The current lockdown in Mid March had homeowners thinking if they want to stay in their homes or not. Staying in one area for an extended period will create a desire for re-evaluation. Homeowners are inquiring about how they could make their backyard pool space bigger and exciting. This is a great opportunity for the outdoor kitchen industry.
The outdoor kitchen not only creates space but also increases the value of the premise. Wade Fortin, the marketing manager at Bull Outdoor Products, says it’s a win for both the Homeowners and the outdoor kitchen industry. The company, like others, recorded massive sales during the quarantine. They had over a million views on social media and email marketing campaigns, and over 18,000 views on their websites in one week. This created excitement for the coming season.
Fortin states that people’s expectations of shopping for an outdoor kitchen will be on the rise if it hasn’t. Staying at home creates the desire to invest in an exquisite backyard. Even after the reopening of some states, homeowners still have the desire to improve their home experience. Contractors can make use of the interest in outdoor kitchen markets.
A considerable addition
Outdoor Kitchen and the pool and Spa industry have always been common. Currently, it’s the best time to make the most of what clients can do while staying at home.
Most times building a pool and installing an outdoor kitchen go hand in hand.chief designer and head of product at Kalamazoo, Russ Faulk
Outdoor kitchens make the backyard pool area interesting and exciting. It gives homeowners the feeling of restaurant experience. Indoor ovens, as well as grills, cannot perform on a restaurant unit level because of the heat required. But it still is a better option for the feeling is close to reality.
An Outdoor kitchen improves the homeowner’s lifestyle. It makes the meal feel like a special event. Many use their outside kitchen compared to their inside kitchen. According to Faulk, an outdoor kitchen has increased his time outside. He spends more time cooking outdoors than indoors. He is appreciative of the experience that he doesn’t have to feel constrained in the walls of his home.
An outdoor kitchen further appeals to the sense of smell. Kimberly Stuteville, a national sales director at Napoleon Grills, argues that clients can take foods whose smell they are sensitive to while outside. Cooking outside is also convenient for those who don’t like their homes filled with the smell of a particular food the whole day. An outside kitchen is a great place to have a good time and eliminates the need to move meals from the indoor kitchen to the backyard. Installation and maintenance of backyard pools involve a lot of money, unlike an outdoor kitchen that is cost-friendly. It is up to the homeowners to make this simple decision to add to their backyard pool experience.
Design and installation changes
The change in lifestyle caused by the Covid-19 crisis has affected constructions and installation of structures. Many homeowners disapprove of many servicemen entering their compounds. This has led to changes in designs, such as disregarding masonry, which was considered before the pandemic. Dealers are getting more requests on the installation of outdoor kitchen roofs to cater for all seasons. With the idea of spending more time outdoors in homes, consumers have opted for structures suitable for extreme weather. It has also led to an increase in the ‘Do It Yourself’ consumers. Homeowners who are very cautious about the social distancing rule opt to put up the structures themselves.
Webrooms and showrooms
Post- Covid, consumers will want to have an online experience of the products sold. After the crisis, social distancing will continue to be a part of people’s lives, and online presence will still be applicable. Some retailers have the advantage of space that they can use to showcase their designs and products. Retailers are hesitant about web rooms because insights from the bricks and motor dealers reveal that showcasing products online will reduce the number of people coming to the store.
Kimberly Stuteville disagrees, saying that a majority of consumers start online. When they have an idea of something, they first look it up online and assume the online displays are similar to the showroom. Web rooms create all kinds of ad mats, 360-degree views, and videos, making the consumer feel like they are in the physical showroom. The physical showroom is still in existence, and after the pandemic, clients can visit the showroom for a touch and feel the experience.
If they had a virtual experience, the physical experience would make them more comfortable. Philip Chamberlain, a national sales manager at Forshaw, states that display is very key in sales. Dealers select displays based on what is marketable. It also varies depending on the geographical locations. For example, states in the South will sell more refrigerators than in the North. Kalamazoo advises that dealers invest in displays to create a feeling of what the consumer would want.
You can venture into a variety of displays, like hand sketches and detailed CAD drawings, to show what is consistent with the inside space. Other Retailers have come up with the idea of setting up their outside kitchen display outdoors, to give the consumer an exact feel of the experience. They even go as far as having food give-away prepared in this kitchen. For those with limited space, the virtual display is still an option as people believe what you show is what you sell.
Hope for growth
Before the Coronavirus shutdown, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association predicted that U.S sales outdoor kitchens would increase by 16% for the 2020 season. Manufacturers have admitted to this prediction and even higher than expected sales.
This is not a new experience. Before, when the country faced a crisis, and people resulted in staying home, there was a tremendous increase in sales. With more and more uncertainty of the future, homeowners opt to invest in an incredible outdoor backyard pool experience.
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
Raising the Bar Through Continuing Education
Continuing Education – Pool construction and design are often seen as “learn as you go” types of jobs, but a more formal education can help.
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.”
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.
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