Time. It is a limited resource and ultimately a good contractor’s most valuable asset. When you carve out and hold sacred the personal time needed for God, Family, Friends, Fellowship, Rest, Relaxation, and Recovery, the decisions you make on how you spend the time allocated to the “work-day” become even more imperative. Successful contractors are purposeful with how they spend their time, always cognizant that wasted time is something that can never be recovered.
Eliminating wasted time is one of the motivating factors that drive good contractors to improve themselves and their companies. Managing time becomes a differentiator that sets them apart from their competition. Contractors invest in developing systems and processes that pay dividends as their companies begin to run like well-oiled machines.
The best contractors devote themselves to improvement through industry education across all facets of the business — from design and construction to sales and business. They allocate resources to building a company that values relationships built; both internal with employees and sub-contractors and external with their customers and the communities in which they thrive. They desire to leave a mark — to weather the storms and to stand the test of time.
In my role as a traveling design professional, I have had the opportunity to meet many of these visionary contractors at all stages of their journeys. Through our interactions, I have watched and learned from them as we have partnered on their designs. We have discussed their successes and struggles alike, and I have been inspired by the insights learned from them. I hope that sharing these will help others facing similar questions and challenges.
A unique aspect of my travels is the unique regional differences, biases, and issues that our partnered contractors face in their businesses. Whether it is a product that is considered a necessity in Richmond, VA, but would never be considered in Charlotte, NC (which is only 5 hours away), or how a contractor in Port Charlotte, FL deals with labor issues differently than another in Denver, CO – each with their own success.
Sometimes the issues are climate-related, and in other places biases appear more psychologically motivated. Each region seems to have its own set of specific conundrums to work through. But one truth that I have found to be universal when working with these quality-focused contractors from across the land is their frustration when their market competition actively works to label them to prospective clients as “too expensive” and uniformly undercuts their pricing – often to disastrous results.
Time Invested Into Your Clients
The client relationship process takes time — valuable work-day time that cannot be recaptured if something or someone takes it awry. It takes time to properly vet the prospect, work through a design process, and establish a solid relationship base where you feel comfortable moving forward into construction. It takes time to provide both rough framework estimates and detailed project bids, and then often to revise both the design and bid to best suit the needs of the client.
This allocated time is an investment on your part and should be reciprocated in kind on your client’s part as the purchase they are about to make as they add to the value of their home is, for the most part, the second largest they will make in their lives — more so than luxury vehicles, lavish vacations, college tuitions, and children’s weddings. As such, this investment should be treated with the respect it is due by all parties in the process (which is an entire another topic for a future article).
What often takes this process off the rails is when a third-party “spoiler” enters the mix and actively works to sow the seeds of doubt in the mind of the client. I have seen this spoiler come in multiple persons — from a client’s homebuilder who likes to use his pool guy (often cheaper and with a kick-back), to the infamous “neighbor at a party” who brags about the “deal” that he got on his pool.
The most common spoiler is direct from a competitor pool company, who actively uses the fact that quality-focused contractors are not cheap against them with phrases like, “he sure is proud of what he does”, or “pools should never cost that much.” Or the best one that I hear, “he is just trying to get rich off of one project, we just make a little off of each project that we build.”
Where you have invested time, effort, and attention to detail to prepare and plan the seamless execution of a signature project, the competitor is looking to swoop in and derail the entire process you have built with either a smoke-and-mirrors sales number deception or a true blissful ignorance of actual project costs when completed to high-performance standards.
It is human nature to be frustrated with your client when they question why you are so much higher than the other builders in their market. So how do you educate them as to the valid reasons why good contractors cost more than their competitors?
As a professional serving in an owner’s representative role in reviewing contractor bids for high-end clients, I have three criteria that I look for in the reviewed proposals. I believe these are the differentiators that separate quality-focused contractors from their market competition. Quality-focused contractors will:
Consider and Include Everything
When a quality-focused contractor Considers and includes everything, it eliminates the “I didn’t include that” or “We don’t do that” comments from the bid comparison that are either intentionally or artificially deflated to make the number look better.
