Long before renovation work became a primary revenue stream for the pool industry, Tony Adams saw the segment’s potential.
It was the early 1990s, and Adams had just relocated back to Northern California to take over his father’s company, Earl Adams Tile and Coping. He was coming from Dallas, where he had run his own firm with a partner.
While chatting with the salesperson in charge of renovation projects, he learned that the company had several reps to scout out new-pool work, but only one took on renovation prospects.
“It was a Friday afternoon,” Adams says. “[The renovation salesman] had a whole stack of leads that had come in that week, and he threw them away. I asked why and he said, ‘I’ll get that many more next week. I just picked the ones closest to the office to go see.’
“We had so many renovations, he couldn’t possibly run them all. We were getting 30 and 40 calls a week. So it was fairly obvious that was something we had to exploit.”
Adams renamed the company Adams Pool Solutions, hired a hydraulic and electrical specialist, learned more about new phases of construction, and was ready to go. Eventually, he transformed the firm into one of the nation’s first renovation specialists, with remodels accounting for 70 percent of his business.
Then, about three years ago, as other companies were embarking on their renovation learning curves, Adams Pool Solution took another step — working internationally. The company now teams up with Pebble Technology Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz., for jobs in Mexico and Guam; and Adams is currently laying the groundwork to go as far as South Africa.
Here, he talks about embarking on projects outside the United States.
The international venture is something Adams envisioned along with Terry Jirovsky, former president of Pebble Tec. The two were on a trip to Thailand to purchase white cement, because materials costs had gotten so out-of-control in the United States. “Our flight was about 20 hours long, so we sat there talking about how we need to start doing work abroad,” Adams says.
Now, the two companies work together on international jobs that come Pebble Tec’s way.
When the first project came about three years ago, it arrived with a bang. The client rented out his Puerto Vallarta home for $15,000 a day, and wanted the 200-foot-long pool refinished before the next tenant arrived. “He needed the pool stripped and Arctic White Pebble Sheen put on in 40 days,” Adams says. “We’d never done anything abroad. We didn’t have the equipment.”
Adams knew that if he wanted to work overseas regularly, he needed to establish an easily repeated system for taking the show on the road. It wouldn’t be as simple as stepping off a plane and reporting to work. “You look at one of these big resort pools and, yeah, you could do it in your backyard pool. But we were going 3,500 miles,” Adams says.
He would have to ship his own equipment. (It isn’t commonly found in Mexico and other countries, which generally don’t apply pebble products pneumatically.)
To make it work, Adams needed portable pneumatic pumps that could be shipped in containers around the world. He found two manufacturers in the Western United States that make such equipment, but only one could provide what he needed in the approximately 10-day time-frame.
It had to be put together so quickly, neither they nor Adams could perform their normal protocol.
“He built it and, as we went and picked it up, it hadn’t even been tested,” Adams says. “We got halfway back and one of the axles fell off.”
Fortunately, his company performs its own mechanical repairs and has fabrication capability, so they were able to fix the machinery on their own premises in time to send it off.
“We pulled it off,” he says. “We figured if we could do that, we could do anything, and it’s gone from there.”
Adams also had to learn the ropes of shipping.
“That was a big learning curve,” he says. “We paid a lot of extra money that we didn’t need to.”
The first time around, he didn’t know the exact tariff rates, so he paid about 35 percent — rather than 25 percent — to what were essentially corrupt drivers.
“When you go outside the country, you’re playing by their rules,” Adams says. “You’ve got guys on the border saying, ‘Hey, Amigo, for $800 I can expedite your load to get it across the border. If you send me a check it might take two weeks — you send me cash, I can do it in three days.’”
Taking it on the road
Adams doesn’t rely on help supplied by clients or general contractors. Instead, he always brings his own workers. For jobs in Mexico, Adams combines his own crews with Mexican-based workers who come recommended.
“[Some of our workers] have family who live in Guadalajara and outside that area … so we know who the good guys are and aren’t,” Adams says. “I send my foremen, and we get 40 quality people who are used to working in the United States.”
In countries where he doesn’t have those connections, he transports all his own men. He recently did a project in Guam, a full 7,000 miles away from home base: “We took everybody from Northern California.”
For the most part, working in Mexico and Guam has gone smoothly, but occasionally laborers on the jobs in Mexico get harassed by locals.
“Some of the other workers were telling our guys that they work too fast and too hard, that they need to slow down,” Adams says. “It’s a different culture down there. They get paid x amount of dollars a day, and if they work too fast, they work less days.”
With Adams Pool Solutions currently bidding jobs as far away as Egypt, Dubai and South Africa, some of his workers can expect to be away longer. So far, the longest job has taken about 12 days. But when work begins in the Middle East and Africa, workers could be away for about three weeks.
It is costly, but, he figures, it beats trying to round up labor in a country where he doesn’t know the workforce. “If they want to provide us with some laborers, that’s fine,” Adams says. “But as far as installing Pebble Tec, I won’t do it any other way.”
Needless to say, pricing out the job is crucial.
Adams always bids in U.S. dollars, so that part stays the same. But he has to account for travel, boarding, tariffs, taxes and other price variables, so each project takes some in-depth research and investigation.
“Usually when I bid something they say I’m too high,” he explains. “But for flights alone, you can pay $2,000 per person. When you’re taking 20 people, you’ve got $40,000 just in airfare. So our average job is a couple hundred thousand dollars. It’s worthwhile, but if you try to nickel and dime it, you’re going to get in trouble really quick.”
Preparing for these particular jobs can be nerve-racking, since many of the locations don’t have much in the way of supplies. “You have to build that project time and time again on paper and in your head,” Adams says. “If you forget something, you’re pretty well out of luck.”
Especially now, as he prepares to work in countries that are farther away and not as influenced by American culture, the packing must be airtight.
But all the intense preparation and departure from his comfort zone has been worth it, Adams says. The company has worked on pools at exotic hotels and casinos, and homes for billionaires who require nondisclosure agreements. And the projects have been good for the company’s portfolio.
“It’s interesting and fun,” Adams says. “I enjoy people and new places. I’m the type who can get bored on vacation, so this is kind of like a working vacation.”