Countering build delays, fly-by-night competition with quality, honesty
In this time of great uncertainty, swimming pools are in high demand. The closure of many public pools, the disruption of vacation plans and people spending more time at home have meant pool builders are swamped with orders.
Before the current health crisis, a good day of sales leads at Bi-State Pool & Spa in O’Fallon, Missouri, meant three to five phone calls. This year, the company is getting over 100 daily calls from people interested in having a pool built. Bi-State is completely booked for 2021 and is taking orders for 2022 and beyond.
“It’s crazy,” says Rick Woemmel, the company’s president. “It’s absolutely nuts.”
Until this year, he says, the first thing people wanted to know was how much a pool would cost. Now, the first question they ask is how soon the pool can be built. Pool builders across the country report similar experiences.
How does a builder keep customers engaged during a long wait for construction to begin? How do they prevent customers being lured away by a lower-cost competitor?
“The single most important thing we do to prevent cancellations is to give accurate timelines,” says Jamie Braddy, CFO of Parrot Bay Pools in Raleigh, North Carolina, which specializes in installing fiberglass pools. She says her company does business with manufacturers and distributors that provide accurate delivery times — and has severed ties with those that can’t. As a result, Parrot Bay has received and stocked items in a timely manner throughout the pandemic, and has kept waiting clients updated on the progress of their orders.
“People deserve leadership and accurate information in times of uncertainty,” Braddy says. “Sending email updates to our clients has been extremely helpful for them.”
At Almar/Jackson Pools in Jupiter, Florida, the lead time is now two to three months for new pools and 13 to 14 weeks for renovations.
According to Almar/Jackson vice president Drew Nash, even before a contract is signed, clients are told when they can expect work to begin and how long the process should take to completion. Customers in the queue are updated every two to three weeks.
“Communication is the key to happy long-term relationships, and we emphasize that from the very beginning with our clients,” he says.
Regal Pools in Houston is working about eight weeks out on new pool construction. Joshua Buzzell, co-owner and CEO, says his company has not had a problem with cancellations. “We set expectations, and most of our clients are just fine waiting on our company to build their pools,” he says. “They chose us for a reason.”
While it’s great that so many pool builders are busy, there is concern in the industry that fly-by-night operators may come into a market and try to exploit demand, luring customers with promises of being able to build a pool quicker and cheaper. What’s a legitimate pool builder to do?
Thanks to its retail store, Almar/Jackson has established long-term relationships with many customers who stop by regularly for supplies and water testing. If these customers seek a new or renovated pool, they are unlikely to be lured by a lower-cost builder, Nash says. For new and repeat customers, the company takes plenty of time to outline all project details, explain their best practices and answer client questions. A well-informed client is less susceptible to the false promises of an unscrupulous contractor.
“We do our best to ensure they have all the information so they can make a decision with confidence,” Nash says. “Education is always key.”
Braddy says it’s inevitable, when good builders are so busy, that lesser-quality builders will try to get into the act.
“It is hard for a customer to tell who is good and who isn’t,” she says. “Ultimately, I always tell people to follow their gut, and look for what the company does for their community and ways they give back. If a company is thinking of someone other than themselves, they have typically already overcome many obstacles and can serve their clients well.”
Woemmel has been chairman of the National Builders Council and president of the St. Louis chapter of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. In those roles, he was involved in maintaining the reputation of the pool and spa industry in the St. Louis area. Unfortunately, he says, unscrupulous contractors pop up, some performing shoddy work, others taking a customer’s down payment and skipping town.
“At the end of the day, I don’t really care if someone builds a pool with me, as long as they build it with a quality pool builder,” he says. “I always tell people to check with the Better Business Bureau. Check Facebook. Check references. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.”
Buzzell says the Houston area is, unfortunately, full of fly-by-night builders.
“They’re going to exist in any market you are in,” he says. “We see them all the time.”
He says his company’s defense against shoddy pool builders is quality service and a good warranty, which low-quality builders can’t match.
“This year will separate the professional pool contractors from the others who are just there to get the first check or two, then bail,” he says. “There will always be a bad pool company or two in your area. Just ignore it and beat them where it counts: with quality.”