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Chatting with Pool Design Innovator – Noah Nehlich

Discussing his start in the pool industry and release of Vip3D 3.0. Product feedback from designer Kyle Franco.

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Today we're chatting with Noah Nehlich of Structure Studios and learning more about Vip3D 3.0

For the past decade Pool Studio has been a favorite design software for professionals in the pool industry. With the release of Vip3D 3.0 the software has evolved to move the future of Pool Design into an artform all it’s own. The new capabilities of the software make 3D renderings more realistic than ever before. Today we’re chatting with Noah Nehlich, the innovative genius and driving engine of Structure Studios – developers of Pool Studio, VizTerra, Vip3D, and YARD.

We wanted to give our readers the complete backstory about Nehlich and Structure Studios. In the course of our discussion we found out how he first got his start in the pool industry and talked about some of the amazing new features in Vip3D’s latest release. We also talked with one of the beta testers and top pool designers – Kyle Franco, to get his assessment about the new features in version 3.0.

Today, we're chatting with Noah Nehlich - Founder & President of Structure Studios
Today, we’re chatting with Noah Nehlich – Founder & President of Structure Studios

The Story Behind Noah Nehlich & Structure Studios

Noah Nehlich has certainly come a long way in his career. Twenty years ago he had aspirations of being a video game designer. He spent the majority of his time designing game levels and mods for popular computer games. The trajectory looked set for a career in Gaming. That was, until the day he happened to incorporate one of his brother-in-laws pool designs into a game level he had modifying. Nehlich had been inspired by the design (a geometric pool with fire bowls) and replicated it into a 3D model.

The rendering which would be considered rough by todays standards was pretty cutting edge at the time and utilized the Unreal Engine found in some of the most popular computer games of the day. When his brother-in-law saw the end result he was floored. Word began to quickly get around. Joe Vassallo (an industry veteran) who was with Paddock Pools at the time, had seen a demonstration and introduced Nehlich to Buzz Ghiz of Paramount.

Ghiz, (a legend in his own right in the pool industry) was impressed with the young man and the technology. Ghiz asked Nehlich to give a presentation of his 3D pool designs.

“I’m 19 years old and there I am… in a corporate boardroom, giving a presentation for the very first time in my life. But it’s going well, I mean, there were audible gasps in the room.”

Noah Nehlich – Structure Studios

From that point Nehlich’s path transitioned from Gaming Designer to Pool Designer. Nehlich had begun providing design services for a variety of diffent pool companies. He had put together some 3D Pool Packages and began functioning as a design consultant for pool builders across the country.

At first Nehlich offered 6 different pools with 3 variations each for $5,000. The design packages he offered sold quickly. Pool companies noticed that 3D renderings helped them dramatically shorten the sales cycle. Nehlich observed that while his product was very successful, his business model still wasn’t. He noticed that he still wasn’t making much profit as a Pool Designer. “The process simply took too long.” said Nehlich.

Nehlich knew that 3D rendering technology would streamline the sales process and change the pool industry.

Pivoting to Software Development

Nehlich knew that converting his design process into a software was the correct path towards establishing a much more profitable business model. It was at this point that he began working with a team of developers in order to help bring his vision for the product to life. Nehlich found a group of initial investors and began the arduous process of developing a software and bringing it to market.

Innovation comes with struggle

“The journey wasn’t without it’s struggles.” says Nehlich “It took four years and we went 10 times over our original projected budget for developing the software.”

Early investors threatened to walk numerous times, Nehlich explained. The stress of potential failure was something that he coped with daily during development. Still, he continued to throw everything he had at his idea. When down to his last $1.18 in his pocket, Nehlich found that he had exactly enough money left for a poor man’s feast at Taco Bell. He paused for a second and seemed to reflect on this for a moment during the course of our conversation.

With the software still left unfinished, Nehlich was some how able to convince investors to continue with the project. Investors agreed not to pull the plug, provided he was able to complete a sale. At the 11th hour, Nehlich had managed to sell Viking Pools a 3D Rendering package for $20,000. The cash infusion brought investor confidence back in Nehlich, enough to see the software project through to it’s fruition.

