Q&A with Brian Van Bower, co-owner of Genesis 3

Oyy 510 Aq1. The national economy has profound influence on the pool/spa building industry. How deeply has the recession affected our industry and what are builders going to have to do to overcome it?

I think that the people who seem to be the most resilient at the moment are people who have, one, not spent everything they earned - they had some money stored up - and, two, the people who were willing to react fairly quickly in resizing their business. I think that is the right thing. It may not be good for the people they have to trim, but I've seen some of the companies that were much larger now reduced to smaller, more-efficient ones.

Truthfully, I think, as an industry, we've had it too good for a period of time. In general, things were just easy, and there was a lot of demand. We may have gotten a little out of touch with what's required service-wise and performance-wise as an industry. It was just too easy. You could not return phone calls because you had too many messages coming in and too much business going on. And so now people have to reevaluate.

2. Forty-one percent of builders cited lending as their biggest concern affecting business this year. how can builders work their way around that?

Obviously the "well off" clientele has some money and is not as dependent on financing as some of the volume pool construction market would be. Financing is still difficult for anyone to get. Banks are just not breaking free a lot of money to loan, especially for pool installations. They want a lot of equity, and there's not a lot of equity in the house, and they want large down payments.

The finance market isn't going to bounce back immediately. I think that's going to take a while. I don't think we are out of the woods yet on the whole concept of not being able to get money, even for the people who have it.

I would say that when it does come around, and certainly we can all believe it will, that there will be pent up demand, and it could be kind of a moderate boom for a period of time. I'm not sure when that'll be, though.

3. Any major building trends?

I don't think that there are tremendous new things. I will say that, whether it's real or not, there's a lot of interest in green-friendly practices. Sometimes things that are presented as the latest energy-saving concepts may be energy-saving but not necessarily money-saving. And so then people have to make a decision to sacrifice something, and most of the clients that I work with are not willing to do that. They may do it when it's convenient and it works.

You can show them how it benefits them. For example, with an electric heat pump I can create a printout that shows users that not only are they not burning fossil fuels, but their energy costs are tremendously less for the same temperatures. People can understand that. They appreciate it. They are willing to spend the extra money for the cost of a heat pump knowing that the payback is relatively short.

Something I would also consider a trend is that we are trying to adapt better uses for variable-speed pumps. In addition to energy savings, people can have choices of water effects. Water-in-transit applications can run at low volumes most of the time and be turned up when the pool's in use.

We're also researching a sonar-operated auto leveler that some of our people have been using, where we might be able to put a variable-speed pump on a vanishing edge or perimeter-overflow pool, and using multiple settings for water level in the collector surge tank, be able to have the pump going at higher and higher speeds as necessary as water rises in the tank. I think that's something that will be coming down the pike.

4. I think it's safe to say that people are tired of hearing bad news, and they want solutions and ideas for moving forward and increasing business. Any advice?

I think builders have re-geared and refocused their direction. Some have focused more on the bigger projects than trying to do any volume because the volume is not there. And some builders have refocused on renovation and are promoting that to people who want to stay put in their house. A lot of people are thinking about not moving even if they were before, so maybe they would rather renovate.

If I were a builder who had a fair amount of projects that we had done over the years that I could call on, I would probably go back to all of them and send out something that encourages them to renovate their project and get into the current styles, some of the current accompaniments - some of those current items like fire elements, newer water effects, different materials, and beautiful glass tiles. Give them the opportunity to bring their pool up.

5. Any signs that the market is on the upswing?

There have been some positive signs in the general media. I think that little by little when people believe - one of the unique things I've seen in my business is that a lot of people have money they could spend, but they've been told repeatedly "hang on," "don't do anything," "don't spend," "wait and see what's going to happen."

If they just feel a little positive encouragement they will start to spend and money will start to flow and things will get better. I'm hoping that they continue with the trend. I'm not certain that it will occur but I see more positive indicators than before. Just six months ago there was a lot more negative stuff.

I think that as silly as it may sound, our economy is not necessarily based on facts. It's very temperamental and very much a product of attitude and things that really shouldn't matter, but they do.

6. What are some best practices that builders can use to keep raising the standards of the industry?

In this time when things have slowed down substantially, one might take the chance to do what bestselling author Stephen Covey calls "sharpening your saw" and perhaps reconnect slightly with families that might have been neglected in the heyday of pool construction. Also, we might take this opportunity to better ourselves through some type of education, such as the Genesis 3 Society of Watershape Designer (SWD) courses.

Something everybody always says is, "I'd love to go to educational programs, but I just don't have the time." So now one of the luxuries that we are afforded is time we didn't have before. I think some people are taking this opportunity to make themselves better all around and to try to put something in their mind that will help them when the economy comes back and they can move forward again.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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