With her husband working from home during the coronavirus pandemic and three kids roaming from room to room, Kayla Perez had an idea.
An above-ground swimming pool would give their children, ages 11 to 18, another diversion this summer and create a place where other kids and neighbors could enjoy themselves.
There was one problem. Outdoor play and recreation equipment like pools, trampolines, hot tubs, in-ground basketball setups and bicycles are hard to come by. Not only is demand high, but some manufacturers also either shut down or worked with smaller-than-normal staffs as the pandemic rolled through the nation in the spring.
Above-ground pool suppliers and manufacturers haven’t been able to keep up with orders.
“We actually did end up getting one,” Perez, of the Elkhorn area, said last week. “Before that (it) was very, very, very frustrating.”
Joni Butler, owner of Olympic Pool & Spa in Omaha, said the spa, or hot tub business, has boiled over this year. “Most spa stores here in town have sold everything they can sell,” Butler said.
Her business also builds more expensive in-ground pools. She estimates that the number of requests for those pools has increased five times over a typical season. “There’s no way we’re going to meet the demand this year,” she said.
The NPD Group, a New York-based market trends organization, said sales of playground equipment rose 81% and pools 161% when comparing numbers through April to the same period last year.
Michelle Pruitt, owner of Above & Beyond in North Kansas City, Missouri, said she had the same dozen blow-up wading pools for a couple years, but this spring they sold out within 48 hours. “If it’s water, people want it.”
And it’s not just water. Having the family cooped up in the spring compelled parents to seek various outlets for backyard fun and exercise. Children couldn’t go to school in the spring because of the contagious virus. Some of Omaha’s public outdoor swimming pools aren’t expected to open this summer.
Many summer camps won’t be held. Softball and baseball have cranked up in the Omaha area, but only to an extent.
Families have discovered that they must hustle for trampoline sets, too.
“Trampolines hit a hot spot,” said Jon Simons, owner of Backyard Playworld in Gretna, because they appeal to teens as well as small children. Supplies of in-ground basketball setups also have been stretched, he said.
The desire for trampolines “went from zero to 60 overnight,” he said. And if he had realized what the demand for trampolines would be this year and commanded a trampoline factory, he would be able to retire to a beach next year, he said.
“Y’know, it’s been unprecedented times,” he said. “It’s a situation that nobody’s ever been through.”
Pruitt said her waiting list for above-ground pools would carry her into next summer. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.
Everybody seems to have the same idea, she said. “A swimming pool is a wonderful diversion from COVID.”
Butler said turnaround time in ordering and acquiring hot tubs normally is three weeks. Now it’s two months. “Well, 2½, actually,” she said.
Machele Dunning of Bennington ordered an above-ground pool from an Omaha store a few weeks ago. Dunning said it was her understanding that it would take three weeks to come in.
She and her husband looked forward to providing a cool spot for their two kids at home as well as their adult children’s kids.
But then the shop estimated that it would be 10 to 12 weeks, she said. They canceled that order and placed themselves on the list of a store in Kansas City.
Arkansas above-ground pool manufacturer Doughboy Recreational suggests online that everyone should allow 12 weeks or more for shipping. “Experts are predicting a two- or three-year extraordinary demand for all outdoor recreational products,” Doughboy says.
Large stores haven’t been able to keep a variety of bicycles in stock. The same has been true of smaller, locally owned bicycle shops. “It’s way beyond what I’ve ever experienced,” said Jim Carveth, owner of the Bike Rack in Omaha and Lincoln.
Kayla Perez already had an array of diversions in the backyard for her children, including a skateboard ramp and a trampoline. The arrival of the above-ground pool has been a plus. She said everyone on her block is happy.
— World-Herald staff writer Kelsey Stewart contributed to this report.