The pool and hot tub industry is constantly evolving, from technological advancements in equipment to new design trends. Although pool construction and design are often seen as “learn as you go” types of jobs, a more formal education can help you and your business in many ways.
“Education at any company really starts with the owner,” says Ed Gibbs, President and CEO of Gib-San Pools Ltd. in Toronto, ON. “But if the point of view is only directly from one individual, the problem is you have a very narrow vision of where your company will go.”
“We’ve got some really smart people that work for us, but if they’ve never been exposed to any kind of formal training or education in this industry, it doesn’t matter how smart they are—they’re going to learn by making mistakes,” explains Gordie Robinson, President of Cox Pools Service Inc. in Birmingham, AL.
“I know very little about building swimming pools,” admits Lance Irby, Sales Manager at Premier Pools & Spas in Sacramento, CA. “I can build great, beautiful pools with my team and design them. But the nuts and the bolts and the whys and the hows, all of the science and math—those are things that all of us have a tremendous amount to learn, even people who have been doing this for a long, long time.”
Enter GENESIS®, which has been teaching pool industry professionals in design, construction, engineering, and business since 1998. Thousands of students have taken GENESIS® courses, and many have advanced through the different accreditation levels: GENESIS® Associate, Society of Watershape Designers (SWD) Registered, and SWD Master.
Robinson first met GENESIS® co-founder Brian Van Bower about 15 years ago, when Van Bower was consulting on one of Robinson’s projects. After meeting Van Bower, Robinson thought to himself, “Whatever it takes, I’m going to learn what that guy knows.” Robinson started taking GENESIS® courses about eight years ago and is now SWD Registered. He has been sending his employees to GENESIS® for the last few years “in an effort to get everybody that works for us as educated as they can possibly be in this industry, and this is the best way I’ve found so far.”
The employees benefit just as much, if not more, than the employers. “It’s really created a positive culture,” Robinson says. “It’s been really good for morale. The employees really like the fact that our company is willing to invest that kind of money in them to train them.”
Irby agrees. Even though his employees have only been attending GENESIS® since the beginning of 2021, he has already seen a positive impact. “It gives everybody a level of enthusiasm and excitement,” he says. He describes how, especially in a year as busy as this one, employees’ mental and physical tanks are often depleted at the end of the day. GENESIS® actually refills their tanks and “puts a little pep in your step, because you’re excited about what you’re learning and you’re looking at things differently. It’s been good for us.”
Irby has been in the pool industry since 2012. As he started to hear more about GENESIS®, he realized that the SWD Masters and the projects that they do “are on a different level.” This created a desire to get himself and his employees up to that level.
“The value that’s added with [GENESIS®] is tremendous to both the company and the employee,” says Gibbs. “It goes back to the culture of your organization and what kind of culture you are creating, whereby the importance and investment in education is to help both of us grow—not just you to leave, not just me to use you, but to develop a symbiotic relationship. It has to be a journey together.”
GENESIS® is a serious investment, in several ways. Sending one student to one virtual course can be more than $2,000, and in-person classes before the pandemic were even more expensive when adding in airfare, lodging, and food. It is also an investment of time, with both virtual and in-person courses lasting 16 to 24 hours over several days.
If accreditation is the goal, that is even more of an investment. It could take over a year for an employee to earn the SWD Registered designation, which involves 150 hours of education and completing seven core courses that cover design, construction, and engineering. But employers are in agreement that it is well worth the time and money.
“The target is the SWD,” Gibbs says. He has three SWD Registered on his team, and two more will complete the requirements within the next few months. “Being SWD Registered adds that level of credibility and kicks up that level of education.”
“We’ve focused on construction and taking that construction track to get everybody that SWD Registered designation,” agrees Robinson. Although Cox Pools is a construction company, the required design courses help his employees gain a better understanding of what they do every day, he says.
For newer sales team members, “I’m putting them through basic construction classes as well as basic design classes, because those things go hand-in-hand,” explains Irby. “You can’t sell something if you don’t have an understanding of how it should be built.”
