Welcome to the Pool & Spa News Top 50 Builder rankings.

I rarely make promotional claims, but in this case I’m confident there’s no other venue honoring pool companies with the attention, care and comprehensive scoring system used in the our redesigned award program.

While redesigning the Top 50, I spoke with dozens of industry members to determine the most objective  and accurate way possible to rate builders.

With their help, we developed a six-pronged scoring template that I believe is a powerful indicator of a company’s overall quality. Here’s a breakdown of how it works.

Though construction revenue is no longer the only component used to rank the Top 50, it’s still the largest single piece of the equation. To be honest, part of me still thinks this is unfair. I know dozens of exemplary pool builders whose businesses are too small to make the list using this model, yet don’t they deserve recognition, too? What if a given builder is in Michigan, and therefore builds fewer pools — is it fair to punish them because of where their firm is located?

Yet after giving it some thought, I realized my reasoning was flawed.

First of all, at a basic level, making money is the primary reason we all work. No one enters this business to give pools away for free. Revenue is the cornerstone of every pool and spa business, so it stands to reason that it also should be a key element of our ranking mechanism.

Second, a high dollar figure actually is a symbol of something larger.

A business with a lot of revenue requires  the owner to keep many more balls in the air than one with less earnings. Larger companies generally have a higher number of digs, which means more sales calls, bids, scheduling, purchases, budgets, staff, planning, strategy and marketing. Doing those things well is the earmark of a successful business, and the Top 50 celebrates success.

But a strong bottom line is only part of the picture.

Stay with me now — recently I purchased a pair of pants from Ann Taylor (a hugely successful retailer) only to have the zipper break almost as soon as I wore them. A similar incident happened with one of Ann’s sweaters. If a company skimps on quality, the result will be less business over time, and we wanted to capture that fact in our Top 50 rankings.

To accomplish that, I racked my brains for a way of judging each builder’s workmanship and adherence to scheduling, but eventually scrapped that plan as being unrealistic. Instead, we devised a way to judge staffing, and made that the second largest component of a company’s overall score. The logic here is that if a pool builder is serious about proper training, his or her investment will clearly show in the final product.

We awarded a smaller number of points to builders with longtime employees.

Next we looked at a less tangible aspect of what it means to be at the “top.” To accomplish this, we created a sort of citizenship component composed of a builder’s membership in industry associations, nonindustry groups and a separate community service score. While I can’t say belonging to a trade group or local BBB contributes directly to a builder’s business, I do believe it helps the entire industry grow and should be rewarded. In scoring this section, I was pleased by the large number of builders who are members of multiple organizations. I was also amazed, and moved, by the commitment these builders show to their communities.

Indeed, this section was one of the more difficult to score because so many builders have woven charitable activities directly into their corporate culture.

The next category ranked the Top 50 Builders’ online efforts, and included the strength of their Websites and social media presence. Sites were awarded points for completeness, design and functionality. Extra points were given for a firm’s regular participation on Facebook and other social media.

Personally, I remain skeptical that Facebook provides enough ROI for pool companies to devote a lot of resources there. But the jury’s still out. Meanwhile, I believe participation on Facebook and other social media is a measure of a company’s ability to embrace new marketing outlets.

Finally, there were the reference checks. As part of the application process, we asked builders to supply us with two different types of industry-related companies we could call. First, we wanted firms where the pool builder is the customer, such as tile companies and plasterers. We talked with those folks about the reliability of each builder in terms of scheduling and paying bills. Second, we asked for a list of firms that employ the pool company, including home builders and landscape architects. The idea here was to get a sense of each contractor’s professionalism and ability to deliver what was promised on time.

We didn’t publish the reference scores for confidentiality reasons, but it was an effective way to learn more about each firm.

On a final note, though this was truly a group effort, the redesigned Top 50 benefited greatly from the tireless work, insight and expertise of our design and construction editor, Rebecca Robledo.