Latham Pool Products partners with a tech design firm to release the industry’s first augmented reality pool visualizer for consumers
By Michelle L. Cramer
Picture it: A new customer contacts your pool company looking to put a pool in her backyard, but she’s uncertain what will fit and look the best. Your best designer spends what could be hours helping her visualize it. He measures, spray paints where the pool borders would be on the grass and meticulously creates a design.
But what if there was a way for the customer to get a clear picture of exactly how that pool would look in her exact backyard before she even contacted your pool company? What if the customer could send the placement, dimensions and shape of the pool she wants to you straight from an app before you even have the chance to talk, streamlining the design process?
Latham Pools made this wishful thinking a reality for its dealers. In conjunction with The Realizers, an augmented reality design firm out of California, Latham released beta versions of the Latham Pool Visualizer App and the web-based Latham Liner Visualizer this May.
Most of today’s customers are tech savvy, says Walter Kaczmarczyk, owner and operator of Vernon Poolman in Connecticut. “They are accustomed to using apps to shop for many things, so why not pools?” Kaczmarczyk says. “And with today’s hectic lifestyle, it makes sense to be able to explore different pool options for your backyard at your convenience.”
Augmented reality apps are the cutting edge in digital presentation technology, says Jeff McDaniel, regional sales manager for Latham. “These types of applications are already currently being used in interior decorating and remodeling, landscaping, home and commercial furniture sales, and the list grows,” McDaniel says. “The pool and spa industry has an opportunity with AR applications to step into the digital age to better compete for the consumer luxury dollar.”
Kaczmarczyk confirms that many of Vernon Poolman new clients can’t visualize a pool, even after seeing the backyard design his team puts together. The Visualizer from Latham changes that. “By allowing homeowners to pick a pool and place it virtually in their yard, they feel more confident in their decision and more likely to follow through with purchase,” Kaczmarczyk says.
In the summer of 2017, Scott Reynolds, co-owner of The Get Smart Group, a marketing consulting firm in California that works heavily within the pool and spa industry, had lunch with his longtime friend, Scott Mocha. Mocha was showing Reynolds an augmented reality app he designed for consumers to swap out rims on cars before making a purchase.
“I kind of had this light bulb moment,” Reynolds says, “and asked if we could do that with pools. No one has been using augmented reality for [consumers to shop for] big things. There are AR apps out there today but they’re games. They’re not putting a 40-by-16-foot pool in your yard. No one else has it; we’ve looked high and low.” Mocha told Reynolds it would be easy. So the two came together to form The Realizers and get to work on developing the app.
Meanwhile, Will Cappiello, product director for vinyl liner pools at Latham, had an eureka moment of his own. About a year ago he was having dinner at a friend’s house and something caught his eye.
“I’m always thinking of ways to market our products more effectively — how to help the consumer purchase and visualize our products,” Cappiello says. “They can’t walk into the mass market channels and see our stuff on an end cap. It’s very hard for them to visualize it. More and more people are leaning toward Pinterest, Houzz and social media.”
That night, Cappiello’s friend showed him an augmented reality app called 19 Crimes on a wine bottle, where scanning the label with an app brings it to life. “My eyes widened because I saw the potential for the pool industry,” Cappiello says.
Cappiello took the idea to a team member at Latham and she immediately suggested that he get in touch with Reynolds. “The Realizers had this vision and parallel paths,” Cappiello says. “It was just meant to be.”
Beginning in November 2018, development continued with Latham’s backing and input. In only six months, the current beta of the Pool Visualizer app and the web-based Vinyl Visualizer were launched in order to work out the kinks and get input from dealers and consumers. Updated versions of both are expected in October, in time for an official launch leading into the 2020 season.
Breakdown: Vinyl Visualizer
The Latham Vinyl Visualizer is available through the Latham website as a tool for consumers to choose a vinyl liner, whether for a new pool build or a replacement liner on a preexisting pool. “It’s very similar to how someone builds out a car online,” Cappiello says.
Homeowners pick from a preconfigured backyard layout and choose a pool shape that is similar to their own. Then they can choose from all of the liners Latham has to offer and see how each looks in an actual pool from a variety of angles, including with the pool both filled with water and empty.