Gibbs and Robinson, who have been sending their employees to GENESIS® since before the pandemic, both agree that their employees really value the in-person networking and connections that they are able to make with other students. Gibbs explains, “That camaraderie that is created over that two or three days that the classes take place is part of that GENESIS® secret recipe.” Robinson says that students learn a lot from the class itself, “but when you take it with a lot of people who are in the same boat, you learn a lot too from those people.”
“In our world that we live in today, when you see groups of people wanting to raise the bar, there’s an attractiveness about that. There’s a magnetic attraction to wanting to be better. That’s where we want to be,” Gibbs says. “Clients smell that. Your other employees smell that. And that’s really success.”
How do these three employers sum up the benefits and importance of GENESIS®?
GENESIS® has given Robinson’s employees “confidence to move a little further in their ability to function and contribute to our company. It gave them some sort of energy that there are goals out there where they can learn more, and do more, and be more.”
“These classes will take you wherever you want to go in the swimming pool industry,” says Irby. “If you want to be in this industry long-term, this is your foundation.”
“It makes a better you. It makes a better company. It makes you build a better pool,” states Gibbs. “GENESIS® has proven year after year after year to truly be that gold standard.”
Premier Pools & Spas Elevates New Talent in the Pool Industry
Partnering with the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, Sacramento-based company is able to educate and certify young professionals
When Lance Irby came to work at Premier Pools & Spas for owner Keith Harbeck back in 2012, he didn’t even know what a skimmer was.
“But I found out pretty quickly!” he jokes, now 10 years into his career as a pool professional and sales manager at Premier Pools & Spas in Sacramento, California. Irby’s previous industry “experience” consisted of one public swimming pool lesson and some construction work. He rose to become the man his mentor Harbeck calls “the best pool salesman I’ve ever met.” That’s high praise considering Harbeck founded Premier Pools & Spas in 1988, a company that is now the world’s largest pool builder with franchises in over 60 locations.
Like many construction businesses, pool builders have struggled to attract and keep young talent like Irby. It’s something that Harbeck noticed and felt compelled to change.
“Although we have some salespeople here that had worked previously for other builders, it’s not really what we do anymore. And that’s true in other places, too, even in scheduling and supervision,” says Harbeck, who himself started cleaning pools as a kid. “I think it’s far more important to hire for character as opposed to skill. We can train and teach in this industry.”
Certification programs raise the bar
The Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA) supports that goal of bringing new life into the industry. PHTA sets professional standards and provides education and certification. Irby took “every single class” PHTA offered last year and became a Certified Master Pool Builder & Design Professional. It’s the highest level of certification under the PHTA Certified Pool Builder & Design Professional Pathway powered by GENESIS® and offered in-person and virtually.
Premier Pools & Spas just signed up 43 more people to begin their certification tracks this year, an investment Harbeck champions and that Irby says “really fast-tracked” his abilities.
Harbeck and Irby both say the message is clear: “This is a career. It doesn’t have to be just a job.”
“I had other jobs before I worked at Premier Pools & Spas. I would clock in at nine and clock out at five. And I knew when my breaks and my lunchtimes were, and it was mundane and repetitive,” Irby recalls. “Our industry is quite dynamic. I don’t know that we always represent ourselves as an industry, as a very professional environment or destination for skilled employees.”
Weathering change all comes down to customers and employees
“Dynamic” is an understated way to describe a long career in this business. The constant change is one of the reasons Harbeck has stuck with the business for these 30+ years. Technology has impacted everything. The move from phone book listings to online and text message advertising and communication. The digitization and increasing complexity of the permitting process. The shift to 3D software and virtual reality in sales and design. These are all areas that require new approaches.
“When I started in ‘88, yes, there were some elaborate pools, but not like today. There are so many features and options, and things people can add to swimming pools. It’s a much different product and a much different consumer,” Harbeck says. “So, it’s a relatively young industry when you stop and think about it.”
The technological acceleration comes as the swimming pool business is booming. It’s a flashback to the recession for Harbeck. Business peaked pre-recession when he was building 1,000 pools a year in the Sacramento area. By 2008, he was building 260 pools a year. It nearly put him out of business.
