On a Monday morning last summer, Paul Porter stood in front of a dozen salespeople in his company’s headquarters. In his hands, the CEO of Premier Pools & Spas Inc. held 30 “report cards” from customers.

Every single one glowed with praise.

That’s no surprise, Porter says. The company’s salespeople are assigned a grade point average based on customer surveys and feedback. “You get a 4 for a great review and a 0 for a bad one. If they don’t maintain a 3.0 grade point average, they don’t work here,” Porter says.

Tough love, some might say, but turnover at the Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based company is less than 3 percent. What’s more, every salesperson goes through an internal training program that includes hydraulics and engineering education. Porter believes that this differentiates his sales staff, allowing them to understand the possibilities — and limitations — of every backyard before a superintendent ever sees the design.

Porter and his partner, Keith Harbeck, believe that measures such as these help Premier maintain high quality while it grows.

For example, Porter and Harbeck insist on giving employees a level of autonomy that they believe maintains the staff’s entrepreneurial spirit. “I hire high-caliber people to come up with great, innovative ideas,” Porter says. “We’re bringing in college graduates and people from technology industries. They’re intelligent and understand the customer.”

In addition, customers with complaints can speak directly with Porter. “We have to send a message that pool No. 1,200 is as important as pool No. 1. Otherwise, everything else you say is a lie,” he says.

Case in point: Recently, a customer was furious after a deck contractor Premier had recommended bailed on the project. The company’s subcontractors placed a lien on the client’s home. Porter immediately paid the $1,500 fine and completed the deck at no additional cost to the homeowner.

This type of prompt action gets the customer’s attention. “Whenever we needed to talk to someone, they were available,” says Nancie Goodnough, a homeowner in Auburn, Calif., who bought a pool from the company last year. “Whenever Premier came to work on the pool, it was always a Premier truck and Premier employees. My husband and I are professionals, so we liked that they were professional.”

As a matter of fact, professionalism has become the hallmark of Porter’s success. “We understand the power of the relationship with the customer,” he says. “I think we can achieve being up there with any other discretionary-dollar industry. And very few industries have the sex appeal that ours has.”