Some pool and spa businesses are struggling, but others are doing just fine

Kirstin Pires I have been surprised - and encouraged - by builders I've talked to recently who say business is good. Sure, there are those who are struggling, but a surprising number of businesses say they are busy.

That's in stark contrast to the news these days. In the past three months, over 700 newspaper headlines contained the word "crisis," according to a search of LexisNexis: Housing crisis, credit crisis, banking crisis, fuel and food prices and water shortages, too.

To be sure, much has changed since this time last year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (which keeps track of a lot more than labor data), in June of 2007 the average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gas was $3.00. I'm sure you are painfully aware of what that gallon of gas costs today. In March of 2007, the average price per 500-kilowatt hours of electricity was $59.30; this year in March it was $61.39. Fuel oil was $2.50 per gallon on average in March 2007; this year that number was $3.70.

Not only do higher energy costs make it harder to run your business profitably, they make consumer goods more expensive, too. Feed grain prices are up in response to pressure from the energy sector, in turn pushing meat prices higher. And have you purchased a loaf of bread or a box of cereal lately?

It all adds up to a gloomy picture for consumers and businesses alike.

And yet, many of you are doing well, even thriving. So tell us, how do you maintain profit in the face of increasing costs and dropping demand? That's not just a rhetorical question; I really want to know the answer. Are you stepping up marketing efforts to increase sales or appeal to a new type of customer? Are you cutting back on expenses? Are you using technology to increase efficiency? Or are you one of the lucky professionals whose clients seem unperturbed by the economy?

Please call or e-mail with the answers and also let us know what's the most difficult obstacle that the current economy presents to you.

In the mean time, keep a smile on your face. The stock market is as influenced by perception as it is by facts.

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