“It was the Great American Pool Depression. We had a 75% decrease in business. What it did teach me then, as always, it comes down to your customer service and your reputation,” Harbeck says. “The experience of building a pool has always been my passion. So, as we came out of that recession, I redoubled the focus on that.”
Harbeck hit the streets. He went door-to-door putting up fliers to drum up business. It worked. Premier Pools & Spas survived and thrived. For the first 10 years out of the recession, the business grew at 20% per year.
Training the next generation of pros
Last year Premier Pools & Spas saw a whopping 37% growth rate. Harbeck doesn’t bank on that being sustainable. Instead of stepping back from the day-to-day he has dived in deeper, especially where it comes to training up his next generation of leaders, like Irby, who in turn champion his emphasis on customer service.
“Keith is a great teacher. He treats people well. He is kind. He is humble. And when you’re that way as a leader, and then you instill that in other people throughout the organization, it just has a trickledown effect to even how we treat our customers,” says Irby.
Now Irby’s brother has joined him in the pool business. He says he will keep spreading the message that the pool industry is the place to be, that this is “a very good career (that) will take care of your family.”
Consider the newest Irby in the business just one more person who will be starting a PHTA certification program soon. Irby says he knows how it makes people feel to be empowered in their careers.
“Everybody was extremely excited about what they were learning,” he says of his team’s GENESIS® journey. “There was a lot of positivity on the job site the next day after being online. It’s a lot of work, but very fulfilling.”
Photo Credit: Jovan Valdez
Preventing Failures in Glass Tile Installations – What Are The Pros Using?
When discussing how to prevent failures in glass tile installations, we figured it best to consult with the pros. Known as a premier installer of artistic mosaic tile pool interiors, Danilo Bonazza has been the installer for many elite builders across the country. Part of the Tributary Revelation group, a network of high-end builders and service providers; Bonazza is frequently called in to consult on some of the most intricate and elaborate tile settings. Having access to the same social media groups we do, frequently Bonazza sees his fair share of posts regarding failures in mosaic tile installations. Consequently, having an in-depth knowledge of what products and methods are being used, he is often afforded an expert’s insight as to why and how specific failures have occurred.
Being in an elite class of high-end installers, Bonazza is called to perform his mosaic art in a variety of settings. The pool, being his canvas of choice; Bonazza has been relying on traditional tried and true old-world methods of tile setting. This, while in conjunction still utilizing the most innovative and reliable products available on the market.
Go-To Products for Glass Tile Installations
Bonazza insists that using the right products to perform mosaic tile installations in the pool is absolutely essential. That along with using inferior or substandard materials along and applying non-standard installation protocols is the reason for 90% of failures.
Partnering with The Tile Doctor, Curt Rapp on many projects, Bonazza utilizes one of the most popular line of products they distribute, the Litokol brand in the majority of his mosaic glass tile installations. We had a chance to chat with both of them recently, while Rapp was consulting with Bonazza on yet another inground pool project he was doing an installation on.
Rapp, who started Tile Doctor back in 2000 at first as an informational website that gradually morphed and conformed to his mantra of distributing best-in-class products in terms of health, wellness, and sustainability. “Litokol is exactly that,” said Rapp, “it’s not only high performance, but it’s incredibly environmentally friendly as well”.
Litokol, an epoxy-based grout system is often the product of choice for many glass tile interior installations. The Tile Doctor is the exclusive U.S. Distributor for Litokol products.
As far as The Tile Doctor is concerned, today the end-user in mind is often tradesmen and artisans alike that are looking for performance-based products that can help mitigate catastrophic failures and ensure successful applications.
Changing Perception About Glass Tile Failures
Rapp said he began attending pool tradeshows years ago in an effort to better understand the pool industry. Taking note of a particular event he attended in New Orleans, “I was talking to people and asking them do you do glass tile?” said Rapp, who explained that half of the builders he spoke to said they refused to touch glass tile projects.
