Orenda's 2021 Year in Review
It was another odd year in the world, and at Orenda, we thought a recap is in order. If we could choose two words to summarize 2021 in the swimming pool industry, they would be inflation and consolidation. It all started in...
Normally, the first few days in January are the last moments of fresh air before the trade show season begins. But this year, trade shows went virtual. So instead of mentally preparing for weekly travel and seeing the same industry people more than our own families, we pre-recorded classes and pretended that virtual trade shows were somehow equivalent to the real thing. We discovered they are not. But hey, at least we didn’t have to wear a mask (or pants) while talking to faces on our computer screens. Eric had a record number of virtual trainings each week. So much so, that by the end of January he was reflexively pointing to his ear and telling strangers “I can’t hear you…you need to unmute yourself” when they weren’t speaking.
Team Orenda was also busy reviewing and editing videos we had filmed for Startup Academy™ for its expected March 1 release date. We also published our 100th blog article in January! We celebrated that, but it was sort of like celebrating the first mile of a marathon. Miguel was busy transforming our company into an international one by translating our website and videos into Spanish. We think he’s doing a good job, but we cannot read Spanish, so who knows.
Our Rule Your Pool Podcast continued growing in popularity, thanks in some part to the podcasting trend in our industry growing, as there were at least three other pool industry podcasts to compete with.
In other news, low interest rates and trillions in deficit spending led to record inflation. That, combined with labor and supply chain shortages, led to price increases across the board. Oh, and material shortages. And unprecedented shipping delays. For some reason, the pool industry was impacted by all this.
Such fiscal conditions have led to private equity and venture capital money flooding into the pool industry, given that our industry prospered in the quagmire that was Coronavirus in 2020. And with that capital investment comes mergers and acquisitions. Of note, two privately owned independent distributors merged, becoming the second-largest distributor in the pool industry.
We hired a new Western Regional sales manager, Kathryn, and she is delightful. Kathryn is an industry veteran who spent over 20 years with InterFab, presumably growing their sales with a robust print-marketing strategy. We love Kathryn, we just can’t get paper because the Federal Reserve is using too much of it to print money for the foreseeable future.
February started with the Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl against the commercials, which were pretty lousy by Super Bowl standards. One notable exception was the Oatly ad, where the CEO sang off-key about oat milk is for humans, not cows. It was so inspiring that we devoted an entire 17 minutes to create a spoof about PR-10,000 that looks like milk in your pool:
We were in Texas at Orenda Headquarters for the Super Bowl this year, which is why we were able to produce such a cinematic masterpiece within 24 hours of the Super Bowl. Why were we in Texas, you might ask? To film more videos and finish producing Startup Academy™ for its March 1 release date. Miguel came to record Spanish versions of our videos, furthering our efforts to become an international company. Joe and Kathryn came to Texas for another reason, which was to help Harold overcome his shy, quiet nature so he could participate in our meetings. Eric and Jarred would have done this, but Eric was busy teaching more virtual trainings on Zoom, and Jarred was busy not reviewing Startup Academy™ videos.
Just a few days after the Super Bowl, a historic polar vortex storm in Texas wiped out the power grid for days. No power meant no freeze protection and circulation in swimming pools. That translated to about half the pools in the state of Texas having freeze damage. The frozen water expanded in the plumbing, which cracked pipes, filters, pumps, and valves. The damage was so major, so unexpected, and so poorly timed (given the existing COVID strain on the supply chain) that prices of aspirin and bourbon skyrocketed.
Laura, Kelly, Jarred, and Harold were suddenly overwhelmed with repair work in the Dallas area for their local pool service and repair company, separate from Orenda. They were all working overtime, which we had already been doing for years. So that was fine because there was no difference in workload.
At a national level, Texas pool companies were driving around the country with trucks and trailers to find any distributor willing to sell them heaters, pumps, and other replacement equipment for what was destroyed in the big freeze. Unfortunately, this coincided with gas prices rising quicker than the price of chlorine. Our condolences go out to those Texas pool guys still out there, not only unable to find any pool equipment but also unable to afford the gas to drive back to Texas. Keep fighting the good fight. And that brings us to…
March has always been the light at the end of the trade show season tunnel. Except for this year there was no tunnel–only carpal tunnel. Everything was remote, online, virtual, whatever you want to say. Speaking of everything going virtual, we virtually went insane when we discovered we had to re-film certain videos for Startup Academy™. Laura handled the unfair stress forced upon her remarkably well and did her job without complaint. But let’s just say the March 1 deadline was missed and was moved to April 1.
