We got the chance to catch up with one of the leading pool builders in the state of Georgia today. Scott Walk of Scott Walk’s Premier Pools & Spas in Alpharetta, GA has made a name for himself. The last few years, Walk has worked to become one of the top rated pool builders in the local area.
A member of the Premier Pools & Spas franchise, the Walk family actually independently owns and operates two locations – one in North Georgia, and the other in Chattanooga, TN. Their family business has been one of the cornerstones that model and define the successful formula Premier Pools has been able to reiterate throughout the country.
Building Pools is a Family Business
Scott Walk who comes from a previous background in construction and home remodeling, first got his start in the pool industry approximately ten years ago. Together, he and his wife Kim Walk have established one of the largest pool construction operations in the state of Georgia. Their son Ashton also works for the family’s thriving business and has been closely learning the industry side by side with his father over the past five years.
Walk attended the prestigious Genesis program. He says he’s focused now on becoming one of the top pool builders in the country. SWD registered with Genesis, less than fifty individuals nationwide have achieved the certification level he has.
Pool Kings Project: Georgia Peach Pool Paradise
Walk has had one of his projects showcased nationally on the DIY Network hit TV show Pool Kings. Consequently, the episode helped draw mass attention to his work. The reality home improvement show is quite popular. Each episode has been watched by millions of television viewers and is closely followed in the pool industry.
We asked Walk what it was like working on such a high end project, and what gave him the skillset to start building luxury inground pools.
“Working on the Pool Kings show was a unique opportunity. It is a rare privilege to be able to showcase your work to such a diverse audience. The feedback we’ve received has been incredible.”
“Initially we went through several changes in the design process, but ultimately wound up with a concept that delivered on all of the clients wishlist items.” said Walk. “This particular project was difficult. We faced some challenges with excavation and the weather.”
Walk said that his two main concerns throughout the project were being able to deliver a premium product to the homeowner while meeting filming and scheduling deadlines. “You know, they make it look so easy on TV. Trust me it is alot harder than it looks.” said Walk.
Walk’s prior experience in building luxury pools assisted him heavily on this particular project. Since attending the Genesis program, Walk says he has been consistently increasing the level of difficulty and complexity in the projects he has undertaken.
“They were looking for over the top pool designs for the show. We had to deliver!” said Walk. “We were able to showcase the range of our abilities and included some phenomenal pool features not found in your typical build.”
Luxury Pool Features
Scott guided us through some of the remarkable amenities in this resort style luxury pool. “There’s really so much we built into this backyard. We’ve got the beach entry pool with bubblers. A lazy river with a bridge to an island that has a super sized spa.” said Walk. “We’ve also incorporated a slide and two waterfalls in this pool. Not to mention the work that went into building this incredible outdoor kitchen area.”
From start to finish this particular project was over 5 months in the making said Walk. In the end, he and his crew worked nearly round the clock. It was necessary in order to meet the deadlines for the episode to run in time. Ultimately, his team delivered and in magnificent fashion. The completed pool and backyard is nothing short of breathtaking.
Walk and his team worked hard and the effort shows. Consequently, the end result is a truly unique and one of a kind luxury pool design. This is a five star resort style backyard that any homeowner would envy. We asked Walk where his inspiration comes from on these projects and what the design process is like for him.
“I really learned so much from the Genesis program that guides me in my design process today. I also find tremendous inspiration from the other builders in my organization. These are people who are really pushing the envelope today in pool engineering.”Scott Walk – Owner of Scott Walk’s PremIer Pools & Spas
Scott Walk on Pool Design
“I always start my designs in Structure Studios first. We will create a walk through of the entire pool area in 3D for the homeowner. This helps them visualize the design concept, features and amenities.” said Walk. “I find that this adds value to the process. It truly immerses the client into giving us the feedback necessary to design them their dream backyard,” continued Walk.
Walk’s experience in building luxury inground pools has led to a long list of satisfied customers. It has also helped make his firm one of the top rated builders in the state. He attributes much of his success to his organization. “We are firm believers in the Premier formula.” said Walk. “That has really been what has helped us become so successful.”
