First, it was hand sanitizer. Then it was toilet paper. Now, it seems the latest pandemic-induced demand to exceed supply is for above-ground pools.
As cities are slow to open municipal pools due to COVID-19 concerns and many beaches remain closed to non-residents, desperate Americans are searching for an above-ground pool like their summer depends on it.
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“Demand for above-ground pools has more than doubled,” says Steven Metz, president at Central Jersey Pools – a family-owned business founded in the 1950s after Metz’s farmer grandfather realized selling pools would be more profitable than plowing. He attributes the substantial increase in interest to the fact that most Americans aren’t traveling. “People are staying in and enjoying their homes instead.”
While Amazon’s substantial selection of inflatable pools is still an option, Americans are wanting something more substantial to swim in. They’re also wanting something cheaper than inground pools.
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough above-ground pools to go around. Central Jersey Pools will be out of stock until at least early August. And it’s not as though shoppers can just go to a different pool store in the next town over. In early June, The New York Times was already reporting it may be too late to find a pool. Just June 30, an article published by the Omaha World-Herald titled “Supply of above-ground pools is running dry as parents snap up pandemic diversions” spoke to what most of the country is experiencing at their local pool retailer: a severe shortage.
It’s a similar story online. Doughboy Pools, which has been manufacturing above-ground pools since the late 1940s, is telling its customers to expect to wait at least 12 weeks from purchase to delivery. “No one could have predicted the unprecedented demand for above-ground pools,” reads the company’s homepage dedicated to its COVID-19 announcement.
Even shoppers willing to get creative with what they use for above-ground pools right now are running into empty shelves. According to a recent article published by the San Francisco Chronicle, ranch supply stores have run out of livestock tanks – one of the most popular DIY ideas for above-ground pools.
Whether or not you take the livestock tank route, it’s not surprising above-ground pools have a reputation far more Beverly Hillbillies than Beverly Hills. On a $300 budget you can find scores of plastic pools most HOAs would deem eyesores. However, these days it’s not uncommon to find above-ground pools – made of high-quality rust-resistant materials like aluminum and resin – costing more than 10 times that.
According to Recreation Wholesale, a pool retailer in Kansas City, Mo., the average cost of an above-ground pool, including installation, is around $6,000. Still, Recreation Wholesale’s owner Joe Herndon says he’s seeing more customers willing to spend a little extra for what he calls “onground pools.”
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Onground pools are basically above-ground pools that can be buried to look like inground pools. Recreation Wholesale’s most popular model is the Stealth pool which costs around $16,000, including installation. That’s about half the average cost of traditional inground pools which start at $35,000 and can go as high as $100,000. In New Jersey, Metz is also noticing more people partially burying above-ground pools. For customers wanting to bury their pools, he recommends Doughboy models, which are more conducive for burial.
One popular alternative to digging up a yard to hide unsightly pool walls is to build a deck around them. It’s even possible to buy these pool-deck combos secondhand. Currently there’s a 28-foot saltwater above-ground pool with a large wraparound deck in South Carolina listed on eBay for $13,000. The original owner paid $24,000 for it 2 years ago.
But perhaps the easiest, and most affordable, way to hide the hardware of an above ground pool is through strategically-located landscaping, rocks and lighting. Still, it’s best not to get so caught up in aesthetics that you buy the wrong pool altogether. According to Metz the biggest mistake people make when it comes to above-ground pools is buying a pool based on looks alone and not getting a thick enough liner. “You want to make sure a liner is durable,” advises Metz. “This is what holds the pool water and the entire structure.”
But even if you end up with the right pool, you can have problems. According to Herndon, the number one mistake people make is buying an above-ground pool online and then not being able to find anyone to install it properly. “Then they typically try it themselves and don’t get it right,” says Herndon. For that reason alone, it pays to buy an above-ground pool from a local dealer.
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The tricky part, at least during the pandemic, is finding a store that is open, has the model you want in stock and is staffed with enough employees to help with installation. In other words, you may as well hunt for the Holy Grail. After all, according to Doughboy, “experts are predicting an extraordinary demand” for the next two to three years. In other words, if you envision swimming in your own above-ground pool in summer 2021 or even summer 2022, place your order today.