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Pool business warming up

Brightening economy, early spring said to contribute to jump in industry sales

A crew from Dave Caron Construction worked on a pool being installed at a Pepperell home. Industrywide, pool sales are up over last year. Cheryl Senter for the Boston Globe/Boston Globe

The early spring and warming economy have loosened consumers’ purse strings on cars, homes, and clothing. And now this: the pool guy, once as lonely as the Maytag repairman, is busy again.

“I’m running around like crazy, but I think it’s great,’’ said Rick Hajjar, owner of Surfside Pool Company in Fitchburg.

With 21 in-ground pools already sold this spring, and a few more on the line, business at Hajjar’s six stores is up around 40 percent so far. Other pool companies report a similar surge; at American Pool Service Inc. in Ipswich, president John MacDougall said he has to hire additional laborers for the new work. Industrywide, sales are up 30 percent through the first two months of the year over the same period in 2011, according to P.K. Data, a Georgia-based market research firm that tracks the industry.

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“I can’t believe how many pool permits are coming in,’’ quipped Nancy Lima, records supervisor for Westford’s building department.

Her small suburban town issued three in-ground pool permits just in the past week - as many as the town granted over the past few years. Acton also has three new pool permits in the works; it issued two in all of 2011, and none in 2010.

Though the economy has yet to fully recover from the recession, Americans are clearly feeling better about their finances, as evidenced by recent bullish reports on consumer spending. In Westford, Lima said there is also a surge in home building projects, such as additions, “where in the past we were seeing small remodeling jobs. It shows that people are loosening up and spending.’’

A year ago Betsy Spang explored having an in-ground pool installed at her Hamilton home, but decided against it when the quotes she got were too high.

This year, though, when she contacted pool companies in February, she found them eager to negotiate.

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“They were anxious to get our business. All three companies I called were chomping at the bit,’’ Spang said.

So after saving up for years, she and her husband made the jump and will spend about $80,000 for a pool, with all the trimmings, from American Pool Service. The couple had planned to take their two children to Europe for vacation but decided the pool would give them more satisfaction.

“It will be idyllic to stay here,’’ Spang said, and, “we won’t have cabin fever.’’

As Spang found out, those willing to spend the money can get a good deal, as business is not so booming that pool companies can afford to lose out on a low bid.

Bob Guarino, the owner of South Shore Gunite Pools & Spas Inc., said many of his competitors have dropped prices after struggling through the past few years of few sales.

“It’s very cutthroat out there,’’ said Guarino.

Indeed, it is still early in the season - and in the economic recovery - that pool installers should not act as if the hard times they have endured are not over.

“It’s too early to say if the increase that we’ve seen is the industry righting itself,’’ said Joshua Darling, manager at P.K. Data.

Guarino’s firm was selling 120 to 140 residential pools a year before the economy tanked in 2007. Since then his firm has sold around 60 a year.

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Though one industry official attributed the recent sales surge to “frugality fatigue,’’ the unseasonably warm winter and early spring is also driving more homeowners to make the leap and spend tens of thousands of dollars for an in-ground pool, and up to six figures for deluxe models.

Installers such as Guarino reported they started getting calls as early as February.

“Our industry has everything to do with weather,’’ said Guarino. He joked that his phone runs on solar power: “If the sun is shining, the phones are ringing. If it rains, the phones go dead.’’