Swimming pool sales skyrocket: ‘We’re totally slammed’

Oct. 15, 2020

He has been in business for 45 years and “never had a year like this.”

Lorre Colburn, owner of MC&R Pools Inc., is so busy installing home swimming pools there won’t be an off-season.

“Right now, we’re sold out for the year and taking deposits for next year,” he said. “We’re totally slammed. We’re probably up in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 percent.”

MC&R stands for municipal, commercial and residential – the three types of swimming pools the company installs. This year, its residential market, which is only in-ground pools, is far outpacing the others.

“I feel the COVID virus is the main reason. They’ve had to stay at home with their family, and when there’s not a lot to do at home that’s exciting, this is the alternative along with maybe landscaping, above-ground pools, spas and gazebos and boats,” Colburn said.

This year for the first time, the city of Sioux Falls specifically tracked permits for swimming pools — before that, they were categorized as an accessory structure along with sheds and pergolas.

Permits for 78 pools were issued in June, 28 in July, 15 in August and four in September.

“We did see quite an increase,” said Cory Fickbohm, customer experience supervisor for the city’s building services division.

“A lot of that, I think, was because the public pools were closed and people were scrambling to find some type of pool for their kids over the summer to keep them busy, and we publicized that a permit was required and had quite a few come in who weren’t aware that a permit was required.”

It appears that permits will keep coming in even during the fall.

MC&R Pools plans to work through the winter installing in-ground pools for next season.

“Twenty below doesn’t bother us,” he said. “It’s totally enclosed and insulated, and the guys are in there at 45-degree temperatures and still getting a paycheck.”

He’s getting more requests for sun decks within pools “that have a shallower depth of water that you can put a lounge in and sunbathe, and little kids can play on them,” he said. “There’s been a decrease in diving boards, but a lot of slides are going in and bubblers, deck jets — you can trick them all out if you want.”

Allen Albers has been in the pool business for 18 years and is experiencing similar record demand at AAA Pools & Construction.

“We do a lot of commercial work, so our hotel market has decreased, but our residential has doubled or tripled,” he said. “I get calls every day. I hate saying no. It’s tough, but you just don’t have much choice anymore.”

He’s already booked most of next year.

“People are just afraid to travel, and I don’t think it’s going to change next summer,” Albers said. “The other things I hear is that with sports, kids are so busy it’s hard for families to buy a cabin or a camper to go out to the Hills, just because there’s softball or soccer, so this can be used during the week or on a weeknight, and they get their value out of it that way.”

He’s also seeing more requests for sun decks, “and pools have been getting a lot longer over the last five years,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of 46, 48 feet. We have one that’s a 70-foot up in Aberdeen next spring, 30-by-70 with a big sun deck where water is 6 inches deep with some bubblers and fountains, a bench all the way along one side. It’s just a big family, and they have a lot of friends.”

While he has done a couple of indoor pools lately, “the reason you don’t see a lot of those is because the humidification system adds a lot of cost,” he said.

“But through the season, we have about 11 to 12 hotels going on now in some stage, so the guys keep pretty busy. I’ve never laid anyone off for winter work.”

At Combined Pool & Spa, demand has been “crazy,” said co-owner Jeff Carlson. “We only do in-ground pools here … and our 2021 is pretty much booked. People are really investing in their backyards right now.”

The business has hot tub trucks ordered into 2022, he added.

“We have not taken in many trades during the pandemic, so 95 percent of these buyers are first-time hot tub owners,” he said.

“We have 32 trucks ordered, 20 pre-sold, and we have seen six since April. The entire industry – pool and spa – is backed up. We were very lucky; unlike a lot of dealers, we had over 140 spas in stock when this hit, and they went quick.”

It’s not just the pool and spa business that’s up, he added.

“The saunas and billiards are up also – anything to do at home has really boomed.”

At AAA Pools, Albers has a list of customers waiting for next season.

“Some people have deposits down to hold their place, and we’re ordering materials,” he said. “We’re doubling the size of our warehouse because I need the space, and we can start warehousing some of these materials until spring because I don’t want to be that guy waiting until February and then it’s June before it gets here.”

The bigger challenge is finding the manpower, those in the industry said. Pool companies require workers with a range of skills, from construction to plumbing and electrical.

“It’s really tough to have demand as high as it is without the workforce to be able to capitalize,” Colburn said.

“Maybe one out of 20 applicants would be qualified or actually wants to do what we do. We’ve been able to pick up a few people, and we’re looking forward to next year because they will be more qualified after they’ve had some training, and hopefully we can meet the demand.”

Right now, he’s taking deposits for next year but unable to tell customers for sure when their project will be done.

“I fully expect this to be a three-to-five-year deal, not just a one-summer happening,” he added. “Every time you sell a pool, it’s advertising for two or three more. Everybody is kind of in a little social circle, and if one gets one, who doesn’t want a pool?”

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Swimming pool sales skyrocket: ‘We’re totally slammed’

“I get calls every day. I hate saying no. It’s tough, but you just don’t have much choice any more.” Area pool companies say they’ve never had a season like this.

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