Waves of Change
Pool service industry sees consolidation trend
The tides are turning for the pool service industry.
With more companies entering the market aiming to acquire smaller pool service companies, the industry is seeing a shift toward consolidation, which started in earnest in 2020 and continues to gain momentum.
“There are many people out there who love the industry, but they don’t want the responsibility and hassle of running their own business,” says Gary Crayton, CEO of Pool Troopers, based in Tampa, Florida. “By having consolidation in the space, it will create more opportunities to turn pool service into a lifelong career with growth opportunities.”
Pool Troopers, formerly known as Bay Area Pool Service, partnered with Shoreline Equity Partners last year in hopes of inviting growth through an aggressive acquisition strategy.
“Historically, there was only one significant player on the acquisition side and a few franchisers,” Crayton says. “At Pool Troopers, we started as a pool service company, and that will continue to be our main focus every single day.”
Crayton believes the pros of consolidating for small pool service companies outweigh the cons. For one, he feels doing so will increase the standard of service and professionalism, thereby boosting the industry’s reputation — a win for all working in the pool service space. Another benefit is the opportunity for pool company owners to create a succession plan, he says.
Hal Denbar, founding partner of National Pool Partners, agrees.
“All those wise industry veterans who’ve built multi-million-dollar businesses are still running them, whether they want to be or not,” Denbar says. “And then their kids will get them whether they want it or not. Up until now, there has not been a market to exit if you build a business that’s substantial.”
“There has been no gold parachute,” Denbar adds. “There has been nobody saying, ‘Here, let me pay you millions for your multi-million-dollar business’ in the past. We are so excited to present that option to our industry now.”
Denbar sold his own business, Patriot Pool & Spa in Austin, Texas, to National Pool Partners — a pool service company consolidation organization launched in January of this year — and stepped in as a founding partner. Like Pool Troopers, NPP buys existing pool-service companies, combining them into one large national organization, then giving them systems, scale, career paths for staff members and buying power to market and grow.
“For me, it’s always been about creating jobs and opportunity for people; that’s what really gets me excited,” Denbar says of joining NPP. “[With NPP] I’m seeing concretely, on paper, a way to do that at a scale there is no way I could do individually, and it’s never existed before.”
Crayton shares similar sentiments about his company, Pool Troopers.
“Our industry needs a service company leader who is going to represent pool companies and put a focus on the existing pool base more so than the new pool base,” he says. “A rising tide lifts all boats, and it is our mission to protect and make the pool industry the best it can be.”
Through its subsidiary, American Pool, a company called The Amenity Collective also has a strategic focus on acquiring pool service companies. It recently acquired Jacksonville, Florida–based Blue Water Pools and Spas. Mitch Friedlander, CEO of The Amenity Collective, says what’s most important to him when acquiring is holding the company’s existing teams.
“Our focus is not one of creating value by growing a business and then selling it in five years to create a liquidity event for other shareholders,” he says. “That’s not what it’s about. We hold our companies. We grow them. We develop the teams, and we try to create career paths.”
Fraser Ramseyer, founder and CEO of industry newcomer Smart Pool Services, says his company has similar ambitions and views the partnerships with the companies it acquires — most recently Texas-based Crystal Clear Pools & Spas and Tropical Scapes — as collaborative. Based out of Austin, Texas, Smart Pool Services announced its intentions to go national in August of this year.
“When we bring people in, we offer them equity in the parent company so we all grow together,” he says. “Because without them, we couldn’t do what we are going to do. And we bring the tools and resources to allow them to elevate as well.”
Ramseyer adds that sellers can feel good knowing that Smart Pool Services only plans to expand on what they’ve already built.
“They can be confident that we’re here to support their employees and support their customers,” he says. “The only way we win is if we improve their employee experience, improve their customer experience and grow their legacy and business.”
Pool company owners see advantages
For the company owners who sell to the likes of Pool Troopers, NPP, American Pool or Smart Pool Services, there is a theme in their choices: timing and alignment of values.
“The time was right,” says Jack Manilla, who sold his company, Portofino Pool Service, to Pool Troopers when he and his wife were ready to retire. “Pool Troopers had direct experience in the industry as pool people, a great culture, a respected CEO and senior management team and a long history — and they wanted to continue our legacy.”
Williams says the pool industry’s move to consolidation is ultimately a great thing. “In the long term, it will benefit the customer and employee by providing greater resources, buying power and increased employee benefits,” he says.
Earlier this year was the right time for former Aloha Pool and Spa owner Les Williams to sell to Pool Troopers as well, and he says the partnership has thus far surpassed his expectations.
“The decision [to sell] was a no-brainer for me,” he says. “Pool Troopers has maintained a family-first culture and team with their employees. This is the same model Aloha has lived by since I purchased the company.”
Williams adds that the consolidation joined two companies with the same mindset and took the good portions from both, building a better organization in the end.
“The downside of consolidation is the possibility of losing that family first and customer service edge,” he says. “This has not been the case with Pool Troopers.”
Similarly, Eddie Skehan, who sold T&D Pool and Spa to NPP and now serves as its vice president of operational excellence, decided to partner with NPP because of value alignment.
“My employees are like family, and it was important to me that the family culture remained in place,” he says. “Where other firms were wanting to apply a cookie-cutter model to my business, NPP had the approach of maintaining what was special about my business and enhancing other areas to make the customer and employee experience better.”
Bryan Banta, NPP’s regional president of Florida and former owner of B&B Pools, sums up why he thinks the pool service sector’s move to consolidation is ultimately a win across the board for the industry.
“The pool industry is full of folks who know how to hustle and work hard, but without consolidation like what is happening now, no one will ever have the ability and size to impact real change on the industry,” he says. “Higher wages, better benefits, retirement and career paths to get from a pool tech to management are all things that are very hard for an owner/operator to offer. Being able to achieve sales and raise pricing on consumers while improving the lives of the hard workers in the industry can only be achieved through this type of consolidation.”