The automatic pool cover offers exciting possibilities as a medium for art or personal expression. It has taken a while for the idea to emerge, but sooner or later, almost every practical invention becomes part of the designer's canvas.
The benefits of automatic pool covers are well known within the ranks of pool builders and clients. They make pools safer, reduce their energy consumption, lower chemical demand and make them easier to service. Pool owners who can afford the initial investment can sometimes generate a full return within a couple years or less.
For all of those big advantages, however, automatic pool covers are not generally considered pleasing to the eye. Although manufacturers have improved aesthetics by offering covers in different colors and have developed neat solutions for concealing the cover vault, deployed covers can look like big tarps.
Fortunately, at least one inventive U.S. cover manufacturer, a European supplier and forward-thinking builders now offer a solution to the visual doldrums associated with automatic covers: Over the past two-plus years, cover manufacturer Aquamatic has begun offering a French product known as "Artpoolcovers" to its dealers in North America.
The covers can carry a wide spectrum of images as a way to transform the ordinary appearance of covers into a showcase for artistic statements that reflect the homeowner's tastes. Artpoolcovers have been around for several years in Europe, mostly on manual covers, and have recently begun to emerge in the market here at home.
"We were contacted by a French company that manufactures these covers," explains Tom Dankel of Aquamatic. "They looked at our company and what we've brought to the market in terms of innovation and service to the market. They did their research and believed we'd be a good partner. So here we are."
For its part, Aquamatic made sure the product line was reliable in terms of performance and longevity. "It was important to us that they had a track record," Dankel adds. "We didn't want to take this on and then have the covers fall apart. The fact that they have a successful track record and a five year warranty was of paramount importance to us."
In the two years Aquamatic has offered Artpoolcovers to its dealers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, they've only sold a handful, with a few more in progress. That slow start hasn't deterred Dankel and company, who have displayed the product at recent industry trade shows. According to Dankel the response from builders visiting their booth has been mostly enthusiastic. "People love the idea. It's kind of a no brainer when it comes to adding an element of fun to the pool environment. Everybody likes it when they see it."
"We've had these kinds of requests in the past," he adds. "We did a resort logo where we cut out letters and adhered them to the cover so when the pool was closed any one looking down at the pool would see the logo. We've had people ask for their business name or logo, we've had ranchers ask for their brand. It doesn't come up that often, but it's definitely something that we've encountered in the past."
As for the slow start in sales, Dankel notes: "While I'm very positive about the potential, I am concerned about the price. It is expensive to do this. The cost winds up being more than the cost of the mechanism."
He also notes that appearance has always been a distant consideration for most cover customers compared to safety and the return on investment. "Typically, the practical advantages of covers offset any perceived deficit in appearance."
Despite the cost and the current scarcity of interested homeowners, Dankel remains confident and committed to the concept for the long haul. "Obviously it's a niche in what is already a niche market," he says. "We know it's not for everyone, but I believe there are those consumers who like the idea of seeing more than just a plain cover."
Because Art Covers add to the cost of what is already an expensive product, builders working in the high-end custom market are the most likely to embrace the idea. "The builders we work with already 'swim in that pool'" says Dankel. "So it made sense for us to add this option."
INTO A VOID
Although still a novelty when it comes to pool covers, the idea of placing artwork on otherwise utilitarian surfaces is certainly nothing new.
"We've seen this type of approach in all sorts of other places, the sides of trucks, buildings, and other places where art is used to make an otherwise blank surface carry some kind of image, whether it's a photograph, logo or some other type of graphic," notes Dankel. "Obviously the technology has been there for a long, long time, but no one in our industry that I know of has ever chased it down before. When we saw there was a company already doing it, we recognized an opportunity to take pool covers in that kind of direction."
Because the covers have been in play in Europe for several years, the product line includes a wonderfully broad range of images, including shimmering pool water, plants and grass, modern art, wood, underwater scenes, ice cubes, leather and many, many others.
"They had a full palette of pretty much anything you want," says Dankel. "It's a staggering number of images. And if you want some kind of personalized image, say of your kids or entire family, it can be produced directly on the cover. The fact that you can recreate your own image is appealing to the right customer. We have a client right now that is considering using an image of the stonework on their deck so the pool almost completely disappears when it's closed. The possibilities are virtually endless."
Moving forward, Dankel believes the more people become aware of the option, the more will eventually decide to pay for it. "A lot of people don't know about it, and that's up to us to educate the market."
From the dealer perspective, Dankel adds, the option affords another talking point with homeowners looking to personalize their projects, similar to the way builders might suggest tile mosaics, fire features, lighting effects or associated water features. "It adds to the conversation and offers another element of fun to swimming pools. Now you can have all the serious benefits of an automatic covers and have fun with the product at the same time."
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