Business owners walked a precarious tightrope this summer as they juggled the priorities of keeping family and workforce safe while grappling with the toughest trading challenges in living memory. The industry’s key suppliers had to quickly adapt to unprecedented health and safety implications. “From the beginning of lock down, our most important consideration has been the health and safety of our employees, customers and anyone affected by our activities,” confirms Certikin Managing Director, Neil Murray. “For this reason, we have adapted our working environment and processes in accordance with government guidelines including carrying out and publishing on our website a detailed risk assessment,” Neil continues.
“Most of our office-based employees are working from home and our warehouse, production and transport work is carried out in a way which maintains strict social distancing,” explains Neil. “A primary issue for us has been maintaining customer service ensuring we serve our valued customer base as seamlessly as possible to support our industry. “We have recently been fortunate with the weather which has stimulated a healthy demand on the residential side of the industry.” As the coronavirus lockdown eases and we look back on the Covid journey, Neil emphasises the need to look ahead. “We foresee sustained opportunities from the consumer appetite for enhancement of their home and outdoor spaces,” says Neil. “There is a focus on making the home the centre for shelter, wellbeing, and enjoyment. “When holidays abroad are not possible why not consider a hot tub, pool enclosure, a facelift for existing pools or even a brand-new pool build to improve our living areas?”
Despite the arrival of timely scorching weather, the UK-based division of PPG found itself working at 60% of typical peak season turnover.
“We had to quickly initiate coronavirus coping mechanism,” reveals PPG’s Peter Turnbull. “About 50% of team were furloughed and as they were gradually brought back, they were physically separated throughout the building with agreed systems for social distancing.” Peter firmly believes a common sense approach was the best for both individual companies and the whole of the water leisure sector. “I believe the businesses in our industry that suddenly shut down overnight were misinterpreting the government messages,” he says. “Frustratingly, they were those throwing around moral messages which frankly were misplaced. “Although we have to operate safely; there is a way to adapt our businesses. “We decided to continue operating and feel we have better served our customers by doing so,” emphasises Peter.
“If anything, the experience has been transforming as the experience has shown we can work smarter, more efficiently, eliminating all the cost of travel, reducing ours and our customers’ carbon footprints by working more effectively with a leaner yet effective offering.” Peter confirms widespread reports that paradoxically, mainland Europe have seen a huge soar in pool performance figures, some quoting record increases on sales by as much as 80%. Above ground pools were cleared from shelves, heat pumps were especially in demand with suppliers struggling to keep up with the demand from end users seeking more environmentally friendly ways of running pools.
Alan Thorne of Ocea UK, suppliers of Starline pools and Hydrostar counter currents as well as their trademark automatic pool covers, says 2020 is turning into a topsy-turvy season because of the coronavirus. “Swimming pool construction was mainly halted from March while service calls continued at high season pace because of the weather,” reflects Alan. “I suspect, as construction restarts, July was like May when we typically see the season kick off,” he says. Although plans for a move to bigger premises were put on hold until at least later in the year, Alan says being UK based was crucial to Ocea’s early 2020 season success. “As we were not reliant on imported product, we were immune from potential delays from intercontinental supply and transport as we were selfcontained in our UK warehouse.” Paramount Pool Products have experienced record demand. “We are very lucky to be involved in an industry that is thriving through these challenges times,” comments Steve Martin of Paramount Pools, revealing the company had its best June figures since the company began more than 40 years ago. “The biggest challenges we face, is maintaining supply of stock and keeping up with the demand,” he adds.
While the tap was literally turned off the commercial pool sector with public pools facing prolonged closures, suppliers have been preparing for their return. “From commercial filters, commercial pumps and all the spares, we have a warehouse rammed full of commercial stock,” reveals AstralPool UK’s Dyfed Thompson Smith. “A high proportion of commercial sites will literally have closed overnight; simply switched the switch and walked away,” he points out. AstralPool UK, part of the giant Fluidra group, is predicting a rush of demand on core products such as probes for dosing equipment, dosing lines, strainer baskets and leaking valves not to mention a lorry convoy of sand. “Get ready for the stampede – the commercial market is about to go crazy,” Dyfed predicts. “We are anticipating – a real surge in demand on all the basics from pumps to valves,” he says. “It is not the glamorous stuff but it is crucial,” he adds.
Dyfed urged public pool operators to urgently check their plantrooms and water testing systems. “We have to warn the market and especially the public pool operators are potentially returning to the most dangerous pathogens lurking in pool water. “Before they fire up they need to follow correct procedures including bacteriological tests in case there has been any significant break in disinfection. “It is not scare-mongering,” he emphasis. “It is just being sensible.” AstralPool UK believes the majority of its construction customers have no capacity to take on extra pool building orders until at least the autumn with some quoting into 2021. Dyfed again: “The company is forecasting a significant recovery post Covid-19 and has put in an extra line of to support trade companies.” “For the customers who are experiencing issues with cash flow and then suddenly find themselves being asked to ramp up capacity back to full flow, we are trying to adopt a sympathetic approach by giving offering flexible and extended payment terms.” Swim England has pleaded with the Government to ensure swimming doesn’t become leisure’s ‘forgotten activity’ – after it was revealed almost a third of public pools could remain closed for another six months. Indoor pools across the country are allowed to reopen on Saturday 25 July – 128 days after they were forced to shut on Friday 20 March as part of the nationwide effort to help curb the spread of coronavirus. However, less than 20 per cent of local authority-owned facilities will welcome swimmers back into the water on reopening day – and many of those will be at a reduced capacity. New research also shows 30 per cent of public pools may remain closed into 2021 due to the exceptional costs councils face to reopen facilities – coupled with the income lost during the lockdown period. Jane Nickerson, Swim England chief executive, has reiterated her plea to the Government to step in and ensure these facilities are given the financial support they need. “Before the lockdown, 4.7 million people a month were swimming regularly,” says Jane. “It is such a unique activity in that it offers huge physical and mental health benefits – and helps save the NHS and social care system more than £357 million a year.” “It would be short-sighted not to provide the necessary financial support to help facilities blighted by the pandemic. “The #SaveLeisure campaign continues to have our backing and we urge the Government to provide the ring-fenced funding needed to help prevent significant market failure – which we know will hit less affluent areas hardest.”
HEALTH AND SAFETY
At the end of March, Golden Coast closed its doors for three weeks in order to protect the health and safety of its employees, in line with Government recommendations to work from home to help reduce the spread of the virus. Jamie Adams, the Managing Director at Golden Coast.says “We re-opened with just nine members of staff. But as work increased, we introduced more staff back on site while continually updating our COVID-19 policies. “We have never been so busy and have had to keep a steady pace with trade orders. A prolonged spell of unseasonably good weather combined with a large number of furloughed people with extra time and money resulted in high demand for hot tubs and pool consumables. “Since reopening, our team effort has become even more important as everyone had to dig deep and work together to go above and beyond normal expectations.” Certikin’s Neil Murray finishes on a positive note: “Although the Covid journey has been painful, what it has reminded us of is the importance of health and wellbeing, family, friends, and community,” says Neil. “We believe that going forward the pool industry is highly suited to a strong and sustained recovery in line with these priorities. “We see a bright future for our industry.”