Getting Plastered

Tips for pool pros to find reliable plaster subcontractors

By nature, plaster isn’t pretty. 

But when a customer sees the final plaster work of a pool job, it better look pretty enough to them. Otherwise, the pool builder — and their subcontractors — will hear about it.

Even if there are plenty of other less-than-ideal pool installation errors, a customer will inevitably gripe about plaster, experienced pool industry professionals say. 

“Pool plaster is one of the most important elements of the overall project from a client’s perspective,” says Dave Penton, president of Fluid Dynamics Pool & Spa Inc., in Fullerton, California. “It is the first thing you notice when you see the pool. You notice the color of the water and any textures the pool finish surface is presenting. If the plaster work is substandard, the client will be unhappy, and even the most successful jobs can turn sour with just this one deficiency.” 

That’s why pool pros say picking subcontractors carefully — especially plaster pros — is essential. 

“As a pool contractor, it is imperative that we work with a quality pool plaster contractor to minimize the possibility of sub-standard work,” Penton says.

Jon Temple of Tempool, Inc., out of Jacksonville, Florida, has plastered more than 55,000 pools. Alongside the plastering part of his business, he also teaches industry professionals from all over the world about pool plastering techniques and water chemistry. 

Johan Temple, an employee of Tempool Inc., sets a spa by using a hard trowel. It takes several passes for the desired smooth finish because it is done by hand.

While he has 140 employees to oversee, Temple also hops right in and works alongside his plaster crew — and changes up which crew he works with for quality assurance. Finding good plaster companies and subcontractors can be tough, he says, but it’s worth it to find the right fit.

“There’s such a demand for a pool plasterer,” Temple says. “There are a lot of independent guys working for four or five companies, and you get guys splitting off and starting their own companies. Then you have uneducated and unsupervised pool plastering guys out there.”

He advises other pool pros to stay wary of hiring the cheapest contractors and instead look for the ones who are investing professionally in their future. Temple says one Las Vegas company called him recently looking for training as they were losing their employees to other companies paying cash under the table. 

Beware, he says, of working with any company hiring workers solely based on how they can pay workers on the cheap.

If I’m looking to hire a pool plastering company, the first thing I’m looking for is insurance.

Jon Temple, Tempool, Inc.

“If I’m looking to hire a pool plastering company, the first thing I’m looking for is insurance,” Temple says. “If they don’t have workers’ comp and general liability, you’re going to get in trouble. If they haven’t taken steps to get that, they don’t have skin in the game. They’re not planning to be there for a long time. You want to make sure you’re doing a better job. Doing a better job means you’re going to be professional.”

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He also advises pool builders to find someone who shows up professionally to an interview or first job appearance in a uniform, a clean vehicle and in decent shoes. 

“We’re finishers; we’re the last person on the job,” he says of plaster subs. “If they’re not professional people all the time, they’re not going to be a professional person on that job.”

So, how is a pool builder to find these unicorn plaster pros? 

Brent R. Lane, director of operations and marketing of Artistry in Mosaics, Inc., in Fort Pierce, Florida, says while it takes time to find true pros, it’s worth it to ensure clients are happy overall.

Lane recommends obtaining professional referrals — from other pool pros, distributors or local manufacturer technical representatives — to qualify a reputable plaster subcontractor. 

With that type of investigative approach, Lane says most pool builders would be hard-pressed not to find their dream plaster company or subcontractor. 

Lane also advises builders to take courses and/or get certifications in plaster work. In doing so, it educates builders on exactly what to look for when a new contractor is in place doing plaster work. 

“Go and watch the guy, and you’ll know pretty quickly if he’s the right guy for the job,” he says of bringing on new contractors. Lane says watching a plasterer will show where they’re sloppy and if they’re willing to fix errors relatively quickly. 

Penton agrees, adding that one area to watch out for is how the plasterer is protecting pool coping and decking. Penton says he’s seen far too many companies not take the time for this step and “you end up with plaster spots all over the place that are unsightly after the crew leaves.”

Finally, finding a solid plaster company to work with comes down to relationships. 

“I have always believed that relationships are critical to the success of any business,” says Penton. “Find a few trusted subcontractors, and stick with them and build relationships with them long term.” 

Penton says to use “favors” sparingly and to be fair with subs while also not letting them take advantage, either. 

“If you build a team of like-minded contractors to work with, you will be more likely to be able to leverage them if you have a less-than-perfect job,” he says, “or [when you have to deal with] the inevitable client who will never be pleased.”

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