Royal Swimming Pools, like other pool companies, is in the business of providing memory-making supplies that will bring families joy year after year. Because that's what a swimming pool is; a place to enjoy time with your family during the happy times of Summer. And in the wake of COVID-19, with fewer families taking vacations or investing in a new boat or RV due to concerns of travel and stay-at-home orders, more and more people are turning to the pool industry.
To understand the full impact of this story, you need to know that the industry's "peak season" where we experience the highest amount of inquiries and orders for new swimming pools typically falls between the First Day of Spring (Mid-March) to right after July 4th. This is important to note since our nation's Stay-at-Home orders came at the very beginning of our traditional peak season. To dive into this further that means that there was a vast number of folks who were planning on ordering a new pool this year before ever even knowing about COVID-19. But once news of this virus began to spread and travel bans became a household topic of conversation, the number of those interested in a pool quadrupled. Take a moment to think about that. That is not an exaggeration but the figure we are consistently hearing, not only in our business but in our vendors, partners, and other pool professionals...a 400% increase in business, in phone calls, in emails, in orders... 400% over what was being done in Spring of last year.
Sure, any business owner looking at those figures would normally contemplate popping a bottle of champagne however, COVID-19 played a big role in how we were permitted to operate around those figures.
For starters, our office doors were closed. Our team was lucky enough to have work from home options however with either new or limited systems available to them which caused the normal processes and procedures to move a bit slower than normal. So now we had slower availability to move on our end paired with a higher influx of demand, more and more calls and emails requesting calls with less and less availability to do so.
We weren't the only ones who shut their doors. Pool and Liner manufacturers had to close shop. The big difference here is that you can't make pools, liners, filters, or even ladders from home...
So new products were not being made. What was in stock at pool companies or distribution centers, was all that there was.
This impacted the Above Ground swimming pool business the most in our industry. As the stock of available pools at distribution centers dwindled, new shipments were not coming in to restock those baring shelves as only one manufacturer in the country was permitted to remain open, DoughBoy Pools. This was only due to the lack of COVID-19 cases in West Helena Arkansas when the bulk of Above Ground manufacturers are otherwise located in cities like New York that had countless cases. And while Doughboy Pools was permitted to remain open, they still have new safety procedures to follow to legally do so. These are primarily centered around social distancing protocols set by government regulations which greatly reduced the number of employees they could have within the building.
So we now have an incredible reduction in manpower while they are receiving almost all of the nation's orders which would have normally been spread out across multiple locations, and don't forget that number is 400% higher than normal already. The latest figure we heard from this manufacturer was that their list of items needing to be produced was "6 times longer than normal".
This was also after major storms over Easter weekend knocked out their power for several days in Mid-April.
The other pool manufacturers worked hard to try to provide estimated reopening dates only to have them pushed back multiple times due to their local areas COVID-19 regulations. They began to open their customer service call lines but were not permitted to open their factories to create anything.
So certain Above Ground Pool models were becoming out of stock incredibly quickly with no idea of when they would be available again. Our reaction was to reach out to those customers as soon as we found out their pools would be 3-8 weeks lead time (depending on when that manufacturer reopened, much less got caught up on their existing orders) and offer them substitutes, upgrades, other sizes, whatever we had in stock at our distribution center or could order from H.I.I. by Doughboy Pools all while setting the expectations of much longer lead times.
Lead Times Increased, and Increased, and Increased
But week to week we began to see those lead times only grow and grow. From 1-3 days to 5-7 days, to 1-2 weeks, to 2-4 weeks, to 3-6 weeks with no end in sight to the growth. We tried communicating these changes as we became aware of them as we believe in setting realistic expectations when possible. The problem was many times we were not made aware of delays or out of stock situations with vendors until the order had been with the vendor meant to fulfill the order for some time already due to backups in their own supply chains.
On that note, let's revisit West Helena, Arkansas, and Doughboy Pools. As mentioned they make many of their items in house, from pools to liners, to filters, and more. Setting proper expectations with our customers of their longer lead times is one thing, but what happens when that company reaches out and says that their materials used for making those items are running out or in some cases are already out? What happens when the one place serving the nation can't get the supplies they need due to closures in other areas?
Where Are We Now?
We end up here. Writing to you. The families who were hoping for a quick and affordable way to provide entertainment and exercise opportunities for their children during quarantine. Who were looking forward to a fun and safe place to venture outside to in the comforts of their own backyards? Many of you trusted us to help provide that for your loved ones. And we know that regardless of so many things that are truly out of our hands, we know that we are and have let many of you down.
We are in the business of providing memory-making supplies that will bring families joy year after year. This is not how we are accustomed to operating. This is not bringing our customers who trust us with their family's Summers joy and hope in otherwise scary times. We know you because we have talked with you... we have emailed with you. We know the mom with four kids who have been out of school for months now. We know the dad whose family is looking to him for options. We know you. We are you.
Here's What We're Doing:
- We've hired more people to help respond to your emails and inquiries.
- We've retrained existing staff from other departments, such as marketing, to be able to process orders and/or respond to your inquiries.
- We're approving and asking our team members to work overtime, weekends, and holidays. Many of them have given up countless hours with their families because they know so many of you count on us when it comes to yours. We're very proud of our team for stepping up in these challenging times as many of our employees, even those who were part-time before this are working 50-90+ hours a week.
- We've asked our distribution centers to respond in kind and most have moved to 6-7 day work weeks, and increased operating hours to 12 or in some cases even 24 hours.
- Our executive team is working 7 days a week assisting our teams directly wherever they need the extra manpower.
- We've brought on new developers to enhance and improve our infrastructure so we can better manage orders in a more timely fashion.
- We have made major enhancements to our website to handle the influx of traffic that was previously causing site crashes.
- We are making major investments in our systems and procedures to mitigate and reduce the delay and disruption in communication.
- We've created more online resources to address the most common questions we're receiving so that you do not have to wait on a phone line to be available and you can get answers quicker.
- We are staying in contact with vendors, manufacturers, distribution centers, warehouses, and partners in the pool profession to keep the information we provide to you as up-to-date as possible.
- We are keeping expected lead times on our site in full display, on every page and making sure that customers are aware of this before checking out.
We value you and your business. We are working hard to sort through these issues that are affecting your orders and we will continue to do so with the unwavering hope that things will return to normal again.. for all of us.
Until then, we are still here serving you. We are doing the absolute best that we can even with that taking longer than usual. And we thank you as so many of you have been gracious and understanding throughout all of this. It's your kind words that make the extra hours worthwhile. Because we know you; we know who we're working so hard for.
As such we thank you for your patience. Thank you for your understanding. From our families to yours, we wish you and your loved ones a safe Summer ahead as we continue to do our part to help make that Summer (and the Summers to come) as safe and as enjoyable as possible.