Fast foward to 2004 – Structure Studios was staring at 400 pre-orders valued at $2,000 each. First year revenue of $800,000 from a grass roots effort of showing off the product one builder at a time. “There were no crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter back in ’04, they simply didn’t exist yet.” said Nehlich.

Nehlich and his team had successfully managed to build enough confidence with early adopters to grow his software Pool Studio into a viable product and Structure Studios into a thriving company.

Pool Studio would revolutionize the industry by giving designers the tools they needed to produce sophisticated 3D renderings.
Pool Studio would revolutionize the industry by giving designers the tools they needed to produce sophisticated 3D renderings.

The software and company which Nehlich had founded, suddenly began receiving tremendous attention. During conventions and tradeshows, throngs of spectators were huddling 20 deep just to grab a glimpse of the incredible new 3D technology in action.

The product however, was still very new for the industry. Builders were in awe of the capabilities, but Structure Studios was still finding difficulty achieving mass adoption with their new product.

“In 2008, the economy was riding high and many builders felt they still didn’t need 3D in order to close sales.” said Nehlich. This was in spite of the fact that more and more companies began incorporating 3D in their sales presentations.

By 2009, The Great Recession had hit the pool industry hard and perceptions slowly began shifting. “Builders found increasing competition in the market.” said Nehlich. “The economic downturn had suddenly made it much more difficult for them to close sales.” he continued.

Builders vying for those same discretionary dollars suddenly found that they needed a differentiator to help give them an edge. Structure Studios answered by providing them the means to compete at a whole new level. Nehlich had helped usher in a new era, providing the pool industry with the software necessary to Design for Story. Homeowners could now completely visualize what their outdoor project would look like from start to finish as a realistic 3D representation.

Demand for Nehlich’s 3D design software began to skyrocket. Structure Studios would ultimately wind up releasing a variety of different software products that catered to pool designers as well as landscape and hardscape designers.

  • VizTerra is the Professional Designer’s Choice. Customized for landscape, hardscape, and outdoor living and garden designers as well as builders and architects.
  • Pool Studio is an intuitive interface with 3D design tools that enables designers to create immersive 3D presentations. The software makes generating expertly designed swimming pools a breeze.

In 2009, Structure Studios combined the two softwares together into a unified platform and released Vip3D which is actually an acronym for Vizterra in Pool Studio. The new software combined the best aspects of both and was an immediate success. With tremendous confidence in the future of his product, Nehlich leveraged every penny he had during the height of the recession in 2010 to purchase 100% ownership of Structure Studios.

Over the years, Nehlich and his team have continuously worked on their platform to refine and improve the experience for both the end user and the consumer. Recently they released their newest version of the award winning platform. A new and improved rendering engine supports many of the innovative features now found in Vip3D.

New Enhancements in Vip3D 3.0

  • Next-level realistic real-time 3D rendering
  • Edit shapes instantly in 3D
  • More automatic terrain data
  • All new material library

One of the aspects that Nehlich and his team worked hard on improving in 3.0 is the realism in 3D graphics. “The consumers tolerance for 3D changes with the technology.” said Nehlich. “The bar for realism in 3D environments goes up each year.”

Pool Designer Kyle Franco Beta Tested Vip3D 3.0

To get a pulse of how the new features in Vip3D are perceived in the industry, we decided to contact Kyle Franco, a top pool designer and one of the beta testers of Version 3.0.

We asked Franco, co-owner of Premier Pools & Spas in Fort Worth, what he thought of the new version. Franco, who has been using the software for years, makes great use of the platform. A top performer for the Premier Pools organization; his 3D pool designs are helping him develop his social media following.

Kyle Franco -showcasing some of the new functionality found in Vip3D 3.0 - Seen here: More realistic flame effects, depth of field and fireflies which Franco incorporated into his sales presentation.
Kyle Franco -showcasing some of the new functionality found in Vip3D 3.0 – Seen here: More realistic flame effects, depth of field and fireflies which Franco incorporated into his sales presentation.