The Texas Freeze continued to crush distribution channels, and equipment manufacturers were starting to give backorder dates that sounded like retirement plan target dates. “Hmm let’s see…yep, we’ll have that heater for you in…looks like 2027. But you can pay now to reserve your spot in line.” So went the ballad of the pool pro in 2021. And that was just equipment. Did we mention the chlorine shortage of 2020 was still a thing in 2021? It was. And as of today, still is.
Despite the supply chain shortages and COVID, pool companies were busier than ever in 2021. And with trillions of new dollars injected into the US economy, homeowners had cash and low interest rates to sign the dotted line for a pool they would hopefully be built by 2027, conveniently around the same time their new heater was expected to arrive. The only problem is, the $100,000 contract today will probably only cover the price for the hole, the plumbing, and rebar in 2027. No word on how much shotcrete, tile, plaster, and coping stones will be, let alone pool equipment. Some economists predict these items may cost almost as much as a tank of gasoline by then.
As the weather began to warm up, pools began to be opened early again this year, thanks in large part to COVID. We saw early sales numbers in…
April at Orenda is summarized by green pool cleanups and talking to homeowners with calcium crystals in their pools. Despite the myriad of published online resources, articles, videos, and the Rule Your Pool Podcast episodes we have provided, people still called to ask us questions we have already answered in every media format we know of. Somehow Eric was able to publish the second blog of the year, What causes high alkalinity in pools? Like Jarred, he was unable to review the videos in Startup Academy™. Laura would have pressed him to get those videos reviewed sooner, but she was busy doing the work of two people.
Pools were opening nationwide, but with a shortage of equipment, thanks to those needy Texans who could somehow afford the gas to drive back to Texas with equipment. Every man for themself at that point. And it was not just equipment. Chlorine prices went up 12%, and there was a similar price increase on muriatic acid.
That’s correct. If you thought it was only a chlorine shortage, you would be sorely mistaken. Muriatic acid became a precious commodity for a few reasons. Namely, pool professionals back in April had not yet adopted the Orenda philosophy of containing pH instead of chasing it, which caused them to use way more acid than necessary for their pools. The other reason was some international supply chain issue or something.
And speaking of supply chain woes, that did not slow down our industry from growing, all while maintaining record-high stress levels. Imagine being overworked and unable to get the products you need to complete said work. Thankfully, Orenda was able to consistently fulfill orders and ship on time, thanks to Jarred neglecting Startup Academy™ and instead procuring bottles, caps, and raw materials.
Eric continued hosting back-to-back-to-back-to-back virtual training sessions and at some point forgot long division and how to write in cursive. Joe stepped up and filled in on some Rule Your Pool Podcast episodes because Jarred and Harold were elbow-deep in filter and heater replacements in Dallas. Joe’s help kept our podcast afloat, as there were approximately eight other pool industry podcasts to compete with. Kathryn made more print marketing pieces and laminated them all, single-handedly boosting Walgreen's stock by almost 7%. Honestly, April was a blur, so let's move on to…
May was sort of an extension of April. Chaos. But the kind of chaos you’d rather have than not.
If you thought the chlorine shortage was painful in April, May put things into perspective. By Memorial Day, the entire country had their pools open, and that was when people who had previously been able to get chlorine first tasted the sweet nectar of full-blown panic. We’ve heard it pairs well with aspirin and bourbon, whose prices climbed once again.
Gas prices also continued to climb, which meant all prices continued to climb. Chlorine companies informed the industry that when they said 12% last month, they really meant 18%. And by the way, that’s only if you can get it. Thanks to these price increases and the insatiable demand, revenues soared. This continued fueling the trend of corporate consolidation. We learned a manufacturer acquired another manufacturer, but all that seemed to change was their products became more expensive overnight.
We made some significant app updates, which took months of work, but nobody seemed to notice. It turns out most people don't realize we have articles, procedures and videos in the main menu of our app that answer virtually every question we ever get.
We sort of forgot about Startup Academy™ in May. We had recently adopted a “do what you can when you can” schedule for it. This allowed Laura to continue doing the jobs of three people. And that took us well into…
Travel began to resume in June! We started flying around like gnats at a summer barbecue. Every week we were in different places around the country. Kathryn spent time in Northern California, Joe visited every major territory across the country, Eric visited Florida and looked at people on his laptop screen a lot, and Harold–being recently relieved of his heater-replacement duties in Dallas–resumed travel to wherever he wanted to go. Seriously, nobody could keep up with where Harold was. Every day he was somewhere else. And without handing out a single Orenda Academy™ hat, he still visited customers and distributors, despite his shy and quiet personality. Thankfully, he had plenty of print marketing assets at each branch to do the talking for him, thanks to Kathryn.
