About this time each year, our company begins to think about what has become a tradition for us ––our annual Spring Pool Tour. This will be the eighth year that we coordinate a collection of our pools to demonstrate the value of ownership and our work in particular.

The idea was partly inspired by our local Parade of Homes, where about eight custom-home builders each design and construct a project for people to tour and see the contractors’ quality of workmanship and building styles.

There was another impetus. We would take individual clients to projects we had built so they could see how a pool looks with, for instance, a waterfall, spa or a specific interior. Every time, the customer would say, “These are a lot more interesting in person! To hear the waterfalls and feel the materials is so much better to help us make our decisions.”

So we decided to coordinate a tour of our pools. It is an easy way for dozens of consumers to see six or seven projects instead of us taking them individually. The tour is free to consumers, doesn’t cost us a lot of money, and it gets people in front of our pools, which we think are unique.

After the first one, a few consumers said, “You have to do this every year. It was so helpful. ”

We usually hold the event the first weekend in June. Things are in bloom and landscaping looks its best. Most of the pools are managed by our service department, so we know they’re open and ready to be shown before Memorial Day. Also, our construction schedule for the spring is usually full at that time, so we use the tour as a way to encourage building projects in late summer, fall, or the following year.

The tour usually features six pools located relatively close to each other, to make it easy to travel from one to the next.

We try to have something for everyone, with a mix of geometric and freeform designs. And we don’t just feature the showstoppers, or award-winning installations. Simpler installations have their place, too, so people don’t pigeonhole us as the guys who only do $400,000 pools.

The tour is self-guided. We provide a map and directions, so they can spend as much time as they want at each site, and they can go in any order.

We station one employee at each site and supply them with information about the pool’s or spa’s size, materials, features and equipment, so they can answer questions. Last year we began to involve more of the other contractors that had a part in the projects. Landscapers, hardscapers, home builders, video and audio specialists, and fence contractors were invited to bring representatives and answer questions specific to their trade. They also can bring their brochures, so it’s a nice way for them to get some business out of it, too. We also encouraged them to invite their customers or prospects so we can get a larger group of leads for everyone to share.

Sometimes we’ll have a cocktail hour at the end of the tour, where consumers come back to one spot and talk more with us one-on-one. So it’s just kind of a fun, informal day.

To promote the event, we’ve taken out some advertisements in local newspapers. We participate in a local home builders show in March, which is a great time to promote the tour. Direct-mail invitations are targeted to zip codes in more affluent areas where we work. We also invite local home builders to take the tour.

In preparation, we’ll take two days to make sure everything is in top condition. The Thursday and Friday beforehand, technicians from our service company will go to each pool, do a quick vacuum, and make sure everything’s running the way it should. A lot of times if there was a landscaper involved, they’ll put new mulch down and get the landscape looking good.

We average 50 to 100 people coming through each tour. Some are friends and family who want to see what the guys do, but they have generated business for us.

We typically get one or two sales from each tour. Some people have just shown up to our tour and decided to go with us. More often, though, the event helps with prospects who are on the fence, who maybe have their estimate and drawings but haven’t been able to decide. It can kind of push them over the hump. For one thing, they can wrap their heads around why pools cost what they do. Our projects might be priced at $100,000 or more, compared with the typical vinyl-liner installation here that can sell for $30,000 to $40,000. So a lot of times it’s not that the people don’t have the money, they just need to be able to justify the expense.

But the tour also provides information that will make the design and construction process easier for consumers when they build in the future. They better understand the spatial relationship of a pool to a yard, so they know what a 20-by-40-foot pool looks like versus a smaller or larger pool. Many take notes on what they like or don’t like and refer back to that during their design consultation. A lot of customers who already have contracted with us come to the tour to help them decide on pool finishes and material selections.

When we approach our customers about including their pools in our tour, they’re usually very receptive. Going into it the first time, I was expecting a challenge. But a lot of times they’re proud of their pools and they usually have enjoyed the process of designing and building it, so they want to see us succeed.

A lot of our customers who had taken the tour before contracting with us will volunteer their pools. They want to do it because they know that it helped them. We probably have three who’ve asked to be on this year’s tour.

Even if they can’t do it one year, a lot of people say, “Give us a call next year. We’d love to help you out.”