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Experience Counts in Pool Business

  
  

pouring concrete resized 600Forty years combined experience! What does that mean to someone who’s shopping for a pool? Two employees with 20 years experience each? Twenty employees with two years experience each? Or one person with 40 years of experience of his or her own?

I started building pools in 1976 after work and on weekends. Back then I was employed full time by Delta Airlines as a mechanic in the electronic shop, so I had a stable five-day work schedule with weekends off. I worked on gyros in a clean room. The work was very repetitive … fix one, get another, fix it, get another, fix it, get another. All day long, ad nauseum.  At  the time I was doing after-hours work on room additions, building decks, cutting fire wood, anything that satisfied my thirst for knowledge -- something new and different! And it was also great to make the extra money.

A fellow Delta mechanic had been transferred to Atlanta when Delta and Northeast Airlines merged, and with three small kids, he had a vinyl liner pool installed. He suggested that after watching them that he and I should go into the pool business. So we named our company (drum roll please) … ATLANTIS POOLS! What a great name (we thought) and it was ok -- we chose a name that began with an A so we would be one of the first companies listed in the Yellow Pages. Boy-o-boy, people would open the Yellow Pages, see our interesting name, and call us begging us to come and build their pool. (That was our official business plan back then!) We also discovered newspaper advertising in the Sunday paper. The Dixie Living section was where all the pool companies advertised. A six-column inch ad could get our sale information, phone number, and lovely logo across to readers everywhere!  It got people calling and our first season we sold six vinyl liner pools.

So how did we know what to do? We learned by trial and error. We made mistakes, learned something from them, then never made the same mistake twice. There were several pool supply companies that sold vinyl liner kits consisting of steel wall panels, braces, liner, steps, filter, pump, cleaning equipment … everything you needed to build the pool except concrete.  We chose a company on the south side of Atlanta because their panels were a 12 gauge metal instead of 14 gauge like other companies. They were also cheaper – remember, you get what you pay forL. They gave us an instruction book which had a cartoon on the back of a guy in a dump truck with their name on the door backing up to the teller window with the bed filled with money. The driver was hanging out the window shouting “ I’ve got another deposit!”  We’re going to be rich, we thought! Right … But I learned, and kept on learning.

So, for our company to have 40 years of experience, you have me with 35 years and all I need is two more people with two or three years and I can make that statement. And what does experience give us, teach us, or do for us -- how do we use it? A few years ago my son, who used to work with me building pools, had a customer that wanted a stamped concrete deck. An easy pattern to make is a seamless skin granite pattern, then colored using acid stain after we poured the concrete. We would make the concrete a buff color by mixing dye with the ready mix truck concrete and then using a colorless liquid  called a “release” to keep the stamp from sticking to the still-wet cement. You can also use a powder release agent (usually colored a dark color), which is broadcast by hand on top of the concrete to give it color accents when you stamp it, and this is what this customer wanted. So my son called a local construction supply company and ask for concrete release  and they said sure we have it in the color you want. He buys it, brings it to the shop, and I saw the label on the buckets which said color hardener not color release. Color hardener is broadcast on fresh concrete, bull floated in, and is a way to color the base concrete instead of mixing the dye into the cement truck.

I told my son ,”this is not color release it's color hardener and he said the guy at the supply store said it was the same thing." I said. "I don’t think it is -- make sure he told you what is correct."

 Long story short, he used the color hardener for release and it was not a release powder. It dried hard as concrete, was not repairable and we had to jackhammer the entire deck out and repour it. at a cost of $6000.00.  Both my son and I learned a lesson through experience but the money came out of my pocket not his.

Over the years I have always been hands-on in trying new processes or new ideas. Many times we had to learn to do something out of necessity since there were no contractors to do what we needed. 

Pouring concrete is a trade that many people do -- it’s easy to find someone to pour a driveway or a patio off of the house.  But pouring a pool deck requires a lot of detail work using materials not familiar to most concrete contractors. Deck-o-drain, poly void, skimmer collars, pvc expansion joints. The correct placement of ladder anchors and handrail anchors, diving boards and water features is also critical because once the concrete dries- game over!

I recently teamed up with a pool service company and built a shotcrete pool and we were also going to pour the deck ,but the referral came from a concrete contractor who wanted to pour the concrete deck, which was colored concrete. I had no problem with that, he told the service company he had poured several pool decks. But just to make sure he was doing it right I said I would go by and check on him.  The deck was about 2000 sq ft. and the temperature was 90 degrees, which is okay if you have about 8 or 9 concrete guys experienced with pool decks to help. When I got there the main guy said his two finishers didn’t show up.  So he called his father, and three unemployed drywall men from his church. They didn’t have a wheelbarrow, and only one shovel.  When I got there they had started pouring the concrete and I knew they were in trouble.  They had started pouring with the concrete much too dry and were trying to bull float big piles of concrete. I told them to spray water on it while they trying to save it. The main guy said he had a special retarder for colored concrete and didn’t want to put water on it, so he sprayed the retarder on it and it helped but gave them just enough time to bull float it but left way too much hand work for guys that tried real hard but just didn’t know what to do. There was no saving the nine yards of concrete.

I talked with him about what he needed to do when he repoured it. Explained poly void, where to place his expansion joints, where to place the diving board hardware, and how to edge everything to make it look good. Then  I used my skid steer loader to break up and remove the just poured concrete. An expensive lesson for him to learn, but the experience hopefully gave him the schooling he needed to pour a pool deck next time he wanted to pour a pool deck.

My thirty five years of experience have been a continuous schooling of everything involved in the swimming pool industry.  What knowledge I’ve gained cannot be taught or learned in any school, college, or university. Experience does make a difference. If you have a question on your pool renovation or construction send me an email and I’ll be glad to help you.

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