Startup Academy™ was moving at a glacial pace until Laura, who was busy doing the work of four people, was able to do what she could when she could (our newly established production schedule). It seemed like a July 1 launch date was imminent. But then we realized we had to fix something in a video and re-film a segment. It was looking like a 2022 release (or a straight-to-VHS release), but our new videographer Kyra was able to get it done.
Also in June, we published two blog articles about the chlorine shortage and what PPM means. People actually read them and seemed to find value in what we published. No word on whether or not they know they can read and share our articles directly from the Orenda App. Our Rule Your Pool Podcast exploded in popularity, largely due to the fact that pool pros can listen while they work and drive, as opposed to stopping what they’re doing to read and watch videos. Our podcast soon became the 13th most popular pool industry podcast.
Things slowed down for Orenda in July, because our customers were too busy to talk to us. You can tell by the fact we had time to write and publish three blogs in July. Of those three, one of them changed the way we teach water chemistry forever: Containing pH vs. Controlling pH in a pool. In short, stop abusing acid. Dose it correctly, measure it, and dilute it. Build your foundation with the LSI and let the pH naturally rise to its ceiling. And unlike the federal debt ceiling, the pH ceiling is a law of physics, not a meaningless concept.
By July, supply shortages forced some real changes in our industry. Muriatic acid became more difficult to find, even if you were willing to pay the high price for it. We published an article about Sulfuric Acid, Sodium Bisulfate, and CO2, the Muriatic Acid Alternatives. Chlorine and acid prices rose by another 15%. The nightly news assured us that inflation was actually below 6%.
Meanwhile, hot weather and chlorine shortages helped Orenda grow, and we are grateful for it. We’d like to think customers came on board when they heard our message of minimalism, simplifying chemistry, and doing things the right way. In reality, it was more likely because we were able to fulfill orders and ship on time. Jarred and Kelly made it all possible.
Independent distributors continued to merge together in a large conglomerate, which had grown to absorb three or four more companies.
Eric made the mistake of traveling to South Florida in July, where the heat and humidity made zoom meetings in air conditioning without pants on feel like paradise. Joe wisely visited less-humid parts of the country, Kathryn covered Southern California with printed marketing materials, and Laura did the work of five people while she also doing what she could when she could on Startup Academy™…which Jarred continued to neglect.
Miguel continued producing high-quality Spanish content, which began bringing in inbound leads from companies in South America. Miguel apparently wasn’t joking when he said he would help us become an international company. We don’t actually know what Harold did, but we can safely assume he was on his phone most of the time, presumably to avoid having to talk to people face to face.
July came and went, and pretty soon we were in…
August was a great month for Orenda otherwise, as we finally almost released Startup Academy™. Laura, amidst doing the work of six people, released a beta test version for people to take and find any bugs or errors in the program. Once those were fixed we could release the entire program. The only problem was, people were too busy to take the beta test and find the bugs. So we tried to find the bugs ourselves before our newly appointed September 1 release date. Even Jarred stopped neglecting Startup Academy™ this time. That's how serious it was.
Chlorine and acid prices climbed another double-digit % or so. It was about this time that cal hypo manufacturers raised their prices too, thanks to increased demand. The sweet taste of full-blown panic evolved into the burning sensation of bourbon down the windpipe. Not surprisingly, aspirin and bourbon prices soared once again.
We don’t remember what month it was, but around this time another independent distributor was merged into the growing conglomerate. And speaking of fast growth, our Rule Your Pool Podcast's listener base was growing at an alarming rate; almost as fast as the number of new pool industry podcasts. We were sitting at about the 17th most popular pool industry podcast in August. That may sound like we were slipping in ratings, but we were firmly in the top 10% of pool industry podcasts.
You may not believe this, but Startup Academy™ was finally launched! For all the effort the past 20 months, it was finally here, and the crowds went wild. Unsurprisingly, it stoked more buzz in the industry about the importance of startup, while inspiring countless pool companies to call us and ask us how to do what we literally had just invested 20 months of work and procrastination explaining.