“The new version really allows me as a custom designer to take things to the next level with more details.” said Franco, whose designs can also been seen on DIY Channel’s TV Show – Pool Kings. “As a builder it helps provide a better visual for the homeowner so that they have the right expectations when the pool is completed.” he continued.

“I nearly perfected the old version and was excited to see this come out and begin working on it!” said Franco, “The new functions in version 3 allow me to design even faster than before, which is a huge bonus for someone like me.”

We asked him to elaborate on what other improvements he liked. “One of my favorite things about the new version is the detail in color, and presentation mode. All the options to really spice up the images and videos, are incredible! All in all, just an amazing update… I have all 5 of my designers using it!”

The Future of Pool Design

Nehlich says the future for 3D Pool Designs is even brighter as we move into 2022 and beyond. “As mobile processors and hardware catches up, we continue to innovate and improve upon our products.” said Nehlich.

Augmented Reality is one of the emerging technologies Structure Studios has invested in - Seen here: YARD (Your Augmented Reality Designer) app which enables homeowners to visualize pool designs in real time.
Augmented Reality is one of the emerging technologies Structure Studios has invested in – Seen here: YARD (Your Augmented Reality Designer) app which enables homeowners to visualize pool designs in real time.

Emerging technologies like Augmented Reality, Aerial 3D Mapping and Virtual Reality have found a home in the product. Structure Studios release of YARD (Your Augmented Reality Designer) a new add-on available for Vip3D customers is a testament to their investment in continuously improving the design platform.

Companies like Cody Pools, Anthony Sylvan, and Presidential Pools are already early adopters of this new technology. Wearable tech like the Oculus is also dramatically gaining traction with builders as a means to immerse potential buyers in the design and shorten the sales process.

Feature Photo Credit: Kyle Franco – Premier Pools & Spas

Editor in Chief of Pool Magazine - Joe Trusty is also CEO of PoolMarketing.com, the leading digital agency for the pool industry. An internet entrepreneur, software developer, author, and marketing professional with a long history in the pool industry. Joe oversees the writing and creative staff at Pool Magazine. To contact Joe Trusty email info@poolmagazine.com or call (916) 467-9118 during normal business hours. For submissions, please send your message to submissions@poolmagazine.com

Pool News

Chlorine Shortage Has Public Pools Feeling The Pinch

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Public Pools Closing Due To Rising Cost of Chlorine

It’s been over a year since many public pools across the nation were forced to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now some are being forced to close all over again due to ongoing chlorine shortages.

Those that have managed to stay in operation are watching the soaring cost of chlorine prices closely, which has nearly doubled in many areas of the country and is expected to continue to increase through the summer.

Public pools are concerned about the rising prices of chlorine which may make this an abbreviated swim season.

Public Pools Losing Money On Chlorine

When it comes to public swimming pools, most facilities usually charge a fee for entry. Many community pools are considered a public service, consequently they often wind up spending more on pool maintenance than they actually get from the guest fees. The fact is that the rising costs of chlorine are a growing cause for concern for the nations public pools and aquatic centers.

The chlorine tablet shortage began last August, when Hurricane Laura triggered a fire at the BioLab chemical plant that produces the majority of the country’s dry chlorine tablets. The rise in demand for backyard pools as a result of the epidemic has aggravated the problem by increasing costs on limited supplies.

San Diego County has begun shutting down public pools. Photo Credit – San Diego Union Tribune

Chlorine Prices This Year Versus Last Year

“We used to pay $75 for a 50-pound bucket of chlorine tablets,” Steven Fox of Fox Pools in Virginia informed us. “The prices have gone crazy this year. You’re looking at $150 now for the same thing, if distribution even has stock. It’s getting crazy now with acid, DE, grids, you name it… prices have gone up across the board.”

Openings in many cities were postponed partly because chemical cleaning supplies took months to arrive. One neighborhood pool in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was cleared to open after the municipal council voted to spend up to an additional $60,000 on chlorine for the rest of this season and the pool season in 2022 (about $12,000 per month).

