The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 13, 2020 1:00 am

At-home swimming pools see big splash

Coronavirus restrictions alter how people have fun

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

The outdoor swimming season tends to wind down after Labor Day, but homeowners contemplating adding a pool even next year may have to scramble.

“I think when COVID hit and people had to be stuck at home, that just accelerated the consumer's decision to redirect more of their money to the home, to the backyard,” said Scott Rajeski, CEO of Latham Pools.

His company, based in the Albany, New York, area, has hired more than 200 workers in the past two months. It plans to hire an additional 400 in the U.S. and Canada, including about 70 production workers in Fort Wayne, where it employs about 155. 

With 25 locations, including two in Australia, one in New Zealand and one in Canada, Latham Pools has had 11 consecutive years of earnings growth, he said. The company employs just over 1,500 people globally.

Latham manufactures pools and works with installers. The company has increased direct-to-consumer marketing in recent years and that has also boosted demand, Rajeski said. 

Tredway Pools Plus Inc., which has two locations in Fort Wayne and one in Warsaw, and Infinity Pools & Stoneworks Inc. in Roanoke have also seen sales surge.

Stay-at-home orders most states implemented this year to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus restricted vacation travel and other outings, such as trips to the beach.

In some cases, staycations became forced. So the ongoing trend of investing in the backyard and including a pool as a centerpiece for entertaining has helped “re-create that vacation experience,” Rajeski said.

Before the coronavirus, property owners who wanted a pool could walk into a dealer in March or April and have one installed within 30 to 60 days if it wasn't the peak spring. That sort of turnaround is likely unrealistic now, Rajeski said.

“If you wanted a swimming pool, you would probably be very hard-pressed to get a pool in before the end of the year,” he said. “You're probably looking at mid- to early summer to get a pool now.”

If you're lucky.

John Denny, owner of Tredway Pools, recalls some anxiety when the pandemic began.

“You just didn't know what was going to happen when the stay-at-home order was put into place,” he said. 

Tredway Pools, which handles retail, delayed some of the seasonal hiring it does in the spring, he said, but soon saw a “significant surge” in requests for pools and hot tubs.

“We're pretty much sold out of all hot tubs and above-ground pools,” Denny said last week, adding that in-ground pools are mostly sold out for 2020 and 2021.

“It's definitely more sold out, far from what we've ever seen,” said Denny, who has been in the business 45 years.

When interest surged, Tredway Pools was fielding 10 to 20 calls a day. Denny said that has slowed to two to three calls a day, but normally at this time of year, the business might get that many in a week.

Infinity Pools & Stonework normally installs 16 to 20 pools a year. Most of its in-ground fiberglass pools are manufactured in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“We were definitely scared at the beginning (of the pandemic) like everybody else,” said Clint Ousley, a principal in the business.

But with people spending more time at home, that became favorable.

“Everybody wants that backyard oasis,” Ousley said. Infinity's 2021 build season is booked, and the business is looking at contracts for 2022.

Ousley said he isn't sure he wants to add another crew to increase the number of contracts that can be handled annually. For now, he said, customers can get on a pool install waiting list by making a deposit.

The cost of pools varies widely, but a smaller scale, basic vinyl liner in-ground one with minimal concrete can run about $40,000, said Rajeski, of Latham Pools.

“We've seen projects that have been $100,000,” he said, noting that price range would be elaborate with amenities such as a spa, bench seating, steps, a patio, pavers and covered gazebo.

Pools are a large investment, Rajeski said, but provide a “lifetime of entertainment.”

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