Pool Design Trends With Kelly O’Leary
As we move well into the 2020’s era of outdoor living design, customers value a more modern design aesthetic in the backyard. Pool design trends are changing rapidly. Homeowners put a premium on a well-designed and contemporary outdoor living area. Moreover, they’re looking for ways to be able to utilize the backyard as a multi-purpose space for entertaining.
To speak more on the subject of what today’s homeowners want, we reached out to up-and-coming custom pool builder Kelly O’Leary of OLeary Pools & Design in Houston, TX. In a very traditional market known for freeform lagoon-style pools, O’Leary says that today’s homeowners in Houston are looking for something else. Consequently, he’s noticed a trend emerging as a growing number of homeowners have begun looking for designs that complement the aesthetic of their modern home and lifestyle.
Pool Design Trends Shifting Away From Freeform Pools
“We’re shifting away from those traditional kidney bean-shaped pools with rock grotto waterfalls that have been more predominant in this area. Those are just done over and over again,” said O’Leary, who is working with clients willing to push the envelope.
“We started to really get clients that were more accepting of contemporary designs and things they haven’t seen before and it began to evolve,” said O’Leary, “you’ve seen it in a lot of the industry. Social media is helping propel that. We see things now at the speed of light. The design changes and trends shift really quick.”
Furthermore, he suggested that professionals monitor places like Instagram and Pinterest in order to stay in touch with modern design trends. “If we’re not always thinking about what’s next and what’s new we’ll get stuck in a rut repeating the same design and have various clients with the same exact pool.”
Some of the more modern and contemporary pool designs featuring infinity edges with weir walls simply aren’t found very often in Houston. The topography of the city itself is very flat so builders look for other creative ways to incorporate sophisticated elements into their designs.
Modern touches like perimeter overflows and raised infinity edges make the pool appear like a sheet of glass. It’s those types of contemporary aesthetics that are a 180-degree approach from the predominantly lagoon-style pools found in many high-end homes throughout Houston.
Many of the contemporary design aesthetics featuring modern shaped geometry can already be found throughout California and Florida. That these pool design trends have been slow to catch on in places like Houston is something that has begun to change says O’Leary.
“It’s been a learning curve to be able to push new things. Over the past few years, we still have clients that say ‘we love that but not for this market’ or ‘that’s beautiful but may not be right for Houston’.
Austin is a good example, there are some great landscape architectural firms and pool builders there doing really modern things. The architecture of the homes there is very modern and we’re beginning to see that start to bleed into our market here in Houston.”
“Introducing that to this market is a double-edged sword though,” said O’Leary. Much of the architecture in Houston leans toward more traditional Farmhouse, Ranch, Tudor, and Craftsman-style homes. Consequently, finding modern design trends that best suit those style homes and backyards can present a challenge. This is particularly true with homeowners looking to incorporate elements that don’t necessarily suit their outdoor living environment.
“We come across that in the design sometimes, all the details and materials are thought through. Then they begin to change and add things. Once all of their design changes are made it can begin to resemble the yard from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘,” said O’Leary, who told us a story of run-away change orders during the materials selections phase of pool construction. This contributed to a customer submarining their own design with superfluous elements that detracted away from the intended design.
It is something O’Leary has learned how to avoid from happening. Preselecting and limiting the available options on the menu gives clients less to consider. Given too many design choices, customers can easily mix and match elements that don’t necessarily cohesively gel together.
Introducing modern and contemporary themes seems a question of striking the right balance. Still, O’Leary has become adept at designing backyards that are bringing in contemporary elements that still find a congruent harmony in Houston’s more traditional-style homes.
Drawing inspiration from other designers and well-known landscape architects has continuously helped O’Leary up the bar in terms of the backyards he is building. Collaborating with elites like Randy Angell seems to be the next evolution in the up-and-comers path.
“Being able to work with him is very exciting because he’s one of the best at what he does,” said O’Leary, “it’s quite a bit different because we don’t typically get large master plan projects on that scale.”
Although he envisions more collaborations such as that in the future, Kelly O’Leary is still making a name for himself in a market inundated with high-end pool builders. He has begun to distinguish himself by working with high-end materials and larger custom luxury pool projects.
Stepping outside his comfort zone and taking on more custom work is also helping distinguish him in the eyes of his peers in the industry. On a recent project that caught our eye, he brought in Mosaicist, Ray Corral to design and install a glass mosaic tile interior finish. Certainly, his work has begun to hit the stride most builders take decades to achieve. It’s making Kelly O’Leary one to watch.
