Local swimming pool installers and suppliers said they are seeing an uptick in business as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s almost at the point to where the only place people feel safe is between their fences,” said Lee Russell, owner of Russell Pool Co. Russell said his third-generation family business has been “very busy, extraordinarily busy” with sales up 15% to 20%.

Because Russell doesn’t have enough skilled workers with knowledge of plumbing, electrical and heating systems to increase the number of pools it is installing at one time, it’s taken to lining up work further and further out. While the company normally books business two or three months out, there are jobs already lined up into the fall. “We’re booked out to almost the end of the year,” Russell said. “We’re almost at the point where we have to turn people away.”

The pandemic has quarantined families to their homes and disrupted vacation plans. So some households with the disposable income are choosing to spend the money that would have gone on a trip and investing in a pool.

At Capital Pools, owner Benjamin Jackson said business has been “steady."

"Every year, we grow about 10%,” said Jackson, who has been in business as a pool contractor for 22 years. Jackson said the key to how sales turn out this year is how much money people have for leisure expenses in the wake of the pandemic. “The money part is what people are having a problem with,” he said. “If you don’t have the money, you can’t get a pool.”

Mark Joslin, chief financial officer for Covington-based Pool Corp., a leading publicly traded distributor of swimming pool equipment and supplies, said his industry is poised to be a “butterfly company” that emerges beautifully from the cocooning effects of social distancing.

Shares of Pool Corp. have gone up 34.5% since the pandemic hit in early March. During the same period, the Nasdaq, where Pool Corp. is listed, has gone up 21.8%.

In 2019, Pool Corp. posted $3.2 billion in revenue. About 30% of Pool Corp.’s revenue comes from non-discretionary spending, which Joslin defined as people buying equipment and supplies to maintain their pool. Another 30% comes from pool contractors who are hired to maintain pools. Renovation of existing pools accounts for 25% of the company’s business, and new construction is 15%.

“Most of our revenue comes from the fact there are 5.5 million in-ground pools in the U.S. that need to be maintained,” Joslin said. “Unless you are covering it up, a house will maintain a pool.”

Pool construction peaked in 2007, before the Great Recession, when there were about 220,000 in-ground pools installed. That number dipped as low as 40,000 in 2010. In 2019, there were 80,000 pools built in the U.S.

Pool Corp. saw a brief downturn in business in late March, as states began to shut down businesses to control the spread of the pandemic. Joslin said there was some confusion, particularly among customers, as to if someone could work on their pool. And stay-at-home orders slowed down the ability of local governments to issue permits to build a pool. Joslin said the company had a “slight decline” in year-over-year revenue in early April.  

But as stay-at-home restrictions eased in late April-early May, business started to rebound. Because people were largely confined to their homes, they started to open pools a little early, so that led to more maintenance calls and sales of things such as heaters, to deal with chilly spring weather.

“We feel the potential for this to have more positive effects on us than negative effects,” he said. Homeowners who are looking at building swimming pools have higher incomes and have so far been less affected by the coronavirus-related economic downturn than others.

In-ground pools start at about $45,000, so they’re a planned purchase. But there’s been a run on above-ground pools, which cost far less.

The source for some of those above-ground pool purchases might be the federal coronavirus stimulus funds that were distributed beginning in April. The $3,400 payment a family of four received just about covers the cost of a pool. “I’m sure a lot of that money was used for that purpose, to get a stimulus pool,” he said.

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Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.