In such unpredictable times as these, the ability to monitor and adapt has become more important than ever. That’s why we’ve been asking company owners throughout the industry what they’re seeing and how they’re adapting.

Here, two Texas-based PSN Top 50 Builders share what they've been observing in their markets and what kinds of adjustments they are mading to move with the times.

Jason Satterwhite
Puryear Custom Pools
Fort Worth, Texas

How has business been?

Last year was probably closer to 2020 or 2019, before the pandemic. Things started getting back to normal. We had a really good year still – nothing like 2021 or 2022, of course, which were record-setting. In December, leads and sales slowed down.

Customers are getting more price-conscious – they’re not willing to just pay whatever you ask. They’re obviously shopping more.

Personally, I believe the interest rates and the fact that it’s an election year are the two biggest drivers.

What is your outlook for 2024?

In terms of volume, we’re shooting to do about 2019 numbers. Money-wise I expect a significant increase, because the price of pools has gone up so much over the last few years.

I think raw materials and labor costs will probably come down during the year.

During the 2021-2022 era – even in 2023 – we had all these small businesses pop up. It was really easy to become a pool builder back then, when you just needed warm bodies. It happens every cycle. I think as time goes on and things slow down, a lot of those companies that popped up will start disappearing, and things will pick up for the companies that have been around a long time.

What changes have you made to adapt?

Subcontractor prices had gone up so much. Everyone was scared of running out of materials, so they elevated their prices. Now we’re going back to renegotiate with our subcontractors or find new ones. Everybody’s willing to pitch in a little bit to keep the business flowing.

We’re gearing up for advertising again. In 2021 and 2022 we didn’t need to do any. We’re adjusting our marketing to include more social media.

We haven’t focused very much on maintenance and renovations in the past three or four years, but we’re definitely gearing that back up and getting it to where it should be, because I think they’re more recession-proof.

Ron Robertson
Robertson Pools and Spas
Coppell, Texas

How has business been?

In 2023, we were down significantly on leads over the year before. The number of new pools sold was down 30%, however revenue only dropped 5% to 7%. So we got fewer phone calls, sold fewer pools, but we got more for them.

Our renovation department had a good year in 2023 – that was up or even. And our commercial division had a good year. So even though new pool sales were off, the other departments picked up the pace or at least maintained.

We’re more in the higher-end market now. We didn’t set the goal to go after a higher-end market, but the market directed us that way. We looked at how we could build an affordable pool with today’s high inflation, but we just can’t get there and sell that anymore – that buyer didn’t exist.

What is your outlook for 2024?

Right now it’s looking flat. Lead flow is even with last year. Sales have started off slowly but we’re starting to see a glimmer of hope.

I think it’s going to be the second quarter before we see much activity. If the Fed will lower interest rates a little bit, buyers will start to come out. I think we have to go down a point, but I think any movement will help. I think the buyer will start to realize their payment’s going to go up, but how much do they want it? It’ll still get hot, and the kids will still want to play in a pool.

What changes have you made to adapt?

We’re looking at jobs more individually for ways to reduce prices if needed. We excavate our own pools, and have our own crews for everything but gunite. So if a salesman says, ‘We can dig this pool in three hours,’ where typically it would take eight to 10, I’ll give them a better price to dig that pool. If the customer will let me put the equipment 10 feet away from the pool rather than 50, I’ll give them a better price on plumbing. Manufacturers are going to charge what they charge, cement prices are going to be what they are. We can’t control that. But we can control a lot of other factors, so we’re going to take advantage of that.

We’ve lost people to attrition but we haven’t replaced them, so we’ve run fairly lean on the overhead side. We don’t want to carry overhead that’s not revenue-producing. But we’re still matching our 401k programs, having events, and showing our appreciation to employees with bonuses and prizes. Our employees are key to our success.