The word "unprecedented" has been tossed around quite a lot over the past year and a half. Simply put, there has never been a time quite like this. And by all indications, the current situation looks to continue for the foreseeable future.
In my work covering the design and construction segment of the industry, I’m hearing builders raise the volume in describing the stress and strain they’re under. Yes, everyone agrees it’s great to have so many homeowners looking for pools. It’s gratifying to watch the world discover what our industry has always known, that pools add a wonderful facet to life at home. As consumers have been forced to face their private lives on an entirely different level, many now have fully embraced the value of owning a pool.
That's the upside.
The problem is that this massive spike in demand has come at a time when the industry is also facing severe forms of scarcity. Namely, the ongoing shortage of skilled labor, which began long before the pandemic, and the vast and at times crippling disruptions in the supply chain have badly stymied the ability to meet that demand.
It’s a common refrain: Builders just can’t get to the backlog of work, or in some cases, even return calls. Because of the obstacles, there is little doubt that significant chunks of business are being left on the table. From a bird’s eye view, this means that many consumers will look elsewhere to spend the money they’ve allocated for a pool. While some will wait it out, we can rest assured the industry is, in point of fact, hemorrhaging revenue.
WHAT TO DO?
A return to some basic economic principles is in order. We have a scarcity of goods and services coupled with high demand, which inevitably equals a rise in price. At face value, that seems like stating the obvious, but it bears repeating when you consider this is an industry that has traditionally been, I believe, tragically hampered by the harsh expediency of competing on price.
Given the opportunity these market conditions have provided, once and for all, the idea of competing with the company down the street based on who builds it for less should be finally and permanently discarded.
On the most primal level, that does mean increasing prices. Doing so will not only lead to greater margins for the work you can get to, but it will also weed out the consumers who are less committed to pool ownership, leaving only the steadfast buyers who are willing to commit the time and resources to creating their own slice of paradise in their backyards. If that’s not a powerful win-win, I don’t know what is.
WALKING THE WALK
But placing a greater value on what you do goes beyond the simple issue of the crooked numbers on the price tag. I’m talking about a tectonic shift in mentality, whereby the industry talks different, walks different and behaves in a completely different manner. We have what many people crave and believe they need, and we are few in numbers with limited labor and supply resources. Simply knowing that set of indisputable facts should bolster confidence and I dare say, put a little more swagger in a builder’s step.
That kind of emotional and mental shift might just result in some very positive adjustments in the way builders do business.
For starters, it means being more discerning when it comes to customers. These days, as much as a homeowner should rightfully qualify their designers and builders, the opposite should also be true. For years now, I’ve heard time and time again the tales of difficult clients, those who expect the world for the price of a song. Because these demanding consumers really do think and act as though the sun shines out of their backsides (after all, they cut the big checks) builders have felt they need to put up with whatever crap the client spews forth.
We should be done with that. Ours is an industry of specialists who deliver a product that is unlike any other. Especially for those of you who have invested in training and education for yourselves and staff, there is a legitimate claim to valuable expertise that is tough to find.
Consider this analogy: If you own a high-performance sports car and you take it to a mechanic that specializes in cars that cost well into six figures, you don’t go into the shop expecting to haggle on price. In that context, specialization creates value and acceptance on the part of consumers. They will pay the mechanic’s price and wait for the work to be done on the mechanic’s timeline.
Designing, engineering and building bodies of water for human immersion is also a specialty that should command a healthy profit margin and the patron’s respect and appreciation.
Put another way, perhaps it’s time for more people in our industry to learn to say “no.” Be up front with potential clients, explain in clear and direct terms the challenges you’re facing and have the confidence to walk away from clients who balk at the reality of the situation — always keeping in mind the increased value of what you’re offering them.
POWER IN CONFIDENCE
Having the steady confidence that goes along with understanding your own value is a powerfully attractive trait. It’s a characteristic that will earn the respect of like-minded clients, and give pause to those who think they can make whatever unreasonable demand they see fit.
Understanding and believing in your value also means you should feel empowered to take better care of yourself. I know so many builders who refuse to take a day off, just because they believe they need to take advantage of the current market before it turns. While that’s certainly understandable, it’s not advisable.
Working at your own pace means giving yourself the room to breathe a little, tend to your homelife and step out from under the dictates of your work schedule once in a while. The work will still be there when you get back.
Finally, this notion of value should bolster something else – integrity.
AT THE CORE
Businesses that provide something of great value, and take pride in what they do, don’t need to play fast and loose with matters of honesty and reliability. For far too long, the pool industry has been saddled with a shaky reputation. I argue that in this time of white-hot demand and operational pressure, this is the exact time to become even more steadfast in your basic value system.
RELATED: 2021 SOI Builder Report
There is no room in this unprecedented market for dishonesty and questionable practices. There’s too much at stake, and it is in this time that we will see the cream rise to the top and conversely, those of, shall we say, lesser moral mettle, fall by the wayside. Put another way, when we value ourselves and what we have to offer, we become more of who we are.
Yes, these are strange and trying times, but with a mindset focused on value, the positive effects just might be here to stay!
Eric Herman is editor of WaterShapes Magazine and vice president of communications for Watershape University. He is a former senior editor with AQUA Magazine, a position he held for nine years, and a long-time member of the pool, spa and aquatics industry dating back to 1989, when he started as an associate editor with Pool & Spa News.
This article first appeared in the September 2021 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.