Times, they are a-changin’, and so are we at Pool & Spa News, with the introduction of several new blogs meant to keep our readers up to date and improve all aspects of business.

Welcome to my weekly contribution, “Under the Hard Hat.” I’ve been reporting on the pool industry for more than 20 years, most of that time specializing in the building and design sector. In that time, I’ve come to have such respect for all that goes into running a successful pool-construction company.

For the small operation, it’s up to one or two people to have the creativity needed for design; the nuts-and-bolts knowledge about each construction phase; the charisma, product knowledge and understanding of people needed to be a good salesperson; and the mind of a good businessperson. For those running large businesses, key managers need the ability to assemble a team that can accomplish all the above, with a foolproof business model that can be replicated no matter who’s in charge.

I hope in this weekly blog to help with all of the above.

But I’d like to start with more of a philosophical question: Does this industry place enough value on the services it sells?

For years, builders have gone back and forth about whether to charge for designs. More have decided the answer is yes, even if that design fee will eventually be credited toward construction contracts. I’ve long believed this makes sense. If architects, landscape designers and others can do it, why shouldn’t pool designers?

Current business conditions have brought this question into more stark relief. Since the economy went south, price competition among builders has evolved into a crisis, even forcing some out of business or prompting veterans to retire early because they’ve come to hate the game.

And of course, the Internet adds another facet. I believe everything should be done to ensure that the Internet retailers play fair. But I also can’t help wondering if the industry depends too much on earning higher profit margins from products while low-balling the specialized knowledge and skills that truly separate great pool and spa companies. As one distributor recently pointed out to me, plumbers and electricians have no problem charging healthy hourly fees for their labor.

Has your company undertaken recent initiatives to better underscore the value of your knowledge and skills? Do you think there’s more to the issue? Either way, I hope you’ll let me know.