Where The Best Get Better

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Having advanced from office manager to general manager to vice president in her 14 years with Pulliam Pools, Debra Smith credits much of her success with this award-winning company to her 10 years attending the AQUA Show. She tells how the AQUA experience keeps the oldest swimming pool company in Texas and its employees growing and improving.


"Because we build about 500 pools a year, we work at a very fast pace for several months in a row. By November, I get a little burned out, and the AQUA Show rejuvenates and motivates me to get started planning for the next year. With the bonus of being in Las Vegas, we can also have a little fun and see some great shows while we're there."


"The speakers at AQUA are just phenomenal. Every year the seminars get better, and they're always pertinent to current trends and provide insights that you can apply to your business. Pulliam Pools has been in business for so long that we already have wonderful systems in place, but AQUA is invaluable to me because it always gives me ideas for doing things in a better way. Each time I come back I think, 'I've got to try this, or work harder on this, or focus on that.' AQUA covers every aspect of your business that you want to tweak and make better."


"We have a pretty good marketing program, but based on some of the AQUA sessions I've attended, I've started mixing it up more and trying different things. We developed a Pulliam Pools magazine two years ago for direct marketing that's been a phenomenal success. It goes out to 85,000 consumers and we sell advertising to our vendors and subcontractors, so it pays for itself. I went to a session on the importance of signage to get your name out there, and I came back and ordered a billboard and bench signage on the road to the more remote areas in which we build pools."


"There's always good, practical advice about employee relations. I've come back with new thoughts on how to assign employee responsibilities based on their generation, whether they're Millennium, Generation X or Baby Boomer. Tom Grandy's sessions dealing with pricing and cash flow are very insightful; I've also sent my accounting manager to those. I've always felt that continuing education through seminars and classes is a valuable tool for helping you grow as a person and as a manager."


"Greg Welsh always inspires me to work at improving customer service even more. I'm so glad he's back at AQUA, because I want my managers to attend his sessions. He made me realize that no matter how good you are at customer service, you can always get better. We have a huge service department, servicing only our own pools, and every time we do a service call, that customer receives a call the next day to see how we did, if everything is OK, and if we left the job site clean."


"After Greg Welsh's seminars last year, I contacted my subcontractors and shared some of the things he went over with them, and they said, 'You're right, we can try harder, too.' So we've seen a step up on their part, as well, to try to make customers happier. On new pool constructions, they are being more diligent about picking up their trash. Even though a construction site is a mess anyway, you can make it worse by not being careful about soft drink cans and things like that. They're trying harder to leave the place clean."


"We have sent various employees to AQUA over the years, from sales to accounting to service. I have already made travel arrangements for this year's show, and I'm taking my service, scheduling, warranty and construction managers. I've sent sales designers for the Genesis 3 program, and even though they're seasoned designers, they learned things there that they felt could help them. It's a great workshop for both beginning designers and those with a lot of experience."


"Pulliam is lucky to have a great relationship with our vendors, and the trade show allows us to visit their booths, see what their latest products are, talk with them, and go over what our needs are for the year. I also go to meet new vendors to see what else is out there that I may not know about and ought to be trying. I always take all the information I've gathered to my room and spread it out to assess what products our company is using and what we should be thinking about."


"I've gotten to know a number of other builders from across the country by attending AQUA, and it's nice to be able to sit and talk and give each other some feedback about what's happening in our businesses, what our challenges are, and what solutions we've found. I also love attending the reception for the AQUA 100 and Hall of Fame companies. It's exciting to mingle with top companies from across the nation. I am always proud of being in the pool industry, but even more so when I see the talent and expertise assembled at that reception."


STARTING IN BUSINESS in 1916 as a cement contractor with expertise in building cattle-dipping vats, Theo Pulliam built his county's first swimming pool in 1925, and the company has been at the cutting-edge of pool technology ever since. Third-generation owner Barry Pulliam took over the reins from his father, Doren, in 1985. The company specializes in gunite swimming pools, renovations, and pool repair and service. Operating under the philosophy, "We build pools as if we were building them for ourselves," Pulliam has amassed a following of more than 6,500 happy customers, 50 loyal employees and 26 subcontractors, who employ another 300 people. With corporate headquarters in Fort Worth, Pulliam has opened two satellite sales offices and plans a third. Celebrating its 90th year in 2006, the company has won untold awards, including induction into the AQUA 100 Hall of Fame.

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