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Pool companies make a big splash during wave of demand

APOLLO (AP) — When the 90-degree-plus heat soars, artist Joan Marangoni stops painting by noon on her new outdoor mural at Murphy’s Music Center in Leechburg. She practically sprints to her new 30-foot round, above-ground pool at her Washington Township home.

“Jumping in a pool to cool off and to be with your kids in a space that is safe is wonderful,” she said. “It’s my reward every day.”

The Marangonis are one of the lucky ones who managed to buy a pool before many stores and builders ran out of them.

The surge in the pool market was, predictably, caused by the public’s rush to one of the few covid-19 pandemic sanctioned fun activities: swimming in your backyard.

Above-ground swimming pools join the legions of other pandemic play items in high demand — such as bicycles and kayaks — that are also just about sold out.

Nationally, pool sales have been soaring during the pandemic, according to the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance in Alexandria, Va., the largest national organization representing the pool industry.

While much of the growth in new pools is centered in the Sun Belt states, growth rates for all pools is averaging nearly 35% this year during the pandemic, said Janay Rickwalder, vice president for marketing and communications for the Alliance.

The first indication of the impulse demand for pools came in May and unfolded rapidly before Memorial Day, said Mark Cristallini, zone manager in Plum for Pool Corp., which calls itself the world’s largest distributor of pools.

“It was like a light switch went on,” Cristallini said.

There was a 200% increase in May for the Google search “swimming pools,” which was the third-highest searched retail term for that month, according to Rickwalder. Above-ground pools were the most popular search in that category.

Indeed, Marangoni, a Fox Chapel Area High School art teacher, and her husband, Vince, always wanted a pool. They took the plunge in mid-May to buy their first pool, knowing that with the pandemic, there probably would be no beach vacation.

“We were looking at a long summer and very little entertainment for our three daughters,” she said. The Marangonis headed to Pine Run Pools and Spas and placed an order. They got their pool three weeks ago.

The purchase of above-ground pools was overwhelming and was sold out after Memorial Day, Cristallini said. Manufacturers had some issues and weren’t open during parts of the pandemic.

“They aren’t able to keep up with high demand,” Cristallini said.

There are still pockets of pool inventory out there, but it is hard to find, he said.

“It’s an incredible boom that in all of my years in the business, I have never seen,” said Cristallini, who has 37 years in the pool industry. “Already consumers know they will not get their pool until next spring.

“There’s no slowdown in sight,” he continued. “Support equipment, chemicals, toys and games — everything is in short supply because of how popular everything in a pool is now.”

At Alpine Pools, with locations in Jeannette, Hampton and elsewhere, longtime sales manager Tom Esser has another take on pool popularity.

In recent years, Esser said, backyard pools have faced competition as families spent more time and money on their kids’ organized sports and activities. But pandemic restrictions have preempted all types of sports for the family.

“Covid-19 is a terrible, terrible thing and affecting a lot of people,” he said. “The only good out of this is I see people walking the streets, people riding bikes and neighbors sitting on porches talking.”

Sales at Pine Run Pools and Spas in Washington Township are up at least by 50% this year, said owner Ron Stiffler, whose family business has been in operation since 1975.

“I sold every pool I had and got some more pools in, and they are going fast,” he said.

Stiffler hasn’t been able to get his hands on a solar cover in a month, as well as ladders. Filter systems and liners are hard to find. He knows of at least one ladder manufacturer in New York that had to close its doors during the pandemic and is backed up with orders now.

“There’s the supply chain problem. The demand is high because everyone wants to swim, and now it’s almost 100 degrees out there on top of it,” Stiffler said Wednesday.

Commercial market a different story

The hot residential pool market is impacting the commercial market, said Mike Bonavita, one of the owners of the family-run B&R Pools in East Liberty.

About 95% of B&R’s work is commercial pools, which aren’t open.

If Bonavita needs a pool heater or pump, he’s looking at a long wait. He said he has been waiting for heaters going on nine weeks.

“I have never seen a year like this, probably never will — and don’t want to,” Bonavita said. The residential demand is partly driven by the shutdown of commercial pools, he noted.

Although there are still some backyard pools left, Stiffler is taking orders for next year.

The manufacturers for pools and parts are behind, and they are not going to catch up until next year, Cristallini said.

“All indications, this will continue into next summer,” he said.

Cristallini advises residents to buy their pools now as shortages and increased prices will continue to be an issue.

“If they can find it now, buy it now,” he said. “They might have to go to a larger size as inventory is still coming and not everything is sold.”

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