Public Pools Closing Early This Season

More and more financially strapped communities around the country have decided to close their pools early or close parts of their pools for the season. With many facilities stating they simply can’t afford the chlorine.

The majority of city-run pools in Los Angeles have had to close less than a month after being allowed to reopen by the Department of Public Health, which disproportionately affects minority children who don’t have other access to swimming lessons.

The LA Times reported public pools are competing against residential pools and privately run pools for chlorine.

“This chlorine issue is just exacerbating what is already an existing disparity,” Jeff Wiltse, author of “Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, told the LA Times. “There’s been a significant growth in private swimming pools [in recent decades], whereas public swimming pools have been generally stagnant, and in many cities there’s been a significant decline.”

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Pool News

Olympics in Tokyo a Complete Bust

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Tokyo Olympics a Bust - Aquatics Facility Sits Empty

The Summer Olympics was postponed until this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For marketing and branding purposes, they are still calling it Tokyo 2020 which is weird, but okay marketing is expensive and to be honest, most of us are just fine with pretending last year never even happened.

This does nothing to address the elephant in the room which is, no one is allowed to attend these Olympic venues and a huge percentage of viewers forgot they were even happening this year. By no means should this diminish the incredible effort the United States swim team is putting on. Already they have won 8 medals and are expected to dominate most of this years 18 different swim events on the program.

There is a stunning new aquatics arena in Tokyo Bay that was built specifically for the Olympics. It’s a brand new facility, that in the normal course of events should have been packed to the rafters with 15,000 fans during a typical Olympic year. Unfortunately, there is nothing normal about this Olympics and spectators are not allowed. The facility which was part of the tremendous $15.4 billion dollar investment Tokyo made in order to win the bid for hosting the Olympics, sits nearly empty for all of this summers Olympic events. In actuality, the final figure for this entire folly will probably be closer to $20 billion making this the most expensive Olympics ever.

A new half billion dollar aquatic center which helped Tokyo secure the bid to host the 2020 Olympics sits nearly empty for all of this summers Olympic swim events.

A muted opening ceremony was televised to a dramatically reduced audience. With the stadium nearly empty, the momentus energy of the crowd was visibly missing. Most athletes wore face coverings and waved enthusiastically to tens of thousands of empty seats which further cemented the surreal oddity of all. Some athletes practiced social distancing, choosing to march alone, while others grouped together much to the dismay of event organizers. Despite the fact that its delegation has undergone several positive COVID tests since arriving, the Czech Republic joined the other countries in the opening ceremonies.

A largely empty half billion dollar stadium hosts the this summers Olympic games in Tokyo. Covid-19 restrictions are in full force as the nation of Japan struggles with a surge in new cases. Photo Credit – AFP

The opening event for the Olympics drew nearly 17 million viewers in the U.S. which may sound like a lot, but in actuality hit a 33 year low and was down nearly 36% since 2016’s Olympics. The reality is this Olympics has been a complete bust for Japan and the city of Tokyo in particular. The $500,000,000 dollar aquatics center is depressingly empty, and symbolic of the complete disinterest that has many diseffectionately refering to this Olympics as the Pandemic Games. To add insult to injury, the gleaming new insanely expensive facility probably didn’t even need to be built in the first place.

Experts who know the city of Tokyo well say that all of the swim events could have been hosted at the 45,000 seat Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants. Near by Yokohama stadium also seats 17,000 and could have easily hosted the events. The expenditure has been criticized as a needless waste of money. It is difficult to imagine a future for the facility, in fact it is scheduled to be downsized to accommodate 5,000 shortly after the Olympics are over.

The impression of being in a sterile, locked-down quarantine permeates this Olympics according to athletes and participants. There is no amount of simulated cheering and fake cardboard cutout fans that can assuade that feeling. Fans, who would ordinarily be screaming support for their countries and socializing with folks from all over the world in a carnival like atmosphere, have been barred, leaving just a highly vetted group of media, authorities, athletes, and staff.

