When I was a kid, my friends and I used to play a game that we called “Race to the Bottom of the Pool.”

The rules were simple: Two of us would stand side by side at the edge of the deep end, jump in, and see who could be the first to grab a penny from the pool floor and bring it to the surface.

Whoever won got to stay in the game and play the next person. Challenge by challenge, penny by penny we raced to the bottom until only one kid was left and crowned the winner. Those were good times.

In my market, and I am guessing in other markets around the country, a similar game is being played — only it is not kids having fun.

This game is between companies trying to win a race that cannot be won, a race that can ultimately put a company underwater forever. This business “strategy” is not a strategy at all; it is in fact a set of concrete flippers that drags down the value of an organization and, more importantly, an entire industry.

This is it: Our industry has hit the bottom of the pool, and if you’re one of the company owners holding your breath waiting for the water to clear, I suggest you abandon the race, swim to the surface, and look up at the blue sky.

In 2007, more than 23,000 pools were built in Phoenix. At that time, there were more than 300 pool companies in business.

Flash forward to 2010, when about 3,800 pools were built, and the pool builder count is down to around 50. The past few years have been hard on all kinds of businesses, and I understand that many other markets have been decimated just like this one. So what do good companies do to survive? The answer is obvious: Cut costs and try to find other avenues of revenue. Company owners need to do what’s necessary to remain in business, without damaging their core product or the industry overall.

OK, so here we are in early 2012. And if you want to grow your business, you MUST stay out of The Race to the Bottom and instead rise to the challenge of elevating not only your own business, but our livelihood.

I believe in a collective commitment to excellence and that, as an industry, we can sink the players and keep the real professionals in business next year and in the years to come. In order for it to work, everyone has to contribute and everyone must be willing to change old habits and outdated business models. We need to be realistic in our marketing and advertising — in other words, garbage like, “Lowest Price” and “Fastest Build Time” just doesn’t cut it.

My plea to you is to hold the line, raise the bar, create your own niche, reinvent who you are, or just remember why you got into this business anyway.

Remember that we build dreams. We create pleasure, recreation and stunning masterpieces that enhance the lives of millions of pool owners around the world. A swimming pool is more than a vessel of water, and it’s more than concrete and pipes. A swimming pool is a lifestyle expression and a conduit for wonderful memories just like the racing games I participated in more than 40 years ago.

As another year ends and you look toward the coming season, I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone, change your paradigm and look beyond the next pool sale. I encourage you to sell value over price, to sell quality over quantity, and to measure your success in ways you may not have done in the past.

And most of all, I encourage you to remember that in the “Race to the Bottom,” no one wins.