Paragon Pools, Las Vegas

Designer:Joe Vassallo

Winning year:2009

What he’s up to: Despite having to downsize slightly in the last couple of years, Vassallo has kept quite busy since his MOD win.

“The phone has been ringing a lot,” he says. “We were fortunate to be able to survive, and I think the worst is behind us.”

Vassallo has shared his success by giving seminars at pool and spa trade shows across the country. A main focus of these lectures is education, and he encourages attendees to stay updated on technology and earn industry-specific credentials.

Trends observed:Paragon has seen a lot of requests for “spools” — vessels that fall between a spa and a pool in terms of size.

“People want it a little bit bigger if they have the room,” he says. “They’re looking for an oversized spa to use for cooling off that also heats up quickly at night because it’s on the small side.” Fire pits, detailed stonework and accent waterfeatures are also big for his business now.

Because he sits on the board of directors for the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, Vassallo also has tapped into what other builders across the country are seeing these days.

“Everyone has said that their business is up. They aren’t looking for huge growth right now, just sustainable growth. I think a lot of us have learned a lesson.”

Hopes for the future:  “I want to grow our business without growing our company,” Vassallo says. He hopes to do that without compromising the level of customer service that Paragon prides itself on, and which Vassallo credits for keeping the firm afloat.

Mainly, he plans to apply the lessons learned during the economic downturn to his company’s expenses, and continue to run it more efficiently.

Poco Verde Landscape Inc., Tempe, Ariz.

Designer: Bob Owens

Winning year:2010

What he’s up to: After receiving the MOD award, Owens turned win into a successful marketing tool.

“We posted it in our main office and on the Website, and we believe it adds credibility to our business,” he says. “One customer even had us put in a spa very similhisar to the one we installed for Masters of Design.”

As a result of measures taken by the company, Poco Verde is holding strong. In fact, the firm is so steady that Owens and his brother, a local celebrity with a televised gardening show, recently launched a new venture. They now manufacture a line of organic fertilizers called Extreme Garden, which is stocked by several major stores in the Phoenix metro area.

Owens also continues to work with the co-winner of his Masters of Design project, Melinda Dalacas of Southwest Spas in Mesa, Ariz. The pair just completed a 16-foot sunken swim spa installation.

Trends observed:Aside from the growing swim-spa trend, Owens has noticed that “[people shopping for spas] these days are typically really serious buyers who likely had a spa before and know about the benefits.” He often deals with clients who know nearly as much about different spa brands as he does.

Owens says one trend that continues to hang on is remodeling.

“People are staying in the homes they are in, as opposed to moving to that bigger, better house,” he says. This has translated into a bigger market for all things related to the backyard.

Hopes for the future: Owens’ main focus going forward is to grow his business by looking at markets Poco Verde may not be addressing, and buyer profiles they haven’t considered in the past.

The firm will also ramp up its efforts to reach out to banks and title companies that own foreclosed homes, as well as the real estate agents involved in those sales.

“Typically the yards are in just terrible shape,” Owens says. “These are all potential clients.”

David Reed Landscape Architects, San Diego

Designers: David Reed, Angelina Sotelo

Winning year: 2010

What they’re up to: Since winning MOD, the folks at David Reed Landscape Architects have worked on some big projects. The company completed a remodel of the Harbor Club in San Diego, which included a half-acre of outdoor living space atop two high-rises.

“We had to move the spa and change the footprint,” Reed says. “That’s not easy on a sixth-floor roof!” The designers are seeing a number of residential pool/spa combination products as well.

Reed also recently traveled to Japan, where he toured 36 gardens in Kyoto for design inspiration. Some were more than 1,000 years old. 

“I can’t think of one garden that didn’t have water,” Reed says. “[That speaks to] our philosophy that water is sacred; that’s what you find in antiquity.”

Trends observed:Like many in the hot tub business, the designers have noticed a surge in swim-spa popularity. They recently installed one for a customer in her late 80s, which is indicative of the market these larger therapeutic vessels can open up.

“Another trend I’ve seen that hasn’t hit the U.S. yet are natural pools,” Reed adds. “Imagine swimming in a small pond out in the woods — this is one step more cultured than that. The idea is there are plants growing in one section so the pool is alive, but you aren’t swimming in muck with turtles biting your butt!” Perhaps landscape architects Reed and Sotelo are the ones to bring that trend stateside?

Hopes for the future: As the economy slowly improves and high-end clients feel better about spending money, Reed and Sotelo are eager to take on jobs that allow them to explore their full potential.

“I’m looking for that rare occasion with a customer that wants to give their architect the freedom to be visionary,” Reed says.