regional sales manager for Composite Pool Corp., a subsidiary of
Viking Pools in Williams, Calif.
“It’s good and bad,” he says, estimating that
as many as 20 percent of installations are DIY. “It’s a
percentage of the market we want to, and have to, serve; the sales
are definitely there. On the other hand, we want to ensure the
quality of the installation, and that’s difficult with a
The reason is because many homeowners simply don’t
realize what it takes to install a pool. DIY kits include the pool
shell, basic equipment and a starter chemical kit. Most companies
deliver the pool to the home. The homeowner then hires a contractor
to dig a hole and pour a deck.
Simple process, right? Not exactly, says Pearce of Blue Water.
“What typically happens with a DIY kit is that within the
first 24 or 48 hours, we’ll get a phone call from the
customer,” he says. “And 75 percent of the time, the
DIY installation turns into an assisted or full
Yet dealers continue to offer customers the option. “The
benefit for us to offer DIY kits is that we get happy pool
customers who are out there telling other people about fiberglass
pools and pools in general,” Tucker says. “The more
people out there enjoying pools, the better it is for our company
and the industry.”
Some dealers convert do-it-yourselfers into regular retail
clients or new service contracts.
A few manufacturers, however, are skeptical of the trend.
“The homeowner is not in the position to handle the whole
job,” Prystupa of Sun Fiberglass says. “The owner must
work with people who have knowledge of excavation and
“It is not reasonable for the average homeowner to have
sufficient familiarity with pumps, filters, chlorinators, etc. to
handle that technical component,” he adds.
- The Future is Down Under
Australian fiberglass pool industry provides a glimpse into the way
it could be in America.
- Crude Awakening
resin costs have driven up fiberglass pool prices. What are
builders and manufacturers doing to soften the blow?