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March 23, 2016
What Sets Contractors Apart?

There are a lot of considerations when selecting a swimming pool contractor to build your pool. Whether the project is a high-end residential project or a multimillion dollar waterpark, it is important to be very diligent in selecting the builder to avoid delays, cost overruns, improper construction and lots of headaches. But what things should be considered?
 
The safety record of a company should be a primary consideration. A company with a poor safety record attracts a lot of attention (not the kind they want) and can really bog down a project. In fact, a project can be put on hold for an extended period if there are glaring safety infractions or heaven forbid a serious injury or fatality on the job site. Ask the proponent for a copy of their Health and Safety Policy, and safety record. If they don’t have one, or are unwilling to provide information, move on. 
 
Price, while always an important consideration is not everything. We frequently hear our clients say “…I wish we had gone with the more reputable builder. This job has become a nightmare…”  The saying “you get what you pay for” could not be truer. If the price seems too good to be true, it is. There is no such thing as an extraordinary $7 bottle of wine, and there is no such thing as an inexpensive Bugatti car. The two things are mutually exclusive. The Bugatti and a K-car will both take you to the store, but the Bugatti will take you to the store for decades (and look really good doing it!), and there is no comparing the quality of the two. The same is true in pools. You can choose a method and a builder that may appear to save you a little coin but suffer endless change orders and additions to the project. Or you can spend that little extra bit of money to hire a thorough and reputable builder and have peace of mind for years to come.    
 
Like a strong building, a strong company needs a strong foundation. In the construction business, this foundation is in the form of knowledge that is both deep and wide, and can only be acquired from years of experience specific to the industry. A newer business just doesn’t have the history to be as knowledgeable as a well-established company that has been around for a long time. In the experienced company, there are senior people and younger members of the team. There is a combination of high energy and drive and a deep well of information that was developed over decades of practice. The thing about knowledge is that it is often applicable to a wide variety of applications that help experienced builders provide the best outcome for the client. Hydraulic concepts in pools and water management for example, are often applicable to electricity where Voltage equates to Feet of Head and current flow to velocity. Companies who have a deeper knowledge in their art have a broader understanding of the many things they may encounter in performing their work. Look for contractors who have a broad range of experience over a long period of time, senior people who have “been around the block” a couple of times and young energetic and well educated project people. 
 
It is a great thing to have knowledge, but if it is held by a few individuals it often fails to crystalize in the positive outcome of your project. Good companies develop internal systems that reflect the Best Practices that have been developed out of the knowledge gained from experience. It is these companies who seek to establish a culture of quality and caring expressed in writing the form of standard operating procedures. Ask your potential contractor if they have internal systems in place to support quality assurance, delivery, and value added designs, longevity of the product, and so on. A company with systems is a company that cares about what they do, and who they do it for. Also ask if the company has a Mission Statement. The Mission Statement is the guiding philosophy of the company. A company without a mission is like a pilot without a map. Yes, the plane is flying…but the destination is dicey.  
 
The Record of Experience speaks volumes about the knowledge base of the company. Obviously, the more pools a company has built, the more experience they have. But it is also important to look at the different types of pools that a company has built. Not all pool builders build all pools, and sometimes for good reason. For example, Company ABC may be an advocate for cast-in-place pools through their limited knowledge and experience; they know how to build them, but nothing else. Concrete pools are really good and are considered the gold standard in the industry, however, there are times when another type of pool is more appropriate than a concrete pool. If the pool is going on the top floor of a high rise, weight may be a limiting parameter. It is important to find a builder who has the experience to recognize and understand your options and what best suits your needs. Ask your potential builders for their list of projects (current and complete) and also for a list of references. If the record of experience is small or limited in scope, you may want to look a little deeper into the company. If the reference list seems small compared to the record of experience, it should raise a red flag! A good contractor doesn’t maintain a specific reference list…every single client should be a reference. 
 
If the builder you are looking at using has a lot of subcontractors, it may be worth looking a little further. Dividing the scope into different trade subcontracts (mechanical subs, waterproofing, tile, concrete etc.) dilutes and displaces responsibility of the trades and of the general contractor. When something goes wrong, it’s nobody’s fault, and it’s everyone’s fault. A great deal of time is spent trying to figure out if the waterproofing contractor caused the leak, or if the tile contractor damaged the waterproofing. Or maybe the concrete contractor is at fault. It is best to source a contractor who self-performs the entire pool scope with their own forces from the excavation, to mechanical and electrical work, to tile setting and commissioning and training. When there is only one company performing the entire scope for the work, there is no opportunity to cast blame for problems to others. You only have one phone call to make.  
 
The financial stability of the company is also an important consideration. Are they able to completely bond a large project? Often tender documents ensure that this is the case, but private projects may overlook the need. What happens if things go wrong, or the contractor walks off the job or goes bankrupt? Who will finish the job? Who will pay for the work? Also, you want to be sure that the company you select is going to be around tomorrow and for years to come. Of course, there is never a guaranty but the best predictor of the future, is a record of the past. If the company has been building great pools for decades, they are likely to be around for a long time to come. 
 
Once the pool is built, you are away to the races. But what if something goes wrong with the pool after a few years? Who will close the pool for winter? It is always best of the company you choose to build the pool also has a service department who can deal with any problems and to perform regular maintenance. The service department of the company who built the pool is best equipped to service the pool since they will have an intimate knowledge of the pool from the construction phase. There are many “pool builders” out there who actually have no idea how to best operate a pool, and have no service department. It is best to steer clear of these builders. Once the project is complete, you never see them again.  


 
Finally, schedule can be critical, especially for commercial projects. Liquidated damages can cripple a business that was counting on opening the pool in December, but it didn’t happen until the following May. There has been more than a few projects abandoned or sold for pennies on the dollar as poor performing contractors drove the owner into insolvency. No builder is perfect or immune to making mistakes…things happen. What sets the premium builder apart from others is how they react to the problems. The only way to know how different builders react is to speak with their past clients. Don’t accept a short list of “preferred references”. It is a lot of work to fully research your builder, but it will pay dividends many times over in the long run. 
 
A well-constructed pool delivered on time and on budget will provide decades of enjoyment, or in the case of a commercial project, revenue generation. The best start to this positive outcome is to balance all of these considerations discussed, and make a good decision. 

David L.H. Bergstrome
Business Development Consultant
As Business Development Consultant, David’s expertise in engineering and design have been critical to supporting all incoming and ongoing projects. Project coordination, concise communication and technical support are key to ...
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