Everybody in

Meghan Pierce

Seasonal Specialty Stores in Amherst is among the pool dealers that have been swamped as summer approaches and many people are stuck at home.

Memorial Day weekend is typically a big weekend for pool store sales, but this year had store owners scrambling to keep up with the high demand created by the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

“Sales have increased dramatically, especially since the weather has changed,” said Peter White, owner of Aquatime Pools & Spas in Hudson. “Since the beginning of May the phone has been ringing off the hook. … So there is going to be the seasonal load and the additional pandemic load, so it’s going to be a real strain on the supply chain.”

Jeff Huberty, one of the owners of Empire Pools and Spas that has locations in Concord and Manchester, said in his 28 years in the business he has never seen anything like this. “From the minute we open the doors in the morning till we close at night we are mobbed,” he said.

“Memorial Day is usually our busiest weekend of the year,” Huberty said, adding that this year, “The last two weeks we’ve been busier than any other Memorial Day that we’ve had. … Everybody is at home. They don’t know when they are going to be able to go anywhere. And they want a pool.”

Empire Pools and Spas sells above-ground pools from a supplier located in Canada and another in New York, Manchester sales manager Nicole Soterion said. The stores sell between 120 and 160 from fall through spring, each year, Huberty said. They haven’t tallied the sales for this year yet, but according to Soterion the total sales for this year is around 140, which will likely be it for the year since they can’t get their hands on anymore above-ground pools.

“I don’t know if we will see more numbers than last year,” because they are completely sold out, she said. “We can’t sell anymore right now; everything we had in stock or could get through our distributors is gone. … We will be up, but if we were able to get our hands on more pools it would be astronomical.”

“The manufacturers cannot supply us with any more pools this year,” Huberty said.

“It happened in a surge,” Soterion said. “Suddenly everybody wanted a pool. It just happened so fast.”

The Canadian supplier remains closed and the New York supplier is only beginning up work again after a nine-week hiatus, they said.

“Right now there’s a glimmer of hope that we might be able to get some pools in July,” Huberty said.

Soterion said at Empire, they are booked out until August for their pool installations. The last few pools they sold had to be contracted out for installations, she said.

Huberty said Empire Pools and Spas are also sold-out of spas. “I can’t order any hot tubs because my hot tub company is in California and they are closed. Their factory is physically closed.”

The pool store also sells pool supplies and chemicals and tests pool water so people know what chemicals to buy, he said. Part of the reason the Concord store is so busy this May is because a competitor around the corner closed last year when the owners retired, he said. “With everybody being home, everybody opened their pool at the same time when it got warm,” he said.

Seasonal Specialty Stores in Amherst has also been swamped, Assistant Manager Thomas Stover said. The store sells above-ground pools and spas, pool accessories and supplies as well as patio furniture and grills.

“This is my 8th year here and it is the craziest year that we have ever had,” he said. “Even when we were closed back in April — when we were closed back in April due to the coronavirus — we were slammed with online orders and phone orders. Our storefront was closed. As soon as we opened the doors, all hell broke loose,” he said.

Based on state guidelines they have to keep the number of customers in the store under 30 at a time, he said. “And we have to have someone watching that count.”

“As far as sales we have one hot tub left. We have no more pools,” Stover said. “So in total, we have sold over 50 pools in three weeks. We have sold 15 hot tubs in three weeks. Almost all of our patio furniture is out on the floor.”

“It’s a great year for our business. It’s just crazy for us cause we can have only so many people in the store at a time,” he said. The store has even set up a new voice message system to take all the phone calls that have been coming in.

‘“Our phones ring nonstop,” Stover said. “We have hundreds of voice mails every night that we have to answer after we are closed. And then when we open back up it just starts back up. It’s definitely been a busy year.”

Pool sales have more than doubled this year, he said. “Typically we sell between 30 to 40 pools per year. We have sold 50 this month. … including the sales for April and March, it’s probably close to 80.”

Soterion said some of their pool buyers told them that they had been thinking about buying an above-ground pool for years. “For some people this (the pandemic) is the kick in the pants that they have always needed, so why not now that they don’t have an option to go anywhere.” Other customers have told her they are using their summer vacation money to buy a pool to have a stay-cation in the backyard.

Huberty added his staff is working hard to keep themselves and the customers healthy during this time. Only four customers are allowed in the store at a time and everyone inside the store has to wear a mask, he said. “We can have on any given day 30 to 40 people waiting outside to come in,” he said. “Most people have been very good about it. Most people thank us. But we have had run-ins with people swearing at us and swearing at our employees. … I think, more or less, they don’t want to be inconvenienced — either to wait outside or to wear a mask.”

Stephanie Parker, a receptionist at Aquatime Pools & Spas, said since she started at the store two years ago she has always fielded a certain number of calls from people asking if they install above-ground pools, which they don’t. But in the past two months, she has received more phone calls asking about above-ground pools than in the two years before that.

Aquatime is strictly an in-ground service and installation business, White said. Concrete or vinyl to be specific, he said, which range in cost from $30,000 to $80,000. Concrete pools are on the costlier side and can take up to six to eight weeks to install. A vinyl pool is the cheaper quicker option, only taking two to three weeks to install.

With the mad rush to get a pool in their backyard, most customers are asking for the vinyl option, White said, however, the steel panels for the frames are now in short supply.

“The problem we’re running into now is the manufacturing in the northeast is mainly out of New York and New Jersey and we are feeling supplier issues with the liners,” he said, which have been closed for the past nine weeks. “As of last Friday we were told there is a shortage or a lack of certain radius panels.”

Like Soterion, White said it’s not so much a question of how many pools are being ordered as that everyone is coming in at the same time to order them. The planning process at Aquatime usually begins in January and February, he said. Many of their projects begin in the fall and are completed in early spring, he said. “If you are going to spend $30,000 to 80,000 on a backyard project you would plan it in advance.”

May through July is usually when sales at Aquatime slow down, he said. “I think this year it’s going to be flat out through the whole summer.”

Soterion said staff at Empire Pools joke that Memorial Day weekend is their Super Bowl. “But it’s been nonstop for two weeks,” she said. They ran out of pool chemicals this week but were able to restock the next day with the weekly delivery, she said.

Parker said Aquatime has had to have emergency deliveries of chemicals.

“There are only so many pools that can be built and only so many chemicals for pools due to the pandemic closings,” White said.

Both stores said they are working to keep pool supplies and chemicals in stock.

“They are just flying off the shelves much faster than usual,” Huberty said.

For better or worse, sales don’t seem to be slowing as they normally would this time of year.

“You shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth ‘cause we are in business and we are doing well, but it’s too much too fast I think,” Huberty said.

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