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After dive, pool cleaning firms see demand resurface

Many companies went under during the economic downturn as homeowners cut back or lost their residences. But business is picking up for those still afloat, partly because of less competition.

August 22, 2011|By Cyndia Zwahlen
  • Bob Luedtke, owner of Pool Works in Anaheim, says one pool he recently bid on to clean had problems with algae. Above, he works on a pool in Newport Beach.
Bob Luedtke, owner of Pool Works in Anaheim, says one pool he recently bid… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

Add one more victim to the economic downturn's casualty list: clean pools.

The recession and its aftermath killed off many pool-cleaning businesses as cash-strapped homeowners looked to economize or lost their homes altogether. In some neighborhoods, pools turned green with algae and became breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

But the pool-cleaning companies that managed to stay afloat are seeing a bit of a resurgence, in part because some of the competition has been wiped out. Also, banks are finding themselves forced to maintain the pools in foreclosed homes to avoid liability issues and meet public-safety demands by local governments, while homeowners say they are finding that they can no longer put off fixing problems caused by poorly maintained pools.

"I just bid on a residential pool last week," said Bob Luedtke, owner of Pool Works in Anaheim. "There were algae problems and storage of some chemicals on the property."

"Over the Fourth of July some of the kids' feet were burning" after walking next to the pool, Luedtke added, leading to suspicion that a previous pool cleaning service "might have spilled something on the deck."

In some areas, foreclosed homes with pools have become a source of potential new revenue for cleaners. That's because cities have started to hold the lenders who own the homes responsible for pools that have become unsightly and insect havens.

"That's kind of a nice market," said Lance Sada, the owner and sole employee of A Clear Choice Pool & Spa Service in Menifee, Calif.

His business has also been bolstered by banks eager to unload some of the foreclosed homes in their portfolios. A clean pool, the banks reason, can make a property easier to sell in the current competitive market.

Sada, who has 98 pools on his route, has been so busy that he has been turning down work. The industry average is approximately 50 pools per full-time cleaner.

Still, not everything is sparkling in the pool service business. Companies' costs of cleaning a pool are going up, with rising prices of gasoline, chlorine, pumps and filters. But passing those costs on to customers has been difficult.

So some of the businesses have expanded their offerings to bolster revenue.

Alan Smith Pool Plastering Inc. in Orange has been in business since 1974 as a specialty subcontractor doing tile and plaster work.

"When things were fat, we stuck with simple stuff," owner Alan Smith said. "Times are different now, and we've changed our model."

The company now offers, in addition to their usual services, residential landscaping services, pool construction and fence and deck building.

"My business has almost doubled in the past four years by specifically going after these different products," Smith said.

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