State of the Industry 2013: Service (Part I)

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photo of pool skimmer
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For most of the New Economic Era, which began with the collapse of the banking system in 2008, the service sector has been a beacon of prosperity amid a pool and spa industry mostly concerned with survival.

In the depths of the depression, even as building companies and dealerships were closing down, service companies reported stable revenues and sometimes incremental increases as pool owners generally opted to continue funding upkeep of pools, even as they tightened budgets elsewhere.

As the summer of 2013 begins, we see that same enduring service sector strength reflected in our State of the Industry survey.

That document shows an industry segment confident enough in 2012 to raise rates (35 percent raised rates last year as opposed to 4 percent that lowered rates) and hire more help (a third added employees while only 7 percent laid people off).

Even more encouraging, more than two out of three respondents expect revenues to go up in 2013, and a strong majority is looking to invest in education, advertising and new equipment. In the five years since this annual survey began, positive expectation at this level is unprecedented.

Just as encouraging was the sense of individual optimism evident in the comments. Though the service sector is beset with intractable problems such as cut-rate Internet competition, state-level licensing issues, staffing difficulties, slow-paying customers, burdensome new regulations and rising healthcare expenses (the list, carefully enumerated by our respondents, is long), job satisfaction appears to remain high overall.

The people in pool and spa service like the work.

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Who’s Talking

For the most part, the service people who answered our survey are among the most experienced members of the industry segment. More than half of respondents had more than 15 years in the business, and more than a third had seen a quarter century pass from a serviceperson’s perspective. Only 2 percent of respondents were in their first years of pool and spa service work.

Most of the respondents make their money in water balance, pool maintenance and repair, usually in companies with less than three people. Often it’s one on the route and a partner taking care of everything else; sometimes the two are married. Most of these companies had total revenues between $40,000 and $250,000.

Service Remains Strong

The overall strength of the service sector was evident by several different measures. 35 percent felt they were in position to raise their rates in 2012 somewhat, as opposed to only 4 percent that felt the need to lower rates overall.

These numbers correlated closely with the respondents who were in position to hire new workers and those who needed to lay workers off.

Did you hire or lay off any employees this past year?

pie chart showing how many pool service businesses hired or laid off employees in 2012

Striving For Turf

With hiring and rates and revenues on the rise, it comes as no surprise that our service group spoke of increasing competition. That’s a basic tenet of capitalism.

Existing companies were hungry to expand routes, and high overall unemployment drove new entries into the service market, a business that has relatively low barriers to entry.

A full 44 percent of respondents reported increased local competition in 2012, up from 38 percent the year before. Only two percent of our service group saw competition diminish.

Last year, did the competition for customers in your area ...

pie chart showing pool service competition

Gross Revenue Growth

Over half of our service group saw a year-on-year increase in revenues in 2012, a tremendous and encouraging figure, as opposed to roughly a quarter that saw revenues drop. This, more than any other measure, demonstrates the strength in the service sector in 2012.

“I put in more hours, and I lowered my operating costs.”

“Foreclosures provided more business.”

“My website helped a lot.”

“The recession is slowly ending.”

pie chart showing service industry gross revenue growth


Most people who drive around for a living develop definite opinions about the vehicles that carry them to the job, and carry them home. This year, once again, Ford proved to be the most popular make of service vehicle, with GM running close second, and Toyota third.

Reliability, gas mileage, horsepower and cargo space are among the qualities our group looks for in a working vehicle. A big issue for some is shelter and security for tools and chemicals. Others leave stuff open to the sky.

word chart showing what the spa retail service industry used for transportation in 2012

What we drive and why we like it

“Chevy 3500 with a Reading body. It has all the outside bins like a utility pickup but is fully covered from the elements.”

“Toyota gives you good mileage, dependable longevity and low maintenance.”

“2005 Chevy 2500 van. I bought the first one with 140k on it and it still works perfect. I will keep this for a very long time no matter what it needs — it helped me get started.”

“I drive a full-size Ford pick up with 4 doors and short bed. Extra room inside to keeps expensive items safe. The rest can ride outside.”

“Ford Ranger with camper — great gas mileage, but it’s difficult to fit in the equipment so you have to pay extra attention to what is needed on a particular job.”

Want to see more from our Service State of the Industry story? Check out Part II.   

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