Some of you may remember the movie about the rare merging of smaller storms that produced a legendary superstorm in 1991. I think our industry is watching something like that building over us, but for us, it’s a perfect supply crunch. We have developed some logistical issues that independently would not be so bad, but combine them all and you can see the outlines of a huge storm approaching this summer. Will we make it through in one piece?
At the moment, it’s hard to believe what we’re doing just to continue the operation of our businesses. For me, personally, running a service and repair company in the Tampa area, I have built up as much inventory as I think I will need to cover a four-week period for chemicals and some common parts like PVC, glue and valves — the things my company needs to operate daily. I am just a small fish in the pond, but I’m trying to think ahead so we’ll be able to ensure our existing clients are ready for summertime, and perhaps be able to take on new clients. Securing supplies is the No. 1 priority now. Stories are everywhere saying distribution is out of this or that, or an item may be available in one place or another.
Product lead times are longer than usual. It's not that supplies have stopped, but panic buying on top of increased demand is wiping out shelves as fast as toilet paper at the beginning of COVID-19 last year. Every distribution company is doing their best to keep inventory, but they are struggling to keep up with demand like we all are. The suppliers seem to be controlling their inventory to make sure we can all get at least something, otherwise the larger companies will take as much as they can and leave everyone else with nothing.
I've spoken with retail companies, remodelers, builders and other service companies and all have found different ways to keep business moving. Some purchasing agents and inventory managers started buying six months ago to fill their orders for this year, based on last year's sales plus a little extra for increased demand. Not everyone has had their orders filled, but the ones that ordered earliest are at the head of the line. That applies to all facets of the industry.
In talking with retailers in the Northeast, I’ve been surprised by the severity of the shortage they’re dealing with. Hot tubs and aboveground pools are hard to come by. Lead time on those orders can reach into 2022 before expected delivery. Some have redesignated empty floor space that was once used to showcase hot tubs for outdoor furniture, outdoor kitchens and barbecues.
Even accessories like aboveground ladders with plastic components are hard to come by with the resin shortage. With inventories short, retailers are trying to find alternatives to help make up the difference.
That same plastics supply problem is making skimmers and PVC almost impossible to get right now. I know some people who have resorted to buying on Amazon at a premium just to ensure they have a few pieces to finish up projects that are already started. Some owners of companies that I have spoken to are not selling new projects right now because of these issues and focusing on finishing up what they already have contracted out. Others are ordering material now and hoping it will show up in time to take on projects at the end of the year.
Building and Remodeling
On the building and remodeling side, there are multiple factors at work that are affecting being able to sell a pool and deliver on time. Everybody wants a swimmable body of water in their backyard, but once again, product availability is a problem. Steel is hard to come by. Form boards are hard to find. Lead times on tile/pavers can be four to five months. It makes it hard to get everything together for a job without ordering ahead of time.
And then there’s permitting. Since equipment is listed on the permit, it makes it hard to stick to that if the equipment is unavailable. What happens when a full system is already on the permit but those equipment pieces aren’t in stock? Sales are at an all-time high and everyone wants a pool tomorrow, but the reality is that many companies are booking well into 2022.
Advice I heard from our local Association is, “Don’t take a deposit on a job until all material is in and you are less than 30 days out from starting the project.” The reason? It can become a legal nightmare if someone's money is taken and the finished product can’t be delivered. A well-known company here has left a lot of unfinished holes in the ground and has stopped showing up to finish projects. There are a lot of irritated clients wondering what’s going on, and that is not a good look for anyone; certainly not for our industry.
So far, amid all the deficit, scarcity and shortfall, the only thing I’ve seen in abundance is patience. Not everywhere, and not from everyone, but given the stresses and frustrations of the situation, I’ve been impressed in general at the patience of the industry and customers alike. Of course there are always complaints, but as a rule, people are accepting the position we’re in and trying to make the best of it. Communication is helping. Companies that are really working to be as transparent as possible with customers are finding that goes a long way toward maintaining that crucial relationship.
Dustin Weaver owns Ever Blue Pool Care in Sarasota, Fla., and is administrator of a popular industry Facebook group whose mission is to help elevate the work of pool and spa professionals everywhere.