He had met others who were doing glass tile projects and were eager to find better solutions. “A lot of them were involved in these education programs”, said Rapp, “they would lean in and say ‘well what do you got?’, generally they were involved in some projects with problems and were interested in learning how to set glass tile without failures,” explained Rapp.
As word about the Litokol products began to spread, Rapp suddenly became a very busy man. “We started to get a lot of calls from folks in the pool industry who said, ‘I heard you have the Litokol products, how do we get them?'”
“I’ve run into a lot of people who think just because they’re doing glass tiles in pools they’re going to have failures” and that’s just not true said Rapp.
Researching Best-In-Class Products for Pool Installations
Bonazza, who first started researching pool tile installation products back in the ’90s, has spent his career field testing products. “It’s great having laboratory tests, but you also have to conduct research out in the field” said Bonazza, who often subjects different materials to submersion tests in various chemicals to test their adherence properties while conducting his field trials when trying any new product.
Subsequently, he had become extremely proficient at using Litokol products early in 2002 in the application of mosaic tile installations back in Italy. When he relocated to the United States he was unable to find a suitable replacement for this product and found himself routinely making trips home and buying Litokol epoxy in Italy. He’d then bring as much of it home in his suitcase as he could fit. On occasion, he recalls even making a special trip back home to Italy just to get his hands on the product. “It was a big struggle up until around 6 years ago. They gave me Curt’s name and said he was their U.S. distributor,” said Bonazza who seemed relieved that his days as a transcontinental grout smuggler were finally behind him.
As an expert in his field, he says that there are primarily three main products that are his go-to solutions right now.
“Litoelastic which is an epoxy bright white adhesive has amazing properties. It’s non-sagging, easy to use, and mix. It’s not super tough on your hands and it bonds perfectly well. The fact that it’s so bright white really enhances the mosaics, especially the ones that are translucent.” said Bonazza, “I use their line of grouts, which are available in vibrant colors.”
“There are special ones like the crystal one that I use a lot. Whenever I have a lot of colors combined together that I use to make my artistic pieces, there are 20, 30, 50 colors combined with the shadowing and everything else. Choosing a grout color is almost impossible.” explained Bonazza, “If you choose a dark grey or a black, it shows horribly in the lighter colors of the mosaics in the whites and the yellows. When they started to come out with the crystal it was the perfect solution. You can also mix it with what Curt calls “Jewels” its a line of glitters that you can mix with this translucent grout that you can use to make your own custom colors which is great.”
“Also I’m using the autoseal for the expansion joints. It’s a silicone grade pool grout, plus it color matches all the other products they have so it’s a perfect line to do pool installation. There’s no one project I’ve done that doesn’t have these products in them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pool or one of my artistic pieces like my Marilyn Monroe.”
Aside from being glad that Tile Doctor carries the tried and true products Bonazza has come to count on, he also appreciates the level of customer service and support he receives from the company. This above all, he values the most in his relationship with the U.S. Distributors for Litokol. “Curt stands behind their product,” said Bonazza.
Listen to our complete interview with Curt Rapp and Danilo Bonazza on the Pool Magazine podcast.
Featured Photo Credit: Finnerty, LLC.
When Customers Don’t Want To Pay For Their Pool, Don’t Do This
These guys give contractors everywhere a bad name
Every single builder in the pool industry has encountered that one problem customer, the perpetual goal line pusher that is constantly moving the bar and making it almost impossible to finish their pool construction project. Quite often, it’s easy to get frustrated when a customer refuses to pay for work that has been performed on their property. There have been many times when I’ve heard pool builders say over the years “Man, I wish I could just go back there and jackhammer everything out.” What they don’t do, is actually act out their fantasies of getting even. No matter how frustrated a builder gets on a job site, there is always a better recourse to take than willfully destroying someone’s property and immediately opening yourself up to a civil and potentially criminal penalty.
Recently a video went viral featuring a contractor destroying a customers bathroom for refusing to pay the balance of their bill. The video itself elicited plenty of cheers from fed-up contractors on Facebook who have probably faced a similar situation themselves.
We’ve all been there and have been confronted with a customer that you just can’t make happy. It can feel like no matter how hard you work or how much you’ve done that they are impossible to please.