Every contractor has to pull permits, handle excess dirt or spoils, build an access road to the backyard, provide dumpsters and a portable bathroom, bring in a gravel sub-base, handle drainage, and provide utility extensions to the spaces (gas, electric, low voltage, etc.), include fencing (both during construction and final security enclosure), consider landscaping, lighting, irrigation, and on and on.
Many bids I see leave these and other necessary line items off in order to make a number look better. But at the end of the project, the costs are similar between the low and higher bids. This is a smoke-and-mirrors deception designed to get the client on the hook, then deal with the “misunderstanding” aftermath later. Almost every contractor has the same built-in profit margin –assuming they know it. The difference in the proposal price does not come in how much money the owner is bringing home. Instead, it comes in the process, how they operate, and what they choose to include and exclude.
Build It Right
When a quality-focused contractor commits to building it right, this means he holds their construction processes to a higher standard and will not deviate from that. It is not enough to meet the “minimum code” and expect to build a structural vessel that will not have issues down the road. There are standards that need to be adhered to in order to build a quality vessel because there are so many ways to cut corners and literally bury them underground.
When reviewing bid proposals with owners, I sit down with them and get very technical, discussing and reviewing bullet-point style construction standards in a proposal before they make their selection. This shows the owner that a contractor has a working knowledge and understanding of what it takes to build correctly and indicates if they have pursued the advanced industry education available and understand the importance of a quality build.
Finally, when a quality-focused contractor offers more, it means that they are abreast of the full scope and range of features and options available and either addresses or include them in their proposal to allow the client an option to select yes or no. This includes equipment options such as alternative sanitizers, heating option availability, automation control, lighting systems, water and fire visual features, finish and veneer selection upgrades throughout, outdoor kitchen components, etc. etc. The scope and scale of the final project with its ease-of-use options should ultimately be up to the client to decide and not pre-conceived by a contractor who may not know their personal preferences, needs, or desires for the space.
A favorite saying that we use in our classes is, “Don’t let your Middle-Class get in the way of that man’s money!” I have seen a contractor or pool designer / sales person end up talking a wealthy client out of an all-tile pool finish or automated chemistry control system, simply because it is out of the contractor or designer’s personal budget mindset. But to the client, it might be nothing more than what they would have spent on another toy in their garage. It is not your money to spend! Instead it is your job to know and offer all of the options available and then allow the client to decide what they like and don’t like, or need and don’t need for their own personal outdoor living experience.
In the end, when the client signs a construction contract, he or she is buying into you. Show the client that you have considered and included all aspects of the job and they will not have hidden charges that could have been known. Demonstrate that you are committed to building to a higher standard with industry integrity that is backed by educational certification. Show all of the options that they may wish to consider, not just the few that are easiest or readily available and let them decide the scope and scale of the project they want for their family.
If you can prove these points, you will have transitioned that client away from a price-point buyer over to an investment-focused mindset. Now the time you have invested into the client relationship as well as in the systems and advancement of your company – will pay its dividend.
Photo Credit: J Brownlee Design
A Borates Shortage is Looming on The Horizon
One of the specialty chemicals being talked about a lot in light of the chlorine shortages and rising prices are borates. As strong proponents of borates, it troubles us to say that our go-to sanitzer supplement may soon be facing the same shortages and rising costs that we’ve been seeing on the trichlor side.
What The Boron Shortage Means For The Pool Industry
If you’re in the pool business you already know, borates are becoming increasingly difficult to find. What inventory is available is vastly more expensive than in previous years. We’re already knee-deep into the dog days of summer and prices for chlorine have skyrocketed well past analysts’ projections.
A lot of pool service professionals have been turning to borates as the savior during this time of inflation and rising prices. Many technicians already use borates as a buffer against upwards shifting pH. When your pH level rises above what is deemed “normal” (about 7.8), using borates achieves optimum results.
