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Business Observer Friday, May 6, 2016 5 years ago

Make a splash

Waterscapes Pools & Spas gets a good chunk of its business through its affiliation with Neal Communities. Now it plans to exceed that.
by: Steven Benna Staff Writer

Pool building and homebuilding, for the most part, work hand in hand. As the demand for new homes rises, so does the demand for new pools.

Waterscapes Pools & Spas launched in 2010 for that reason: to serve the pool needs for newly constructed homes by prolific Lakewood Ranch-based homebuilder Neal Communities, its parent company. In an industry full of come-and-go businesses, having the Neal name gave the pool builder an immediate advantage.

“Neal is big, but it still has a local feel to it,” says John Collier, vice president of Waterscapes. “For us, people appreciate that stability. They know we'll still be in business for a few years.”

That sense of stability has been crucial in propelling Waterscapes as an independent business. Now in its sixth year of business, Waterscapes still works heavily with its parent company but looks to expand its client base.

In 2015, building pools for new homes in Sarasota and Manatee counties, including Neal Signature Homes, made up 50% of Waterscapes' sales, Collier says. Lee and Collier counties made up 27% and already existing homes that add a pool made up 19%. The remaining 4-5% of sales, says Collier, were mostly Hillsborough County, primarily with Cardel Homes, a Canada-based homebuilder with operations in Tampa.

The goal for 2016, Collier says, is to fully establish the brand in Hillsborough and do more work in Lee and Collier. The key to that is to continue with traditional print and digital marketing and building relationships with other builders. “We don't just go for high volume through builders,” Collier says. “Everything we do is custom to the yard.”

Waterscapes also has more than 50 model homes with signage that helps generate interest, Collier says.

Last year was a record-setting growth year for Waterscapes. It sold 453 pools, a 41% increase over the 320 it sold in 2014, Collier says. At the start of 2016, he projected 500 sales and $19 million in revenues. The first quarter was slightly lagging, he says, but he still expects sales to grow 11% year over year.

As the company grows, its custom-only method becomes more critical. It uses Pool Studio, a three-dimensional pool-drawing program to create a rendering of each custom pool. With that technology, buyers can see their pool from all angles — inside the house, behind the house, an aerial view at any time of day, etc. — before Waterscapes breaks ground. “It takes about one to three hours per meeting,” Collier says. “But customers like that attention.”

Keeping its focus on satisfying each customer's individual needs is the best way Collier says Waterscapes can stand out in a competitive market. “We all start on a level playing field,” he says. “We can all design a pool and use the same materials. It all goes back to how you treat the customers.”

For Collier, a large part of customer service is “after they start swimming, how well do you treat them?” Waterscapes pools don't have a lifetime warranty, but the company will respond to customer requests, even after warranty, and analyze each request at no cost.

For example, Collier says he was recently at a customer's pool in dress clothes and a tie to analyze a problem. He noticed it and told the customer it was a maintenance issue, so the maintenance company was contacted.

Because every pool is custom, price points vary. An average custom pool costs roughly $45,000, Collier says. The most expensive pool Waterscapes built last year was $195,000. The most expensive pool Collier has built in his career, which includes time as an independent homebuilder in Hillsborough County, was $370,000.

The price only rises as people add features, like glass tile and special deck materials. “Everyone is into outdoor living these days,” Collier says. “We're now doing more than pools. We get people also wanting fire pits poolside and pergolas, so we're doing that, too.”

Follow Steven Benna on Twitter @steve_benna

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