For pool builders, the question of how to handle low-ball bids
from competitors has come up many times. There’s one solution
I’ve heard from marketing consultants that I always thought
was a great idea.
But last week I was on the homeowner end of that exact sales
technique, and I now have strong opinions about what not to
Recently, I decided to buy automatic sprinklers. The shape of my
lawn makes it extremely hard to water, and I resolved to spend the
money for a better quality of life.
My first bid was for $800 from the gardener who works in my
neighborhood. He said the job required two valves, and that he
could tunnel underneath my driveway.
The second bid was well over double the first — $2,150
— and called for three valves. But the salesman agreed that
going underneath the driveway would be fine. When I mentioned the
$800 quote, he laughed. “You’ll get thin PVC and a lot
of plastic,” he said. “I only use Rainbird.” He
then explained why Rainbird’s products are the best.
It sounded good, and I was leaning toward hiring the guy …
until my next meeting. “Three valves?” The salesman
scoffed. “This job requires four, maybe five. And no way on
the tunneling. I need to break open the perimeter of your
driveway.” As far as materials, he used Toro, and went into
detail about why it was better. Total price: $2,500.
By now I was a bit bewildered and unsure of what to do. I thought
of pool customers and how daunting it must be to hear conflicting
information when there’s many thousands of dollars involved.
But I continued, determined to find the best fit.
The man from the fourth company only added to my confusion. He
explained that I needed new plumbing, and without it the job would
take six valves. But for $2,900 I could have a main line installed
along with the sprinkler system.
I almost stopped there, but a friendly salesman at my local nursery
recommended “the very best sprinkler company in Los
One more consultation won’t kill me, I thought. And if the
guy is kicking some cash back to the store employee, well
that’s just good business.
When the man came over, I told him I was intimidated and confused
by all the bids. “Why don’t we try this,” he
said. “I’ll pull out of the competition completely. You
show me the bids, and I’ll advise you on which companies seem
I remembered articles in Pool & Spa News where we
recommended this very approach when dealing with low-ball bids. I
needed a friend in this process, and eagerly agreed to his
Half an hour later, I regretted it. The man attacked all the other
bids, implied that only he could do the job properly, and broke his
promise to remove himself from competition. My
“friend’s” price, which he vigorously defended,
At that moment I decided to forget the whole thing. I have no idea
who to trust anymore, and would rather save the money and water by
I have a hunch that many pool customers have had experiences
identical to mine. This magazine has advised readers, when dealing
with low-ball offers, to tell a consumer they will pull out of the
bidding process and act as a consultant. The logic is that, once
trust is built, often the homeowner will give you the job. I will
never print that suggestion again without following it up with a
warning to keep your word.
Buying a pool is so daunting, so stressful, that the last thing
consumers need is to wonder whether the contractor is on their