Why Pool Professionals Are Turning To Borates
Bacteria can thrive in water with a high pH level. When this happens it makes chlorine less effective. Pool professionals use borates to alleviate the issue, because it works to keep pH from drifting upward. In addition, there are other positive aspects to using borates in your pool. For one, it keeps the pool clear of algae and calcium scaling. Pool equipment repair specialists will be the first ones to recommend borates. When it comes to maintaining ideal water chemistry for your pool equipment, borates does an amazing job.
For the past few years, the adoption of borates by pool pros has steadily increased season after season. The concern now is that we may have hit maximum capacity as demand has increased well beyond available inventory.
Dwindling Boron Supplies Driving Prices Higher
The global boron market shortage is driving prices higher this season. For those who’ve been thinking of switching to using borates, this definitely is something to consider. When it comes to getting trichlor at affordable rates, it already feels that pool pros are a lower priority as far as it goes to maintaining pricing structures. Now, it appears the same thing has begun happening with borates.
Although borates and boric acid are near synonymous with pools, the swimming pool industry itself is actually a lower priority in terms of its consumption of boron. The industrial glass industry is the largest consumer of boron, roughly 48%, followed by the ceramics industry (15%) and agricultural industry (15%); the cleaning industry of which the pool industry represents a fraction consumes roughly 2% of the world’s boron.
You’ll find boron in everything from industrial fertilizers to high-end ceramics and solar panels. Boron also has medical applications which improve wound healing and boosts the body’s usage of estrogen, testosterone, and vitamin D. It improves magnesium absorption, reduces inflammation, increases antioxidants, and boosts brain electrical activity in both cognitive performance as well as short-term memory.
What is absolutely certain is that we (the pool industry) didn’t cause a borates shortage. Clearly, demand is higher in these other industries which are causing prices to surge. Right now the boron supply chain is very weak. Over 60% of the material comes from mines located in Turkey which is the top producer, followed by Russia, South America and the United States.
For the time being, production is gradually declining. As existing boron reserves deplete, we’re seeing demand far exceed supplies, resulting in higher prices such as $1,250 per ton, far exceeding analysts’ predictions for $739 per ton.
While the demand in the U.S. by pool professionals may be high, the top consumer of boron is China, followed by India and Japan. Boron is produced domestically only in the State of California and it appears very little of it is earmarked towards maintaining supply chains for borates.
The story isn’t all doom and gloom for pool professionals who want to switch to borates. Fortunately, folks like Natural Chemistry, Brenntag, and others are still intent on keeping inventory on the shelves so you should still be able to find their products through distribution. If they don’t have borates available, demand that they replenish their stock. This may be the only way to guarantee the pool industry remains a priority at all.
Listen to our entire discussion on the Talking Pools podcast.
How the Pool Industry Is Part of the Drought Solution
Despite an unseasonably wet winter, the western and southwestern parts of the United States are in the midst of a historic drought. Reservoir levels remain critically low, prompting water authorities to crack down on water usage and localities to create drought plans that can have a significant impact on our industry.
Historically, severe drought conditions have led water districts to implement urban water management plans that impose water use restrictions on the construction and refilling of pools and hot tubs, even though such restrictions very rarely result in any measurable water savings. Those within the industry anticipate that continuing drought conditions will only put more pressure on water districts to limit the building and refilling of new pools. “These restrictions have a real economic impact on the industry, subcontractors, small businesses and the local communities they serve,” said Sabeena Hickman, president and CEO of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance. “To protect their livelihood, pool builders and other professionals must take a proactive approach to combat the drought.”
As a direct contact with consumers, pool and hot tub professionals like you can provide important resources and knowledge to encourage water conservation among your customer base and help spread the word that pools and hot tubs are not the water wasters that people tend to think they are.
In addition, one of the best things a pool owner can do is properly maintain their pool or spa – this is where you come in. By sharing useful facts and tips with customers, you can encourage them to schedule routine maintenance appointments and help ensure their vessel is in tip-top shape for the season.