Destroying a Customers Property is Probably The Worst Way to Settle a Contract Dispute
Contractor Terry Gregory went viral this week for his rather unorthodox way of settling a job that went sideways with one of his customers. He was caught on camera destroying his customer’s bathroom after she refused to pay the balance of a bill he had submitted.
Obviously there are tons of folks who can empathize with said contractor getting stiffed on the bill and “taking back” his work product. Like many who saw the video that was my first gut reaction, however there are always two sides to every story.
The homeowner Amber Trucke, had been documenting her experience in a variety of Facebook Groups and was receiving feedback from ongoing work on the progress she was posting to the group.
Trucke’s complaints stemmed from the fact she had paid $3,000 down on a tile remodel for her bathroom but that as work progressed she noticed that her bathroom tile renovation was beginning to look like amateur hour on her dime. She posted photos of work that contractor Terry Gregory had performed to date. The reactions she got from the group left her with serious reservations about paying the balance of her $7,500 bill.
Many Facebook Group members told her that based off of the photos she was showing, that in their opinion the job was substandard and was a complete do over. Hundreds of homeowners advised her that the work was not up to snuff and told her not to pay the remaining balance.
Trucke had been going back and forth with Gregory and his business partner Jordan Cazares over the project and had been presented with a bill for $4,225.00 to which she stated the she was not prepared to pay yet because she had not had time to inspect the final work product and was not happy with the overall work based on what she had last seen.
The company she hired Dream Home Remodels of Colorado, released a statement to the news regarding the incident. “After several weeks of work for a customer, communication broke down at the end of a project. There was no displeasure expressed, and we proceeded to ask for payment on the project by the end of the day. Communication broke further after that and resulted in our company repossessing a tile shower.”
‘Repossessing’ the tile caused considerably more damage to both the homeowners property and the firms reputation. On camera Gregory was recorded saying “Is someone going to pay me? Let me tell you something. No contractor in the state of Colorado will fix that when they found out that I took it back because she refused to pay me. No one!” and continued to demolish the bathroom.
That turned out not to be true. After witnessing the video three local area contractors offered to fix Trucke’s bathroom for free. The behavior was all documented on camera and can probably be used in a civil suit against Dream Home Remodels of Colorado at some point. It’s important to note at the end of the day the contractor did not get paid the balance on the work they performed and may have caused future irreparable damage to their reputation for acting in such a fashion. Ultimately it may prove that there may not be a homeowner in the state of Colorado that wants to work with the firm after watching how they resolve conflicts with customers.
What Can Pool Builders Learn From This?
The lesson here as it applies to the pool industry is that no matter how angry a customer may make you, or how justified you feel in your frustration with their behavior and ingratitude, that there are often two sides to every story. Personally, after having seen the photos the homeowner posted, I would not have been eager to pay my final bill either.
A builders first impulse may be to say, “oh that customer is crazy” or “they’re just being difficult”. There are some who immediately shut down to criticism and refuse to accept that their work may not be their “A” effort and could be sub-standard. Not allowing for customer feedback and insisting they pay for work they are unhappy with is a recipe for disaster.
Thankfully we don’t hear stories of unpaid pool contractors acting out on their impulse to destroy a customers backyard. That’s probably the best way possible to go out of business. However, what this whole story can teach us how important it is to listen to the customer and work towards finding the best resolution that satisfies them.
It’s important to note that there are a few huge social media groups that cater to homeowners that are building a pool as well as existing pool owners. For pool builders to ignore the fact that their work is being posted on Facebook and Instagram and being critqued by homeowners is tantamount to living in a vacuum.
It’s a fact that homeowners are giving customers feedback on the pool construction process. When a homeowner encounters an issue that brings quality of construction or build decisions into play, they will often head to one of these groups to get feedback from others.
In some instances the comments they receive may lead to pushback on paying their final bill. How builders handle that criticism and proceed in satisfying their customers are what separates them from the Terry George’s of the world. At the end of the day, it’s probably better to file a mechanics lien than it is to act on impulse and harm your reputation.
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