Listen to our entire conversation about Pool Design Trends with Kelly O’Leary on the Pool Magazine Podcast.
Photo Credit: Jimi Smith Photography
Pool Builder: OLeary Pools & Design
The Next Generation of Rising Stars in San Antonio
There are a few rising stars in the pool industry that are definitely setting a name for themselves. One powerhouse couple that stands out and is establishing themselves as the next generation of elite pool builders in San Antonio, is JC and Daniella Rodriguez.
The couple recently appeared together in Pool Pro Magazine’s 30 Under Forty issue with JC Rodriguez being featured on the cover. Their new pool construction firm Element Pool Company has been creating a reputation in their local market for designing beautiful outdoor living environments and exquisitely crafted inground swimming pools.
“It was a surprise to be chosen for the 30 Under Forty, we both made it and in fact, Dani was recognized as ‘Rookie of the Year’,” said JC Rodriguez. “I laughed out loud when I heard I won and said ‘no way you’re kidding me’,” said Daniella Rodriguez, who said she couldn’t believe it when she heard the news. “Sure enough, I opened up the magazine, and there I was. It was a real honor,” said Rodriguez.
This type of acclaim is helping establish a footprint for the new firm in a crowded market inundated with pool construction companies. The recognition that Daniella Rodriguez received is an equally encouraging sign that signifies women have begun to claim their rightful place in a largely predominantly male industry. Alluding to this, she agreed, “We have to make elbow room in the industry in order to make a name for ourselves, so I was really happy to step up to the plate for all of us,” said Rodriguez.
Rising Stars Make a Dynamic Husband & Wife Team
It’s exceptionally rare to find a couple working together in the field of pool construction. In this regard, Element Pool Company is something of a rarity. The pairing of their skillsets appears to provide a well-nuanced balance that customers in their market seem to greatly appreciate.
At the first point of contact, Daniella often leads off the conversation with customers. “Dani navigates them and helps provide some of the introductory information. We let them know that we’re a little more custom than your drop-in fiberglass pools or cookie cutter concrete swimming pools,” said JC Rodriguez.
Approaching Things Differently
“It’s such a large market in San Antonio and there is so much competition,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of the top builders in the United States are in this area. Huge companies that build hundreds of pools a year. We wanted to make a name for ourselves and realized that a lot of that came from the relationships we’re building with the customer. We saw that we could distinguish ourselves in this regard versus making it a one-off project. Establishing that long-term relationship with the client is what our company is based on.”
Turning Customers Into Brand Ambassadors
It’s this novel approach toward client acquisition that sets Element Pool Company apart in some regard. Establishing that type of strong referral-based business is a strategy that appears to be working for the couple.
For many consumers, a swimming pool may be the single most expensive thing they purchase for their home. For some, it’s the culmination of a dream they may have had for decades. Pool ownership is the realization of a goal for many and a life-affirming purchase. This is why the experience holds as much importance as the end result itself, in terms of converting customers into brand ambassadors.
“We’re definitely cognizant of the fact that this is a major purchase for homeowners,” said JC Rodriguez, “one of the things I tell our customers is that we’re not going to do just one design and say ‘hey that’s the pool we want to build you, take it or leave it.'”
Changing The ‘Order-Taking’ Mentality
In this high-volume environment, many pool companies have resorted to an ‘order taking’ mentality as they try to keep up with demand. This is a practice that Rodriguez says he is desperately trying not to adopt. “During the height of the pandemic there were a lot of companies out here that were just giving over the phone quotes and virtual estimates. To us it never made sense because you don’t understand the necessities of that backyard,” explained Rodriguez.
“Even through the pandemic we were always interested in getting into the backyard,” said Rodriguez, “If the client stayed in the home, we were on the phone with them the entire time while we were back there.
“Our goal is to always understand what the house and backyard are calling for, as well as what the customers are looking for,” Rodriguez explained that it’s much easier to get a true sense of that customers lifestyle and accurately bid a project rather than trying to supply a virtual estimate.
“A lot of customers have been dreaming about building a pool for a long time,” said Rodriguez, “We want to make sure we get it right. Ultimately, they will be living with it long after we’re gone from the backyard. We’ll make a hundred different design changes if we need to. This way, we’re getting the right design at the right budget. The goal is that when they walk outside they’re ecstatic about their backyard.”
