In the last few years, package-pool installer Dan Lenz has become re-acquainted with some old friends.
“Back in the 1980s, we did more than just the pool,” says the service manager at All Seasons Pools & Spas based in Orland Park, Ill. “We handled things like fencing, for example, that weren’t necessarily our specialty.”
Then came the building boom of the late 1990s through the mid-2000s. There wasn’t the need for extra revenue then, Lenz recalls, so the company turned its attention to its core competency: pools. The homeowner would then take charge of hiring a fence builder, among other subcontractors.
“But we’ve brought that back in the last several years,” he says. “Now it’s even beyond fencing — landscaping, landscape lighting, anything having to do with the backyard as opposed to just the pool. We’re expanding our sights, so to speak.”
In addition, many package pool builders today are focusing more on areas of differentiation, or something distinctive that only they can offer the client.
Here, vinyl-liner installers describe how they’ve tailored their approach, as well as what they offer, to maximize the experience for their customers and boost the category’s profile.
Easy does it
In the upper Midwest, most homeowners maintain their pools themselves, says Ginny Mulvaney, owner of Custom Pools Inc. in Hopkins, Minn. Larger properties outside urban areas mean service techs can’t knock out a dozen pools over a mile or two radius.
Products like automatic covers and robotic cleaners have really caught on of late, and a major sales point for her is ease-of-care.
“Controls are big, and that means less maintenance,” Mulvaney says. “So we try to convince the customer that it’s not too much work.”
Her projects, which are strictly residential vinyl-liner installations, also lean more to the higher end. So in addition to the creature comforts, lighting has become a sought-after attraction. And because of their longer half-lives and lower cost — and, of course, user-friendliness — LEDs, she says, have by and large replaced fluorescents and fiber optics.
Work with me
George Hoge, owner of Suntime Pools West in Louisville, Ky., builds no more than 20 pools in a typical year. And each one usually is an original design.
“I draw them all out by hand, and then we figure out the walls and what additions we want to include, whether it’s sunning decks, benches, a fountain, you name it,” he says. “So we’ve got to be unique. It’s all about creating a haven in the backyard.”
For Hoge, the key is better collaboration with suppliers. For example, he now works much more closely with the manufacturer of his steel walls. And in the last few years, he says, the company has been more receptive to his requests for features like negative edges and reverse curves.
“The manufacturer really was willing to play ball on those things,” Hoge says. “So now I can pretty much go head-to-head with the gunite pools.”
Cementing your individuality
In the beginning, True Blue Pools in Dix Hills, N.Y., built its package pools using steel panels. But over the past several years or so, owner Michael Truehart switched to a poured-concrete walled system.
He now uses aluminum forms to create custom shapes.
“People are more aware of what’s available today,” Truehart says. “And this technique offers greater flexibility in the design of posts and features.”
In addition, he is now able to start masonry work — patios, decking, etc. — within days, because poured concrete allows him to compact the soil around the pool more quickly.
“Otherwise it can take several weeks or even months,” he adds. “So this way they don’t have to wait. And that’s big, especially in springtime.”
Bundles of business
Nearly every year, Burton Pools & Spas in Ft. Smith, Ark., offers customers a new vinyl-liner pool package.
It’s been the norm here for at least a decade, and company CEO David Burton says it’s often preferable to checking off each individual option line by line.
“Bundling is a big part of what we do,” Burton says. “It gives customers an opportunity to include features they might not have thought about.”
The latest, an energy-saving package, includes a two-speed pump, a cartridge filter, and a KVAR energy controller, which fine-tunes the motor’s electricity consumption and reduces the amount of reactive power (KVAR) that the load draws from the utility company.
“It’s as much about education as it is about bundling,” Burton adds. “When you can talk about a payback in a couple of years, it’s easy for customers to understand why it makes sense.”
And though he recently completed a vinyl-liner project for upwards of $120,000 — and regularly builds pools in the range of $60,000-$80,000 — Burton also sees his share of cost-conscious consumers.
Which is why he plans, in the near future, to offer a price-leader package, consisting of a 21-foot round pool, for about $15,000, “as a way to get the phone to ring a little more.”