For two years, Joe Vassallo wrote a bi-weekly column for the Home and Garden section of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His contributions ranged from swimming pool design and service issues to popular topics about creating an enjoyable outdoor living space. Eventually the newspaper changed its editorial content, so in 2008, the founder of Paragon Pools in Las Vegas decided to put his words to another use.
“People would stop him at all kinds of places, the grocery store, around town, and tell him how much they enjoyed reading his column. Many said they even kept copies to use as reference,’’ says Mary Vail, Vassallo’s publicist and a photographer. “So we thought, why not put all this information together in a book and share it with lots of people everywhere?”
They eventually wrote The Al Fresco Life: Pools, Spas, Bars, and Kitchens (Schiffer Publishing, 2009), an award-winning book that covers everything from pool design to outdoor living havens. It even includes recipes.
Since releasing The Al Fresco Life, Vassallo and Vail have witnessed the power a book has as a business booster. Other pool and spa professionals have achieved similar success with their own endeavors. Here, they share how becoming an author has improved their business.
Get involved in your community
Vassallo believes publishing The Al Fresco Life has given him credibility with consumers and a leg up on his competition, as well as providing an opportunity to do something positive for others.
He and Vail are longtime supporters of the Clark County School District Title 1 HOPE Homeless Education Program. So, when they published the book, it was only natural for them to donate the proceeds to the cause.
Thanks to their continued support, between book sales and fundraisers, they have given more than $23,000 to assist with school supplies, after school food programs, bus passes, clothing and more.
“It touched my heart when I saw what was going on,” Vassallo says.
Close more sales
Darlene Claire Preussner is no stranger to writing a book. She helped produce three outdoor-related publications while working for Green Planet Landscaping in Las Vegas. When she joined nearby Laguna Pool & Spa as its office manager in 2009, she discovered the company’s extensive photo archive. Without hesitating, she suggested the owner Duane Forte release his own book.
With Forte’s blessing, she began the eight-month-long project. Instead of only featuring Laguna designs, she concluded the best marketing tool for the company would be writing a book that provided insight to consumers regarding things they might not be aware of, such as automation, equipment and 3D virtual walkthroughs.
It also breaks down the variety of pool shapes and styles, waterfeature options, slides, outdoor kitchens and firetables.
“I didn’t want it to be fluff,” she says. “I wanted it to have some meat.”
In January, Schiffer Publishing released the 160-page Swimming Pool Innovations. Co-authored by Forte and Preussner, it features nearly 400 images of Laguna-built pools and backyard spaces, as well as photos of manufacturer products such as pumps and controllers.
Preussner hopes to have the book added to the shelves of some national chain stores and is working to get it reviewed in magazines and newspapers.
In the meantime, however, Innovations has become the go-to resource for Laguna’s sales team, which is using the book to help set up their second or third appointments with clients.
“It legitimizes [us], especially in Las Vegas, where a lot of pool companies have gone out of business. It strengthens our image to the consumer,” Preussner says.
It’s been less than six months since the book’s release, but Laguna is already seeing its impact on business.
“Helping with the sale has really shown,” Preussner says. “We had one customer who was carrying the book around and marking pages and every time she came in she pointed out something she liked. We’re building her pool right now. I really believe it helped in the sale.”
Market to a broader audience
Lewis Aquatech builds roughly 50 luxury, inground gunite pools each year throughout the Washington, D.C., area. The firm also has completed an extensive list of projects including outdoor kitchens, pool houses and overall landscaping. Despite operating for 30-plus years, however, the company lacked sophisticated marketing materials, says Jenn Smith, a project coordinator for the Chantilly, Va.-based company.
That changed when the owners Don and Joseph Gwiz gave Smith her first major assignment in October 2010, shortly after she joined the team.
“Plenty of magazines have featured us, but we didn’t have something that was ours, so we thought ‘why not go big?’” Smith explains.
In February 2011, after countless hours of learning desktop publishing software, sifting through hundreds of photos, and conceptualizing the book’s format, she brought Lewis Aquatech Coffee Table Book 2011 to life.
Unlike many of their peers’ books, the 52-page, faux leather, wire “O” bound (spiral), self-published title is not for sale. Instead, the company printed a small run of 100 copies with the intent of reaching the clients of some of the area’s leading architects and home builders. Currently, 60 professionals use the coffee-table book as a reference guide for homeowners who are considering a pool or landscaping as part of their new exterior design.
“We’ve already started seeing the first contracts being signed as a result of the publication,” says Smith, who also has received calls from more than 20 fellow members of the Aquatech Society of Pool Builders and Retailers through the country claiming they, too, would like to create a similar product. “Anybody can do it but you have to be ready to learn.”
Utilize staff and generate income
Scott Cohen had “write a book” on his to-do list for a while, but between juggling his design business, appearing on HGTV, attending speaking engagements, and instructing seminars, accomplishing the goal seemed nearly impossible. That is, until the economy took a turn for the worse.
“We found ourselves with a little more time in the office, and I did not want to lose any of my people,” says the owner of The Green Scene Landscaping and Pools in Los Angeles.
Instead of making staff cuts, he put his graphic artists, garden illustrator and other crew to work on a side project, and in 2008, he released the Outdoor Kitchen Design Workbook. In the ensuing years, he would put out six more titles, including Outdoor Fireplaces & Firepits, the only one also to be available digitally on Kindle, and the most recent book, Petscaping, which discusses landscaping with the pet in mind.
“We made an investment like any other investment, and it’s already paid off because we’re selling books,” he says. “As the pool and spa industry is starting to rebound, I can daily see sales increase on our Amazon account, especially with our outdoor kitchen book and Outdoor Fireplaces & Firepits, which is the best-selling title.”
Promoting his books online, combined with exposure thanks to seminars throughout the country and in Canada, has helped to generate interest with bookstores, construction supply houses and pool suppliers.
In February, Cohen put his books up for sale at American Building Supply’s six Southern California locations, and they sold out of his titles in 14 days. He also is in talks with Superior Pool Products to distribute his work, he says.