Textures of Success

ImageLast month, I participated in the Pebble Technology Applicators Conference in Chandler, Ariz. Bob Haning, the company’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, one of the most progressive and visionary leaders I know in our industry, asked me to give a presentation on what I believe our industry needs in order to be successful. Being ever eager to spread “The Gospel According to Vance,” I jumped at the invitation. 

For those who might not be familiar with my thoughts on the matter, I firmly believe we need to adapt a mindset and manner of promotion that focuses squarely on the consumer experience. It’s a message I repeat every chance I get and one I contend is germane to all walks of our industry, from our manufacturers to trade associations to the Ma and Pop dealers, and everyone in-between. 

At the conference, mine was only one among a stellar list of presentations that included a variety of technical and business-related topics. Over the past several years, I’ve had the honor of talking to a wide range of groups within our industry at a variety of events and I’m constantly trying figure out what makes our industry tick. Knowing a number of the people at Pebble Technology — many I consider good friends — and like many, being familiar with the company’s remarkable track record of success, I was excited to not only contribute my thoughts but also see what this year’s conference was all about.

Suffice to say, I was deeply moved and impressed! It was clear from the start that the professionals at Pebble Technology really “get it.” The depth of information and quality of presentations were among the best I’ve ever experienced from any industry group. Start to finish, they delivered informational tools that the company’s dealers (applicators) can use to bolster their own businesses while promoting growth for the company’s set of product lines. And much to my personal satisfaction, in one way or another, the program thematically focused on supporting a positive consumer experience by way of quality installations of a multifaceted set of surface products. 

It’s not surprising that Pebble Technology already has a rich history of redefining an entire industry segment, a campaign that began way back in 1988 when the company’s flagship product, Pebble Tec, was introduced to the U.S. market. They’ve since maintained their momentum with the introduction of Pebble Sheen, Pebble Fina and Bead Crete, in an ongoing effort to refine and expand their offerings as well as perfecting application techniques. That’s all part of why, in my view at least, the Pebble Technology story is one of our industry’s true shining examples of success through innovation. 

I remember well their almost meteoric rise to prominence. In very rapid order, they transformed the concept of pool and spa surfaces and have since engendered an entire class of competitors, all focused on offering consumers a broader and broader palette of surface options. It may have initially seemed a small thing, but the use of those zillions of tiny pebbles to surface pools and spas amounted to a truly game-changing innovation. So much so that I believe it’s fair to say the introduction of pebble surfaces helped ignite the creative expansion we see in pools and spas to this day. 

During the conference, it struck me that in general, pool and spa surfaces are in many ways at the very heart of the ownership experience. They are the most visible material in a pool or spa and the stuff that consumers constantly touch when they get wet, second only to the water itself in terms of immediate sensory impact. Surfaces are key in defining the look of the water and are among the most essential visual and tactile elements we have going for us. 

Also, at the time of Pebble Tec’s introduction, the pool plastering industry was experiencing a frustrating bevy of problems, most of which simply don’t occur with a pebble surface. That, combined with the expanded palette of aesthetic options exposed aggregate provides, has been a recipe for growth. Sure, as with most any product, there have been some problematic issues associated with pebble surfaces, but there is no question that Pebble Technology has addressed those head-on through its own internal research and experimentation. 

Based on the marketing programs the company has in place, it’s clear they have fully embraced the importance of surface materials as part of consumers’ purchasing decisions and overall aquatic experience. With that foundational understanding, the messaging they now share with their dealers is truly dynamic and I believe should serve as an example for industry leaders across the spectrum. 

The conference really was that good, but it wasn’t just the presentations that turned my head around. Those attending the event were equally engaged, thoughtful and by and large remarkably sophisticated. These were not typical “pool guys” by any stretch. I enjoyed a number of expansive conversations and met some truly top-notch professionals who are energetically devoted to perfecting their craft and growing their businesses. 

One of those was a particularly articulate fellow named Edgar Sanchez of Modern Method Gunite from Houston. Edgar is a second-generation pool professional and one of the most thoughtful and inspiring people I’ve met in recent memory. Listening to his comments about the industry, I couldn’t help but think how desperately our industry needs more people of his high a caliber. 

I was so impressed that I asked Edgar to give me his critique of my presentation. Shortly after the conference, he followed up with a lengthy email that while very positive in his assessment of my performance, also offered some extremely useful critique. To paraphrase, he thought my discussion was mostly targeted at companies that have direct contact with clients, those firms with a business-to-consumer focus such as builders, retailers and service techs. Yet, as he accurately pointed out, those attending the conference were subcontractors and their focus is more oriented toward business-to-business selling. 

That keen insight caused me to do a bit of rethinking about my message and going forward, I will be more cognizant of that important distinction. It also reinforced the core of my message in that in the case of surface applicators, they are directly participating in the consumer experience. Through their understanding of the materials and application techniques, they are setting up bodies of water and all who participate in their creation for sustained success. 

By properly installing their products, these artisan applicators are enabling the consumer to focus on the joys of ownership rather than having to endure headaches and expense stemming from product failures. And these days with so many expanded surface options, they are responsible for executing a key design element. After all, selling a great look doesn’t mean much without skilled artisans there to install it. 

In essence, guys like Edgar and companies like Pebble Technology are making us all look good by way of upgrading the consumer experience. In my book, that’s the “texture” of success. 

Vance Gillette is an outspoken proponent of the pool and spa experience. An industry leader with 47 years experience, he has traveled extensively throughout U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia representing such prominent firms as Arneson Products, Jandy Products, Teledyne Laars, and most recently as the vice president of business development for Zodiac Pool Systems.

Now semi-retired, he maintains an active presence via social media outlets including Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, Youtube Channel, Pinterest, Houzz, LinkedIn and others, where he shares notable information and stunning images of water design elements.   

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