Pools play a key role in the local community. In California alone, more than 16,500 new residential inground pools were constructed in 2020, reflecting a 17 percent increase from the year prior. The pandemic has led many people to seek respite in their homes and backyards, and restrictions limiting construction or filling of pools and hot tubs will directly impact this behavior without any measurable impact on the drought.
In addition to the effect on consumers, drought-related restrictions on the industry will have a significant and detrimental impact on local economies. In California, for example, the pool, hot tub and spa industry contributed more than $5 billion to the state’s economy in 2020, $3.1 billion of which was spent on retail, accessories and service. The industry also contributes more than 94,000 jobs and requires permit fees and payroll taxes be paid, which helps to stimulate local economies.
Let’s Pool Together
At the beginning of 2022, the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA) and California Pool & Spa Association (CPSA) teamed up to re-launch their drought awareness campaign, entitled Let’s Pool Together. The campaign is focused on changing consumer water use habits to support water conservation efforts and educating the public and policy makers on the facts surrounding the pool, hot tub and spa industry. Although it started as a campaign specific to California, it has since expanded to support additional regions across the country impacted by worsening drought.
Let’s Pool Together offers resources and materials as part of the Drought Resource Toolkit to help spread the word that pools and hot tubs are fantastic investments that can be used responsibly, even amidst severe drought. The Toolkit is a robust resource that includes customizable marketing assets you can use for your company, such as:
- Industry Talking Points that can be used to prepare and assist pool and hot tub professionals in defending the industry from restrictions on filling or constructing new pools.
- Draft Letter to City Officials that can be used for hot tubs, swimming pools, or both to request reconsideration of a ban or ask for exemption from a ban under consideration.
- Water Conservation Fact Sheet, designed to educate both consumers and industry professionals about water conservation.
- Facts About Pool Water Use, with helpful messaging and talking points that demonstrate pools are not water wasters.
- Water Conservation Tips for Pool and Hot Tub Users, directed to consumers with tips on how to maximize their pools and conserve water when in use.
- Hot Tubs Are Water Wise, educating hot tub owners on facts surrounding hot tub water usage and smart water conservation tips.
- Bill Inserts you can include with customer bills as a way to educate them on water-smart practices for their pools and hot tubs.
- Door Hangers designed as a leave-behind for your customers to encourage water conservation.
Let’s “pool together” to protect the pool industry for generations to come.
ISPSC Code Holds Builders to a Higher Standard
Many states that never before had pool & spa codes, now have included them in their building codes. While most states and municipalities have adopted a version of the International Swimming Pool and Spa Code (ISPSC), some have never even heard of the pool & spa code before.
What does the ISPSC do?
The ISPSC is the only comprehensive swimming pool code that is coordinated with the I-Codes and PHTA Standards. It was developed in conjunction with the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA). The ISPSC incorporates prescriptive and performance-based minimum requirements for public and residential pools, spas, and hot tubs.
The ISPSC covers both the design and construction of commercial AND residential swimming pools. It also includes and references many APSP codes as well. Consequently, because of these additional references in the ISPSC, many designers and builders now have a myriad of codes and standards which they must now meet.
Texas Adopts ISPSC Statewide
A state that previously had no formal pool and spa codes, Texas, recently adopted the ISPSC statewide. The Texas State Residential Code section R326.1, adopted the 2015 ISPSC.
Many local governments often adopt the codes as well, oftentimes making amendments to the adopted statewide version. Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, Texas have all adopted their own versions of the ISPSC.
Even though a project is being built outside of city limits where there are no permit or formal inspection requirements, the State Building Codes still apply as the minimum design and performance standards. (Residential Code, ISPSC, Electric Code, Fuel Gas Code and Mechanical Code). In the event of an personal injury or a workmanship dispute, the State Building codes will be compared to the project parameters.
Where do you find the codes?
You can find the codes on the following website: https://up.codes/codes/
Researching the codes in each state will better familiarize you and help you to learn and understand them. It certainly pays to know, after all this is your trade and profession!
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