Educating The Customer
As the prices for swimming pools continue to rise, one of the biggest challenges Rodriguez says he faces is educating consumers on what swimming pools really cost these days. “I wish we could still build pools for the same price we were building them a few years ago. Your average pool in the San Antonio market is going to be around 15 feet wide by 30 feet long. These days, for a basic swimming pool without any extra bells or whistles, you’re going to be starting at around the $60,000 range and going up from there.”
One of the pools they built that caught our eye certainly isn’t in the bottom of that price range. This pool features an expansive travertine deck, a spa, premium pebble tec interior, ledge loungers (Signature Collection), and exciting fire bowls with sheer descents by USA Fire Bowls.
A separate conversation area at a lower elevation with it’s own smartly appointed fire table was another great feature. These are all subtle nuances that add to the overall experience. Aside from the basic cost of pool construction, all these factors add to the total price of the project and that’s before ever getting to what’s actually in the pool itself.
When discussing some of the higher echelon features that homeowners are looking for in their pool such as LED lighting, pool automation, and dramatic fire features, “homeowners can easily price themselves into the $400,000 range and up”, said Rodriguez.
Quality pool builders can definitely justify the asking price. During the pandemic, homeowners made it clear they were willing to pay top-dollar for a backyard that truly delivers the experience they are dreaming of.
Providing a premium product combined with a great customer experience is what consumers want. With projects like this one, Element Pool Company appears to be delivering just that. This young but talented pool firm is definitely on our radar now and one to watch in the upcoming years.
Listen to our discussion with Element Pool Company on the Pool Magazine podcast.
Additional Photo Credit: PoolPro
Financing a Pool & Outdoor Home Improvement Projects
Pool builders often wonder what the best way to originate and answer questions when a buyer is interested in financing their swimming pool and other outdoor home improvement projects. The answer to this question is always a little more complicated than it seems.
You Should Pitch Financing, To A Point
On one hand, you as the builder want to be as knowledgeable and helpful as possible. Also, it can be advantageous to quote a low monthly payment rather than a high project cost. On the other hand, you don’t want to give out incorrect information or be perceived as giving a “bait and switch” offer. It’s a very similar situation to what companies who offer swimming pool financing deal with daily from borrowers with questions about pools.
The Financing Conversation – Dos and Don’ts
It’s common for people seeking financing to ask about average prices or whether the project seems too expensive, etc. Greg Powell, President of Viking Capital, has worked with pool builders for over 25 years and explained why the only answer to questions along that line is “you should discuss that with your builder”.
“The reason we take this position is to make sure we don’t muddy the waters or give out incorrect information that makes the builder’s job selling the project more difficult. The same applies on the builder’s end when buyers want to know rates, terms, and payments. These questions are truly impossible to answer correctly without having their credit report in your hands and full knowledge of underwriting.”
Estimating Loan Terms & Payments Can Backfire
We live in a world today where everyone believes that they know “my credit score”. They see it on apps, on credit card statements and more. The problem is, that individuals have A LOT of credit scores. There are three major reports, but each has several versions. The scores can vary by 100 points or more depending on which report the lender is using. Also, some loan programs allow for co-borrowers and co-signers which may enable borrowers to have more and better loan options.
This conversation about financing can be very awkward for a builder and it could make matters worse. The worst thing is to assume their score is what they say, guess at a rate and term, and take a stab at a payment. When that borrower then applies for financing, they have a pre-set idea of what rate and payment they are looking at. When credit comes back and it’s not a 780, but rather a 724, that borrower is in for a shock. It would be just like us telling borrowers that an average pool is 50-75k. It’s such a wild guess that it’s better not being mentioned.
Leverage Your Financing Partner
Viking Capital offers builders a quick and reliable alternative to offer their customers. When customers apply with us they are contacted by a loan consultant within a few hours for a free loan consultation. It won’t hurt their credit and there is no obligation to move forward. During this consultation, they are given pool loan options specific to their needs and qualifications. Yes, they’ve waited a day or so, but the loan options they got are accurate and exact. The guesswork has been removed from the equation and the customer will be ready to meet with their builder with a confirmed budget.
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