In terms of financial investment, a pool build is serious business. The price tag often veers homeowners in the direction of a loan, which is also a big deal: The right financial partnership can make or break a project's flow and potentially benefit everyone involved.
For Chad Overath of Pool and Spa Depot, working in tandem with a financial company has been key. He oversees five of the company's retail locations across greater Nashville and southern Kentucky, with about 50% of customers opting to utilize loans.
"Having finances available for customers to help fund projects — whether it be a $10,000 pool or a $100,000 pool — just makes good business sense," he says.
Further south, Van Kirk and Sons Pools of Florida implemented a similar financial partnership. About a third of their customers choose to use loans.
"You have to have enough money in your pockets to build the pool, not just sell it," notes co-owner Bobby Van Kirk. "Each construction site takes money from you to reach a certain phase, and you get a payment from the customer. That's where financing fits in."
Pool and Spa Depot and Van Kirk and Sons Pools both now offer financing options designed specifically for swimming pool projects, including fiberglass, vinyl liner, concrete, shotcrete and gunite. As we all know, the pool industry is a unique field of endeavor, with more than its share of peculiarities. Overath recommends working with a financial partner with experience.
"Knowing the industry you're in will create a level of professionalism. It allows [the financial company] to partner with the customer and know more of the full process," says Overath. "I mean, we tell customers that the construction of a pool is like having a bomb go off in your backyard. We try to sell the vision of the end product, with the landscaping done, the concrete in, the pool with a liner and water in it — but of course, it's a long process. Having a partner that understands that process goes a long way."
ONE AND DONE
Different financial partners pay out the money differently. Some may distribute the loan via smaller payments over different phases of the build, while others pay out in a lump sum. There are adherents of each system, and Van Kirk prefers the former. "Customers borrow the money. They know it's allotted for the whole project, and everybody's breathing a little easier," he says.
Overath agrees. "I like having a loan up front that the customer gets, and we're fully funded at that point. He says his financial partner, HFS Financial, also helps dot the i's and cross the t's, which keeps his team focused on sales and execution. "They take a lot of the paperwork away from my sales team, which wasn't a lot pre-COVID, but has become a tremendous amount of work since demand has gone up so much," says Overath. "We're constantly busy working with new clients, so if they can relieve the paperwork burden — and at times, the follow-up with customers — that really frees my team up."
A LITTLE LESS HESITATION
The bill for a pool project can initially shell-shock some customers, leaving them hesitant to take on such a costly commitment. Financing has the power to make paying for backyard dreams more approachable.
When customers are borrowing money, they're in fear of so many different things," says Van Kirk. "And the younger the customer, the more fear they might have. They're thinking, 'Can we make the payment? Should we make the payment?' And so we try to break it down into a simple task: 'OK, this is going to cost you X amount per month. If you don't go out to eat three times in a month, then it'll pay for the pool in the backyard.'"
Sometimes, Van Kirk's customers become antsy about payment due dates and the progress of a build as related to their payments. Handling this, he says, is a matter of communication and updates.
"We show customers where the payments are due, but we also tell them what the work is from that payment to the next payment," says Van Kirk. "When that money is borrowed, they're so much more at ease knowing that."
NO MATTER THE NEED
One might think loans only make sense for the customer who can't afford a swimming pool outright. But ruling out financing for the higher-end customer would be a missed opportunity: Strange as it may sound, it is sometimes the advantageous option.
"Some customers can afford whatever they'd like, and they still finance," Overath says. At Pool and Spa Depot, he mostly sees big-ticket purchases and upscale projects. "Some customers can't afford what they'd love, but maybe they need a boost of $20,000 or $30,000 to get exactly what they want. At the rate the money's being loaned out, it's cheap money. It's advantageous to borrow cheap money if you need something, and then keep your money for a rainy day."
Van Kirk echoes this logic: "These days, the money is fairly reasonable if you've got halfway decent credit, and if you have $20,000 in the bank, you can keep it there for a rainy day."
"A person buying a pool on a higher scale is going to look at the advantage of borrowing the money and keeping money saved," he adds. "Just because people have a lot of money doesn't mean they're not going to borrow money."
TO THE SWIMMING POOL – AND BEYOND
As a pool build progresses, customers may realize they're interested in additional financing for other home improvements — perhaps some fencing, a new deck or fresh landscaping. With this in mind, sometimes it's best to pursue a loan amount greater than what's actually being used in the pool project at hand.
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Overath says his financial partner can make that happen, which helps. "If a customer is going to do a retaining wall, landscaping or an outdoor kitchen, they'll allow them to increase the amount of the loan without having to go back to find different sources," he says. "So that's a huge advantage."
Gaining an advantage for a building company is the ultimate goal. From the builder's perspective, working with a company partner experienced in the vagaries of a niche industry like pools and spas can help close more deals, eliminate some of the headaches of financing pools, and speed projects toward completion, leaving builders to focus their time on what they do best: construction.
This article first appeared in the March 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.