A St. Louis-area lifeguard management company and its pool service arm closed with no warning a week before Memorial Day weekend.

On Friday, May 17, several pool operators received notification that Lifeguards Unlimited (LGU) and its service operation, Pool Pros, was shuttering effective immediately.

LGU’s website read, “Due to circumstances beyond our control, Lifeguards Unlimited, Inc. and Pool Pros will be winding down their business, effective immediately, and will no longer be able to service your account. We regret this action but have been left with no other options.”

Says client Kyle Henke: “Word spread pretty quickly once everybody started getting the phone calls and emails.” Like several other municipalities, the City of Kirkwood (Mo.) had a week to staff its pools for a Memorial Day weekend opening. It needed to fill 22 positions to guard the single facility, a small waterpark that includes a lazy river, slides, leisure and kiddie pools, along with a competition pool. “At first I kind of panicked,” said Henke, Kirkwood’s superintendent for recreation.

Fortunately, Kirkwood and others saw a quick resolution when the only other local contractor equipped to handle municipal facilities took over. Midwest Pool Management, also of St. Louis, immediately hired many of LGU’s lifeguards and some of its managerial staff and now manage pools in at least five of the municipalities. “There was a lot of shock in this area, but then there was an immediate [sense of] ‘We’ve got to get things back on track,’” said MPM Vice President Crissy Withrow. “For the public and clients, that was really important; for the staff that worked for [LGU], it was a very sad situation.”

While transitioning from one contractor to another, Kirkwood lost about three days of pool-prep time, so it ultimately had a three-day window. But staff moved quickly to achieve a smooth, on-time opening.

With the new staff, MPM is in a stronger position, Withrow said. She and Henke believe this was an isolated incident. However, industry expert Kevin Post worries this could indicate problems to come for lifeguard- and pool-management companies. “This business is becoming very challenging,” said the principal and studio director of Counsilman-Hunsaker, also of St. Louis. “They’re competing to get work, so they have to offer low prices, but they’re also competing to get staff, which means they need pay well. Their margins are tight, and their biggest expense is staff.”