There is an inescapable feeling of pity for the Japanese people, who will pay a colossal financial price for their government’s overzealous spending and a global pandemic which they had no way to predict would happen.

Feature Photo Credit: ABS / CBN

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Pool News

Too Big To Fail – Olympus Pools Implodes

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Olympus Pools is out of Business - Tampa florida pool builder implodes

We first began writing about Olympus Pools back in April of this year after investigative reports broke news that the Land O’ Lakes pool builder was in deep trouble. Allegations of unfinished pools, unpaid subcontractors and distributors and a long list of angry customers put Olympus in the spotlight and for all the wrong reasons.

In the past few months we have had numerous interactions with owner James Staten, James Judge (a PR representative Staten hired to represent Olympus a few months ago), and Jordan Hidalgo, a well known pool builder who had supposedly partnered with Olympus Pools to salvage the ongoing projects they had, as well as the firms battered reputation.

In late May, Olympus Pools had released a press release stating that Jordan Hidalgo, a well respected figure in the pool and spa industry would be taking on co-ownership of Olympus Pools.

However, this week after rumors began circulating about impending foreclosures on homeowners as well as another major blow due to unpaid workers compensation insurance causing a work shut down, Hidalgo released this statement to the media.

“During our due diligence period, it became apparent that the company was not in the same position as it appeared originally,” Hidalgo said a statement on Tuesday. “As a result, I have decided to cut my losses and am walking away from the opportunity. I am hoping the best for Olympus Pools and their customers.”

Olympus Pools currently has hundreds of ongoing pool construction projects in various stages of development. Potentially a hundred open holes in the ground with only rebar according to one source.

We reached out to Staten’s PR representative James Judge to get a comment to which he replied “We actually no longer represent Olympus Pools”. His leaving directly coincided with Hidalgo’s announcement.

James Staten responded to Hidalgo’s departure to investigative journalist Shannon Behnken in an email contradicting Hidalgo’s version of the story. Staten stated that Hidalgo was “never able to ‘buy’ even a portion of Olympus,” and said that, “there has been no ‘due diligence period’ and Mr. Hidalgo has failed to perform even his most basic obligations.”

We touched base with Hidalgo this week to get his side of the story to which he replied, “That is an absolute lie. I tried to be classy about this entire thing but I can see he (Staten) is not going to let that happen. There is more information coming out in the media, just wait.” To which Hidalgo eluded that this week there would be a major announcement coming.

Olympus Pools is Out of Business

This morning Olympus Pools officially announced that they will be shutting down operations after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asked them to surrender their license. This effectively means that Olympus Pools will be unable to continue working on any current projects they have contracted for.

“Over the last several months at Olympus Pools, we have endured constant negative media coverage encouraging viewers to file complaints with Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation. As a result, the DBPR has forced us to voluntarily relinquish our license. This means we are no longer allowed to continue working for any of our customers. We have fought hard and would have continued to do so for as long it took to complete every project.”

“Although we are greatly disappointed in the decision, we understand the pressure that has been placed on the Department to act. We do not feel the decision is beneficial to our community or our customers, however, it was not our decision to make. If it were up to us, we would continue working for our customers.”

“We have enjoyed servicing the Tampa Bay area for close to 10 years. We are proud of the thousands of projects we have built and the work we have done for our community in that time. We are grateful for all of the support the vast majority of our former customers, employees, friends, family, and neighbors have shown us during this time.”

Sources close to the organization disclosed to Pool Magazine that Olympus Pools currently has hundreds of ongoing pool construction projects and anywhere from 50-100 open holes in the ground.

It is expected that a variety of agencies will now descend to perform a collection of assets however, the south showroom for Olympus Pools has been completely emptied out according to a source close to Pool Magazine. How this bodes for the unlucky homeowners who entrusted Olympus Pools with their swimming pool projects remains to be seen, however already many have begun to receive lien and foreclosure notices on their homes.

Featured Photo Credits: WFLA

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