The first pool industry expo event since COVID lockdowns happened in September too. The PIE show in Monterey CA was a great chance to see people we had not seen in almost two years. Of note, we saw Robert Lowry for the last time, who came to our booth and visited for a bit. In all seriousness, it was a very polite and cordial visit, which we enjoyed.
Harold found his way to California again and shared his journey on Facebook. This was a coping mechanism to force himself to get out of his shy comfort zone and talk to people. Kathryn was making moves in California too, working extensively in Northern California to grow the territory, in spite of California’s proposed embargo on paper products, due to their opposition of responsible forest management.
Laura, having just released the albatross that was Startup Academy™ in spite of the rest of us neglecting it, continued doing the work of seven people without complaint. Miguel continued convincing the world that Orenda is actually a Spanish company. We have no idea what he’s saying and writing, but evidently, it’s better quality than what we have been saying and writing in English.
Harold and Eric attended the PACE conference in Phoenix in October, which was the first time Orenda had ever been included. It was an amazing experience with incredible keynote speakers. While Eric was absorbing their message and taking notes, Harold sat wondering about how anyone could have the courage to get up there and speak to strangers.
Eric moved into an apartment, which is only relevant because the apartment is next to a main road, and recording the Rule Your Pool Podcast quickly became a problem. The solution was going into his closet and recording in there. The closet is pretty much soundproof thanks to it being away from the windows and full of Orenda shirts and print marketing pieces from Kathryn. Needing something new to neglect, Jarred blew off the podcast for more important things, like “payroll” and “accounting” and “family”.
Miguel filmed his first commercial pool sand filter purge, and Laura began compiling our marketing metrics for our November annual meeting. Our blog views grew well past one million readers in 2021, thanks to readers like you (seriously, we cannot believe you’re still reading this).
We also hired Ryan around this time. Honestly, we don’t know when he was hired, he just kind of showed up one day and our sales numbers grew. He was a perfect hire to navigate the relationships with the increasingly-consolidated distributors in his territory. Joe was grateful for the help in that area, as he was preoccupied trying to map out the mergers and acquisitions on a bulletin board with red yarn and thumbtacks. All we can assume is that more independent distributors are on the radar for the conglomerate.
All this was growth amongst distributors was in no small part thanks to the continued rise in the price of chlorine. All the major news outlets downplayed the severity of inflation and assured everyone that chlorine’s price increase was because someone apparently told people to drink bleach (we never recommend drinking bleach).
Later that month, Eric and Kathryn flew to Fresno and met up with Miguel and Ernie for an IPSSA training. After that, Ernie and Miguel went south and Kathryn drove Eric north, toward Reno. Given the extremely high price of gasoline in California, Kathryn wisely reconfigured her rental car to burn US currency as fuel instead. Our cost savings in fuel allowed us to get to Reno for the Pentair training AND afford a decent dinner too. Harold met us along the way in his own rental car, foolishly still burning liquid gold in the form of 87 octane, 10% ethanol gasoline.
Speaking of pool pros, we partnered with Pool Service Software to be their customer support help desk for water chemistry problems. It’s pretty cool because pool pros can simply request help with a problem pool, and we’ll get a notification about it with the water chemistry history and photos.
This so improved our efficiency that it prompted a federal investigation because the government wanted to know what the word “efficiency” meant.
For Halloween, the Evans/Morgan family dressed up as Harry Potter characters. It was a brief escape from reality into a fantasy world for one night, which allowed Jarred to retroactively continue neglecting Startup Academy™, and Laura to relax for a bit in spite of doing the work of eight people. The next day we found ourselves in…
November brings beautiful autumn leaves and the spirit of Thanksgiving. This year, it also brought more mergers and acquisitions in the pool industry. Of note, an equipment manufacturer acquired a test kit manufacturer, and the independent distributor conglomerate purchased another independent distributor.
Eric and Miguel went to South Florida, where not a word of English was spoken for three days. Eric’s vocal cords needed the recovery time, due to all the solo Rule Your Pool Podcast episodes he had been recording in his closet. Joe stepped up and filled in on some podcast episodes in November and in previous months too, so he earned brownie points for that.
November also brought a shake-up in our personnel and rep groups. Business involves making tough decisions sometimes, so we decided to pare back Laura’s role from doing the work of nine people down to just five. To fill in other gaps, we hired Tyler.
