Traditional pool companies are one of the least understood businesses in America. They rarely build pools. Generally they are brokers for the people who do. They collect money from homeowners and pay various other contractors to build a pool for them, keeping a good percentage of the money as they go. Most potential swimming pool buyers figure, incorrectly, that if the state gives a pool company a license, they must be ok. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most pool companies have minimal knowledge in good design or how to build a quality, exceptional pool. The subs that do the work have little knowledge of pool building outside of their specialty, and build what they are told based on the plans presented to them by the pool company.
All pool companies fall primarily into one of four categories when it comes to their skills and understanding of what it takes to do excellence in the pool industry. The four builder types are as follows.
- The Incompetent
- The Marginal
- The Adequate
- The Exceptional
The Incompetent Builder
This is a category of builder that knows very little about the design or science of pool building. They have managed to work in the pool industry long enough to qualify to get a state license. They compete primarily on price. Design is choosing a cookie cutter design from the template pile and building that pool to the code minimum. Many will have an advertised pool at the home show or in the paper that is unbelievably low in price. Their competitors know they can’t build a pool for that price. Their customers know they can’t build a pool for that price. The only people who believe that they can actually build a pool at that price are themselves! They try to compete on price by using the cheapest quality pool equipment, the cheapest subs, and cheapest building methods, many times doing the work themselves in areas they are not qualified to work. They work at the lowest margins with no room for any surprises. They try to get you to believe that there is a free lunch.
Builders who were laborers on a concrete crew, plumber’s helpers, or sales people with little construction experience run these types of companies. They do not have the knowledge that it takes to do excellence in all areas of design and the building of quality swimming pools. This is the typical pool company you read about, in the newspaper, that has gone out of business and left dozens of homeowner’s with incomplete pools and taken most of their money.
If the absolutely lowest price is your main criteria without any care as to quality with your swimming pool purchase, this is your type of builder. If you want to find a builder like this go to your state’s Registrar of Contractors website and find the guy with the most existing and past complaints against him. You will then have the contractor that will build the lowest priced pool! Good luck!
The Marginal Builder
This is typically a builder that has survived in business for many years. They tend to have learned their skills from another marginal builder 30 years ago and have not changed a thing. They stay in business but do not embrace new technology. They tend to build for owners who have the "a pool is a pool” mentality. The pool you will see from this builder is the cookie-cutter design pulled from their nice glossy brochure and then built like it was in 1977. The first and maybe only question they ask you is… Do you like the Trade Winds or Bahia design best? They are generally built with an oversized single speed pump, tiny plumbing, a sand or DE filter, a hose end vacuum plugged into the skimmer, and three feet of kooldeck around the pool, etc. These types of pools are normally priced in the middle of the pack. Although these pools are moderately priced, they are very expensive to own and operate, as there is no thought toward energy efficiency or long term maintenance. The Marginal Builder usually has a service department to make those repairs when things go wrong. Hummmmm… Do you see a business strategy here? The Marginal Builder’s sales person will spend more time measuring your yard than he does finding out what your desires and needs really are. This is the category most pool builders fall under. They are not generally affiliated with professional organizations, but if they are, they rarely attend trade shows or national educational seminars.
If you want to know the best way to do almost anything in the pool business, find out what the Marginal Builders are doing and do the opposite! One example is that the Marginal Builders have for years designed pools with large pumps and small plumbing. They should design pools for better flow, with small pumps and large plumbing. They think it is easier to get that contract signed if they "give away” a larger pump. Sounds good. Ooh-ooh more horsepower, what a deal. The trouble is the pump will be noisy, use more electricity, and beat itself to death.
If you are looking for this type of moderate pricing but want a better quality pool talk with Pool Planners about their owner builder program. Pool Planners will not build this type of pool but they can help you get a better basic pool built with quality and good design for costs similar to those of the Marginal Builder.
The Adequate Builder
These builders will be a step or two above the Marginal Builder as they are not afraid to embrace a better quality pool if asked to do so. Their sales people like the bigger commissions and know a little more about pool construction and design than the Marginal Builders. However the Adequate Builder still tends to be scared of competing on quality and often reverts back to price. This usually means they show you a higher starting price but start to discount almost immediately. This type of company will generally have won several national design awards. The trouble is that most design awards are judged on a photo of the pool and not how well it is built or performs. The Adequate Builder will belong to a professional organization but rarely has their staff attend trade shows or educational seminars.
The Adequate Builder’s sales person generally does a lot of talking. I mean a lot of talking. Did I mention they really talk? They talk about how great their product/company/self is rather than listening to your needs and wants. This comes naturally to them as they learned to sell in the used car industry. (Really! I think the pool industry is where a lot of used car sales people go when they become too "edgy” for the sales lot.) I can’t tell you how many times I have heard potential clients tell me about their experiences with the sales person: after telling the sales person EXACTLY what they wanted, the proposals that came back were not even close.
These companies, like the Incompetent Builders, also tend to run ads that are too good to be true. However these companies know they can’t build a pool for that price and never do. No one would want it. They are relying on getting you in the door with a pricing gimmick and converting you to a much higher priced pool. Can you say bait-and-switch? Just like the car dealer they used to work for. These types of companies tend to have service companies and repair departments, too.
Although Adequate Builders do not design every pool with the best hydraulics, engineering etc, they can build a pool to an adequate standard if provided with the proper information from an exceptional designer. Their pricing is higher than the Marginal Builder unless they begin to discount. These are the companies that realtors generally push. Many realtors don’t know the differences between the Adequate Builder and the Exceptional Builder; a ham sandwich tastes great compared to fried mush, especially if you have never had prime rib.
If you are looking for the better builder, without blowing the bank, this is where Pool Planner’s owner builder program really shines. Pool Planners can help you build a pool to the highest standards, often at a lower price than the Adequate Builder.
The Exceptional Builder/Designer
This is the builder/designer that looks for excellence in everything. They install a variable drive pump on most pools. They design properly balanced hydraulics systems that aim for 4.5 feet per second flow rates and don’t exceed 6 feet per second in any direction, ever. All exceptional pools will have an in-floor circulation/cleaning system. This type of pool is not based on price, but value. It will be designed with the lowest long-term operating and maintenance costs possible.
The Exceptional Builder/Designer will listen. There should be an extensive design criterion worksheet for the homeowner. This may encompass up to a hundred or more questions designed to find out who you are and what you need or want. A good designer will be able, on paper, to show you what you want and be able to move the design towards your budget. A good designer will also be able tell you "no” when appropriate. The customer is not always right if there is a liability, danger, or other problem inherent to something they want in the design. A good designer will tactfully move the client away from fads, gimmicks, and/or other items that may not be to their advantage, or work in a total design package. A great designer will create a nexus of design factors in shape, color, materials, texture, and workability, all within budget.
The Exceptional Builder/Designer is rare. They will hold the APSP Certified Building Professional designation as well as the APSP Certified Service Professional designation. They regularly attend trade shows and go to every educational seminar given. This type of designer/builder will have the highest price of all contractors. A homeowner desirous of this level of quality may bring in a designer, sometimes from out of state, to help him achieve this level of excellence before contacting builders.
If you’re looking for an Exceptional Builder/Designer without the exceptional price tag (!), call Pool Planners today. We offer quality design and builder services (Arizona licensed contractor) with exceptional value.