The Total Package - January 2005

Forget Botox. Package pools are getting a facelift without the injections and expensive procedures. With the all-new look of package pools amounting to an “extreme makeover,” it’s sure to turn heads and raise curiosity. “It’s coming down to aesthetics,” says Phil Della Pietro, director of construction at the Pool and Spa Doctor in Wall Township, N.J., “and trying to make your backyard a little paradise island.” And with the ability to do free-form work on the rise, in addition to other custom options, package pools can be incorporated into a client’s paradise ideal. “This past year, I would say, at least 50 percent of my pools were freeform,” says Della Pietro. “It was the most free-forms that I’ve done in quite a while. It just seemed everyone was coming in and doing the freeform oasis.” While gunite holds rank in the pool and spa industry for its endless options of shapes, designs and layouts, now’s the time to raise client awareness about the versatility of package pools. When it comes to the homeowner who wants a pool but doesn’t have an endless budget, high-end gunite pools can be too much, which is one of the main reasons package pools are becoming more appealing to a larger crowd. If people can get the look of a gunite pool for a package pool cost, why wouldn’t they give their pocketbooks a break? Many clients are also not aware of the cost factor when it comes to the upkeep of a gunite pool versus a package pool. “The average customer, I think, thinks that while a gunite pool lasts forever, you have to replace the liner in a package pool after 10, 12 or 15 years,” says Jim Eisenbeis, vice president of marketing for Fox Pool Corp. “Well, you don’t ever have to replace a liner in a gunite pool, but you do have to resurface the pool, which can be more expensive than replacing a liner.” The category has really gained speed, stresses Della Pietro. Not only can clients reap a financial break, but they can also have something in their backyard to be proud of. “I’ve been doing this almost 40 years, and basically, it really has been some change from just the basic little 16-by-32 rectangles and the 18-by- 36’s. It’s really becoming something now,” says Della Pietro. Beyond The Box Gone are the days of elementary geometric shapes that used to be a package pool staple. Now, the quintessential American catchphrase of “Think outside the box” plays a very pivotal role in the package pool category. “If there’s a tree in somebody’s yard and they want the pool to go around the tree, no problem with the kit pool,” says David Bradley, Cardinal Systems’ vice president of sales. “Out of modular panels you can make any size, any shape you want.” And that’s just what clients want. While manufacturers like Cardinal have informed builders of their ability to provide free-form panels that can be bent any which way, Bradley notes the media influences the desires of prospective clients. He says clients are requesting the trends they see on TV, leaning toward a vacation- or resortlike look to their waterscape. “Package pools are mimicking many, many different designs that years ago they just couldn’t do,” says Eisenbeis. Some designs include package pools with vanishing edges. The Pool and Spa Doctor has completed three vanishing edge projects in New Jersey, however location makes designing too many more somewhat difficult. “I’m here in central Jersey, so we’re fairly flat,” says Della Pietro. “We don’t have too many places where it looks over the water like you have in Arizona and California. We don’t have that many that call for it.” But being able to show clients the potential of a package pool is just as important as the finished product. Industry experts agree that many clients are either unaware of what can be done with a package pool or express skepticism about what can be accomplished.

While Bradley says, “I get some apprehension because they look complicated to put in,” Della Pietro has been faced with clients who aren’t aware of the level of customization that’s now possible. “I tell people when they do come into my office that it’s a vessel whether it be vinyl, fiberglass or gunite,” he says. “It’s a vessel that holds water. And it’s your surroundings, your decking, your coping, your landscaping, your waterfalls, your water treatments and things of that nature that make your backyard. “And in today’s world, [package pool companies] can do anything you ask,” adds Della Pietro. “If I draw it up, they can do it, bend the steel, all I need.” Sometimes, designing beyond a four-walled symmetric pool requires a little creativity on not just the client’s part, but also the builder’s. “We use a lot of visual aids,” explains Anthony Sloan, co-owner of Princess Pools in Dickson, Tenn. “In general, probably 50 percent of clients start out wanting something like a concrete-based pool until they get into knowing what this might cost them. And nine times out of 10, they’ll opt to go with something of a lesser expense.” In an effort to cater to clients’ desires for a stunning waterscape, Sloan has been known for including 3D renderings of proposed projects during the conceptual phase, something that’s taken off in high-end pool design firms. Sloan says he strives to provide clients an opportunity to add special touches that can give even the simplest projects a little originality. Fitting Together Whether a client is purchasing a brand new-pool or seeking to do renovations to a current pool, the popular steps, benches and sunning shelves can be incorporated. While every builder and manufacturer does it differently, the incorporation of these additions is a large part of the package pool hype. “The fastest-growing part of our business is the custom steps and benches,” says Bradley. One of Cardinal’s newest additions to its product list is a sun shelf that has multiple purposes. According to Bradley, clients are looking for something that offers a level of child safety, a play area for kids and an area where they themselves can tan and enjoy the leisure of laying out and relaxing. While these extras are now integrated in the pool walls of the new construction package pools, they are also available as add-ons if a client is ready to do some renovations to the pool.“Once the initial pool is put in,that’s the big cost right up front,” says Bradley. “Say they want to replace the liner in eight to 10 years, who knows what’s changed in their lives or what ever. Maybe they have kids and they want to put a step in that has an extended second step that can act like a kids’ play area.”

Understanding what a client wants when it comes to renovations and new pool sales is the most important thing. Before you can sell any client a product, you have to be in touch with their needs. And that’s how Sloan operates Princess Pools. “For all my adult life, I have built swimming pools. I don’t want to be talked into anything, and I don’t want to be talked into something I don’t need,” he says. “I just try to feel and sense what it is the customer is going to want to use the pool for and then make the best suggestions for it. And you know, that’s not what they want, it’s what they really need.”

Like Della Pietro, Sloan says many of his clients are looking for sun shelves or “at least some kind of area where their children can play that has maybe 8 inches of water in it,” which is quickly becoming a hot terend throughout the category. Another trend that has taken off is interior stairs, which is a nod to the early years of package pools. “Years ago they had interior stairs, and they kind of went away when the new plastic stairs that protrude out from the shape of the pool came out,” says Eisenbeis. “And now, I don’t want say the industry is going the other way, but interior stairs and benches are coming back.” Bradley recognizes a lot of the older pools have either plastic steps or no steps at all and that’s why he recommends drop-in interior steps on renovation projects. “The nice thing about internal steps is that it kind of gives a uniform look to the pool. You don’t have a set of white steps that sticks out on the outside,” says Bradley.

“The nice thing about steel is you can make anything you want just by changing the size of the piece and putting different bends on it,” he adds. Promising Future When it comes to package pool sales — or any pool sale for that matter — a client’s satisfaction remains the top priority in creating the total package. “I Like happy customers,” says Sloan. “Happy customers will do more for this industry than anything. I’d rather have a happy pool customer with a pool they can use and enjoy and that doesn’t take them a lot of effort to maintain. I think that’s best for the industry.” The changes the category has embraced throughout the years have provided clients more options and possibilities than ever before. And the bottom line is package pools are giving clients a lower-cost alternative to a gunite pool that can be just as aesthetically pleasing. Don’t underestimate the influence of package pools. They’re attracting a whole new set of clients.

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