With all our new personnel since COVID lockdowns began, communication and organization within our company became exponentially more complex. Our annual meeting in Texas during the week of the International Pool & Spa show was focused on internal operational efficiencies. Jarred took the meeting to heart and actually delegated others to neglect our podcast too, despite it growing into the 29th most popular podcast in the pool industry. Ryan and Kathryn took Jarred’s orders to heart, and instead went into Southern California and grew our sales by substantial numbers. So maybe Jarred was onto something.
Our annual meeting was actually very productive, unlike past meetings, which were mostly spent begging Harold to come out of his shell and tell us how he really felt about things. This productivity was in no small part thanks to Kathryn printing everything out on US currency, which she discovered was less expensive than regular paper. Tyler, who was brand new, came to the meeting and was appalled to learn first-hand just how weak Eric is in squats and deadlifts when he asked Tyler for help carrying Kathryn’s stack of paper to the table. Eric and Laura, in turn, were equally appalled that Tyler actually had free time to squat and deadlift, and demanded he adopt a strict “lift what you can when you can” workout program. Miguel was busy recording the minutes of our meeting in Spanish. At least we think that’s what he was doing because none of us can read Spanish.
On the third day of our meeting, we went to the International Pool & Spa Show in Dallas, where we saw many people we had not seen in almost two years. We also saw people whom we had only met via Zoom, or had only listened to our podcast, and they were happy to see Eric had come out of the closet. Harold made it into the trade show floor a record 32 feet from the entrance before his crippling social anxiety stopped him in his tracks. We decided to leave him there and divide up to cover the expo.
Ryan, Joe, Kathryn, and Jarred seemed to make it a productive day on the expo floor. They spoke with all sorts of people and still managed to fail to bring back a single podcast episode idea. Miguel and Tyler were being followed around by almost all nine women in the entire exhibit hall, who were no doubt wondering why Orenda was hiring GQ models. As the announcer said the show floor was closing, we returned to find Harold exactly where we left him. To our surprise, he was talking to people.
Later that day we learned of the passing of Robert Lowry, the same night he received PoolNation’s inaugural lifetime achievement award. The man was a legend who basically built the education in our industry from scratch. No satire here; our industry lost a titan. Rest in Peace, Bob.
And that summarizes November, which brings us to…
Harold returned to Northern California and spent a week with Kathryn and our local reps delivering rotisserie chickens and potato salad to feed everyone in the distribution branches. Kathryn provided napkins, which were actually $10 bills, as they were more affordable than regular napkins.
Early December brought some huge M&A news too. We'll summarize without getting into the details: more of the same.
Eric visited two pool companies that have committed themselves to the Orenda program, and personally handed them the Orenda Academy hats they had earned by passing Orenda Academy™ and Four Pillars Academy™. It reminded the rest of Team Orenda that we have several thousand Orenda Academy hats we still have not handed out. We quickly adopted a “hand out what you can when you can” hat policy. We apologize to the hundreds of you that have passed Academy™ and we still owe a hat to.
Ryan, Kathryn, and Joe continued traveling around and pulling in new business, particularly focusing on our Early Buy sales for 2022. That’s fair enough, but it meant Joe bailed on our Rule Your Pool Podcast just like Jarred. Thankfully Ryan heroically filled in for his first episode on the show and did pretty well. We would have had Miguel fill in, but he was busy becoming the world’s leading Spanish-speaking water chemistry expert, as evidenced by his blog, TikTok, and YouTube views, which now surpass NBC news. His ratings would make him the most popular pool industry podcast if we had a Spanish podcast, but we don’t (yet). Rule Your Pool, on the other hand, was crushing it, staying firmly in the top 50 pool-industry podcasts.
Laura–being alleviated from doing the work of nine people down to just five–improved our internal CRM system, so we can pretend to keep track of the contacts that Harold doesn’t know how to put in there. Finally, in late December we added one more to our team, Shaun, who will be our new Southeast regional sales manager. We would make fun of him on here too, but we just don't know him well enough for that yet. But don't you worry, we'll review 2022 too.
All in all, it was a whirlwind of a year. From the Texas freeze to supply chain shortages growing worse, 2021 was full of challenges.
We write in humor because if we cannot laugh at ourselves, our industry, and the world we live in, we’ll become old and be ungrateful. The secret to happiness is having an attitude of gratitude, and despite the chaos of 2021, we are grateful beyond words for living through it. Every day is a blessing and it’s best we do not lose sight of that.
Thank you for being a part of our lives, and for being involved in this journey with us, even if it’s only in a small way. Have a Happy New Year!