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Labor & chemical shortages challenge growth

By Marcelle Dibrell

As the population continues to work from home, new pool construction and existing pool renovation is thriving in the U.S., which can only mean that pool service professionals can look forward to plenty of business for the foreseeable future.

And as the service load grows, two worrisome shortages – lack of workers and lack of chemicals, have some service firms scrambling.

In California and Florida, new pool service apprenticeship programs are being implemented to address the labor shortages. These state registered apprenticeship programs enable employers to develop and apply industry standards to training programs for registered apprentices which can increase productivity and improve the quality of the workforce.

Both programs address the labor shortage.

So, while there is some hope of increasing the labor pool, there is no reason to be optimistic concerning the chlorine shortage.

Trichlor continues to be in short supply following the massive chemical fire last summer at the Biolab facility in Westlake, Louisiana. The manufacturing plant produced roughly one third of the nation’s supply of trichlor, which was lost in the wake of Hurricane Laura.

According to Robert Rankin, Vice President of Pool Corp, although the offseason has provided some insulation from this problem, he is very concerned about what the actual season will bring.

“As Dichlor and trichlor supplies run lean, many will choose Cal Hypo as an alternative and that could certainly put pressure on that supply as well,” Rankin said.

Distributors don’t seem to be rationing dry chemicals yet, but Rankin said by summer that may change and he has noticed that some pool service firms seem to be stockpiling for the season.

With dry chemicals in short supply, sales of ancillary chemicals such as enzymes, phosphate removers and algeacides have risen by 3 to 4 times 2019 levels. However, according to Rankin, 2020 was so strong, he is not sure how much the increase was due to an increase in pool use and how much was in attempts to protect chlorine levels.

“My gut tells me the increase was mostly the high tide raising all boats,” Rankin said.

Rankin says that so far, liquid chlorine has been the default product of choice, especially in the West.

“Service companies know the product, understand how to apply it correctly (in relation to dry chemical) and the pricing is commensurate with tabs and granular,” Rankin said.

Industry sources have indicated that many customers are turning to saltwater chlorine generators.

AQUASALT, LLC had a high demand year in 2020 and they expect the same for 2021.

Manufacturers of ozone and UV sanitation systems also had a good year.

And with the predicted shortage of dry chemicals, combined with the surge in new pool construction, it is likely that the use of all such alternative sanitization systems will continue to rise.

The pandemic has impacted and looks to continue to impact all aspects of supply distribution for the swimming pool industry in 2021 and possibly 2022, subject of course to the twists and turns of the economy overall.

So, to all you pool service professionals: brace yourselves for 2021 – it’s going to be a very busy year.

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