“We sell more than 100,000 liners and the question I get [most often] is ‘What is it going to look like in the pool? Because all you’ve given me is a 12-by-26-inch sample and it’s so hard for me to visualize.’ ” Cappiello says. “The replacement liner business is three to four times the size of new construction vinyl-liner pools. So [the Vinyl Visualizer] solves a need.”
Consumers do tons of research when selecting products, says Jon Foshee, vice president of U.S. sales for Latham. “They don’t need to go and pick up vinyl samples to hang over their current liner and envision what it will look like. They can choose their new liner in the middle of the night with the Vinyl Visualizer if they want.”
Lambert Custom Pools in Springfield, Illinois, has already seen benefits from the Vinyl Visualizer. “We have been able to cut the lead time in ordering liners by a few days with it,” says Shaun Lambert, president. “On a recent pool build, the homeowner was able to make a decision from their home computer. It was the first time we didn’t have to drag liners out to the pool or take a drive to look at other pools to help the homeowner make a decision.”
Breakdown: Pool Visualizer
While the Vinyl Visualizer is currently web-based only, the Latham Pool Visualizer is an app for mobile devices. The app is intended to help consumers determine what size fiberglass pool will fit in their yards and what shape of pool they want. Traditionally, these questions have taken a long time to answer, with the aforementioned spray paint on the ground approach. The Pool Visualizer App, however, displays a virtual reality pool into the consumers yard that is visually accurate to within a couple of inches of margin, Reynolds says.
Consumers can move around to find the best spot for the pool, change the orientation of the pool and, once “placing it” within the app, can even view the pool from various angles as if walking around (and even in) it in their own backyard. They can save their choice, and then use the app to contact a Latham fiberglass pool builder. The builder has access to the consumers’ contact information and which pools they pick and can promptly provide quotes.
Matt Ottinger, co-owner and vice president of Bi-State Pools in O’Fallon, Missouri, says the Pool Visualizer saves builders time and energy. “Many people do not have a concept for how a pool will fit in their yard and the size compared to their home,” Ottinger says. “It provides a way to change some shapes so they can see what style they would like without a dealer having to spend a long time on drawings.”
Cappiello downloaded his first trial copy of the app while at his child’s soccer game and started showing it to the other parents there. Word quickly spread from there. “About two weeks later, I’m at a birthday party for one of my son’s friends and three moms I don’t even know came up to me and asked to see the app,” Cappiello says. “It’s a wow factor that I haven’t experienced in the industry in a while.”
‘We Call Dibs’
While Latham and The Realizers are the first within the industry to develop an augmented reality app for homeowners of this nature, they don’t expect they will be the only ones to do so. However, being first, Cappiello says, “allows us to have that roadmap and head start on what works and what doesn’t work. By partnering with The Realizers, we’ve got a great team in place. We think we’ll stay ahead and be successful.”
Reynolds says it’s all about the big picture. “Part of being first is that we have developed a huge amount of what I call ‘institutional experience,’ ” Reynolds says. “It’s not easy to make a pool that’s not a real pool look good in the ground. It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of time to understand very complex 3D modeling techniques. And we’ll be a year ahead of people trying to catch up to that.”
To that point, Cappiello recalls how the development process brought up issues they never expected. “You take things for granted, like light refraction, water levels and the radius on a deck,” Cappiello says. “So much knowledge has been passed back and forth.”
Visualizing the Future
It’s because of this shared knowledge that the innovation planned for the partnership between Latham and The Realizers has only just begun. The term ‘Latham Visualizer’ now encompasses all of the work Latham is putting into innovative consumer tools and there are plenty of other ideas in the works. “The long-term vision is going to include all of our products,” Cappiello says. “We don’t want to isolate it to just fiberglass.”
The old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is not lost on McDaniel, Latham regional sales manager. “Today’s consumers want to be able to see that image they have in their minds of their dream project before signing on the dotted line,” McDaniel says. “AR applications such as the Latham Visualizers accomplish that for a wide variety of builders, regardless of their digital technical skills, effectively and very efficiently.”