About half of all pools installed by Downes Swimming Pool Co. now come with automatic covers.
Though the top concern remains safety, more customers are
requesting the equipment to extend the swimming season by saving on
heating costs, according to Michael Downes, vice president and
general manager of the company based in the Chicago suburb of
Arlington Heights, Ill.
“In the industry and the country, there’s a big push
nowadays that everything be green,” agrees Dave Bachman,
general manager at Don Marcum’s Pool Care in Newtown, Ohio.
“Maybe consumers are listening a little bit more.”
Indeed, the trend has reached beyond standing in a customer’s
backyard with calculator in hand to determine exactly how many
dollars can be saved by a cover through reduced energy use. And the
product category has received further attention via the national
spotlight on drowning-prevention — thanks in large part to a
handful of high-profile child drownings, and subsequent passage in
2008 of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
The result is an opportunity to expand the market — and
manufacturers, dealers and distributors alike are seizing on the
pool cover’s primary selling points, as well as some timely
rebate programs, to do exactly that.
Not many cover dealers cast as wide a net as Pennco Automatic Pool
Covers. The Havertown, Pa.-based company finds business from New
York to Virginia, says president Mark Sheinman.
“The key for us is running far and wide,” he says.
“We have a lot of repeat builders, but we keep in touch with
others through phone calls and mailers. You may have a builder come
back to you after a few years, so we try to maintain those
Seeking untapped markets has always been a hallmark of the firm,
and these days it’s no different. In fact, Sheinman says
he’s found pockets of business among wealthy homeowners who
seem to wait for an economic downturn to invest in larger projects.
Venturing to the local permit office to determine who has recently
pulled permits is one technique that’s traditionally borne fruit.
These days, however, much more business comes simply through
referrals, whether from homeowners or contractors. And with that
often comes opportunities to sweeten the deal.
“If a customer recommends another customer, we’ll
frequently help them out with a discount on service,”
As for nontraditional clients, some dealers have mentioned teaming
with automotive service companies like Jiffy Lube, adapting
automatic covers to fit over open work areas. The covers help
protect employees from the sun while complying with requirements
set forth by the federal Occupational Safety and Health
Administration. Public bus depots and terminals have been raised as
other potential automatic cover clients.
Pools of foreclosed homes have proven to be yet another fertile
area for safety covers, as banks and property management companies
look to reduce the potential liability associated with abandoned vessels.
On Long Island, temperatures can drop 20 degrees or more overnight,
says John Lochren, owner of Solar Pool Enclosures of New York Inc.
in Holbrook, N.Y., a pool cover distributor since 1990. So
promoting the benefits of covers in the areas of heat, as well as
chemical, retention has given his marketing efforts a boost.
Still, securing the pool remains top priority for homeowners when
it comes to questions about covers, Bachman says. Nine out of 10
consumer inquiries on pool covers focus on safety, he reports.
But in addition to young families installing covers to protect
their children, Bachman sees another demographic evolving into solid customers.
“You’re getting a lot of grandparents buying automatic
covers for their children’s families, because now
they’re thinking about the grandchildren,” he says.
“Or you get the flip-side of that, where the toddler comes
over to the grandparents’ house, and because they’re
watching the child, they now want to install an automatic cover to give them that peace of mind.”
With new pool construction yet to rebound from the current
recession, the aftermarket has been keeping many cover dealers
afloat. Replacement fabrics, according to Bachman, have provided
“a great jump-start to the season.”
And though the need may only arise every six to seven years,
tapping into the existing pool market — at an average of
$1,200 to $1,500 per cover — has helped offset the slowdown
in new installations.
In 2008, local lawmakers in Southampton, N.Y., established the
Sustainable Southampton Advisory Committee. Comprised mostly of
volunteers, the committee was charged with recommending policies,
programs and legislation to the Town Board that encourage
sustainability and help reduce the town’s carbon footprint.
According to Lochren, they’ve begun pushing pool covers as a
preferred method of energy conservation.
“We’ve gotten a good kick from that,” he says.
“It’s really becoming part and parcel with the safety
movement in terms of covers. I think you’re going to see more
of a trend on that nationally.”
Across the country, several municipal utility districts now offer
incentives for homeowners who install pool covers. For example,
customers of the North Marin Water District in Northern California
are eligible for a rebate of 25 percent (up to $50) off the
purchase cost for certain solar or safety covers. The program gains
steam during years when drought conditions force emergency water
ordinances, officials say.
“It’s basically a good-faith kind of rebate,”
says Ryan Grisso, water conservation coordinator for the tiny NMWD.
“We’re just trying to help the customer out. We may do
10 a year, but that usually picks up when we have water
restrictions in place.”
Similarly, residents in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, Calif.,
can receive rebates up to $200 if they purchase and install a
permanent automatic pool cover; they may also be eligible for a rebate
of $50, or 50 percent of the cost of the cover, from the
city’s Water Conservation Division.
And in May, the city council of Menlo Park, also in Northern
California, surpassed state law by requiring pool and spa covers on
new pools and spas — commercial and residential — as
part of its water-efficient landscaping regulations. The ordinance
was set to take effect July 1, according to city officials.
With comparable incentive and sustainability programs taking hold
in cities and counties nationwide, pool cover dealers today might
just find more business opportunities than ever.
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