BALTIMORE — A surge in demand for swimming pools during the pandemic has led to shortages and long delays, but customers of an online dealer thought they'd found a company who'd be able to deliver a pool before the end of summer.
Two Middle River residents contacted WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii after ordering pools from Pool Store and More in the spring. They waited months, but their orders never arrived.
Bill McDonald and his wife placed their order on May 3 and said they were given an estimated delivery date of 8-10 weeks. They figured it would come around mid-July, which would still give their grandkids time to enjoy the pool before fall.
“We have 12 grandchildren, 10 under 7 years old,” said McDonald.
McDonald first found Pool Store and More after searching online for a specific pool.
“The kit itself from them was $12,267,” McDonald said. “I called them at the end of June to ask how’s the status, we’re coming to the end of this, where’s everything? And I got a runaround.”
McDonald said in August, Pool Store and More sales manager Richard Tamberino, told him that there were manufacturing delays. They waited until September, but still hadn’t received an estimated delivery date or information about their order.
“This company had the pool I was looking for, not many options,” said Mark, who also lives in Middle River.
Mark and his fiancé, Wendy, said they tried contacting the company to ask about their purchase from April after choosing the company for its quick response in the beginning and turnaround.
“I did call another company out in North Carolina, but they told me they were so backordered with pools I probably wouldn’t get it until next year, so this company seemed like they would be able to provide it this year, which is part of the reason why we went with them,” Mark said.
On the “Above Ground Pool” section on their website, Pool Store and More also advertises they're "shipping every day unlike most of their competitors,” so Mark purchased the pool for a little less than $8,000 then waited for it to arrive.
“Initially, they said 4-5 weeks, but they said there were some issues with manufacturing and COVID so it could be a little bit longer,” Mark said.
In a Facebook message, the company wrote it should be ready by the end of May.
“Nothing in June, nothing in July, and after numerous calls and texts to [Richard Tamberino], I finally got a response in early August letting me know he was sick but he would have the office send me out a refund on Monday. Monday came and went and no refund,” said Mark.
Two other customers, one in North Carolina and another in Florida, shared similar experiences. They paid for the pools, were given delivery estimates of 5 to 8 weeks, but months passed and their pools still hadn't been delivered.
Sofastaii spoke with Tamberino over the phone. He declined an interview request, but said he tells customers whatever the manufacturer tells him and delays are out of his control.
There’s also a warning on his site that weather events and the COVID-19 pandemic “has caused nationwide stock-outs on many products. Items to be purchased by customers will ship when product arrives or is finished being manufactured, back-orders are industry wide. There are long shipping delays on certain products.“
Sofastaii asked Tamberino why he doesn’t warn customers about the possibility of an extended wait time. “They’re smart enough to know the whole world is screwed up,” he responded.
Tamberino’s attorney added that "Rich has always been committed to providing the best possible service and under the circumstances with supply chain issues, he believes he's doing the best he can."
A few local pool dealers told WMAR-2 News that orders could take five to seven weeks in normal times, but it hasn't been that way since the start of the pandemic.
Aside from the wait, these customers say it’s the poor customer service that pushed them to cancel their orders.
“You guys don’t do good business, you’re not returning calls, you’re not responsive, you’re not giving me answers,” McDonald said.
McDonald filed a dispute with his credit card company and received a temporary credit.
Mark paid using an e-check, however, Tamberino agreed to refund his purchase. WMAR-2 News is waiting on confirmation that the refund was processed.
Several of the customers also said they never received contracts or were sent the fine print after they purchased the pool, which is why it's important to understand the terms, cancellation policies, and to use a credit card for the most protection.