A building company that can serve its entire market, from top to bottom, will be stronger and more resilient in the face of economic change. For this reason, many builders now offer all three types of pool construction methods — concrete, vinyl and fiberglass — giving them the ability to finely match the pool with the client. In that array of options, package pools occupy a space next to the infinitely customizable world of concrete and the prefabricated expediency of fiberglass.

Here's a look at where package pools fit into the mix.

FITTING IN

Matching the pool to the homeowner requires a clear understanding of consumer motivations and preferences, and considering how they can be met with different pool types. Working with the full range of pool options, builders no longer feel the need to promote one type over another; instead they collaborate with buyers to find the best fit.

Homeowners concerned with customization and durability (and less concerned with higher prices and long installation times) still prefer concrete. Buyers more interested in speedy installs and a trouble free surface may prefer the fiberglass option, which has gained market share over the past few years. Those who want customizable pools, installed quickly at a reduced price, will likely lean toward package pools. The feel of the material and ease of replacement are also factors bolstering the vinyl option.

"It can go one of two ways with package pools," says Dan Lenz, vice president of All Seasons Pools, Spas & Outdoor Living in Orland Park, Ill. "Thirty-five years ago you had a brochure that showed a bunch of shapes. You'd select a shape, order that shape and they'd ship it to you. In some ways, that hasn't changed all that much for some people. There are still customers who purchase standardized models."

 

About a decade ago, All Seasons went in a new direction by adopting design software and CAD systems that enable manufacturers to provide vessels that go far beyond basic shapes offered in a brochure.

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"Back in the day we'd have to do all sorts of measurements, take Polaroid pictures and use the old thermal fax machines," he says. "But for the past 10 years or so, we've used designs we create in Pool Studio to go beyond the standard package models. We'll build a layout based on a custom concept and then send it to Latham, who we work with, and they use their CAD system to produce panel layouts, spacers, bracing and all that stuff you need to build the pool. It's also become much more efficient with liners, getting them to fit perfectly in a custom design."

Robert Schaeffer, co-owner of Bob's Pools in Friedensburg, Penn., agrees "One nice thing about liner pools these days is the sky's the limit in terms of what you can build," he says. "You can do anything with a liner pool that you can with a concrete pool."

That's very different from the early days of his career working at his father's side building package pools. "Even as recent as 15 years ago, I thought they were all rectangles or kidney shaped. Now they're custom," he says. "You're trying to build the pool of your customer's dreams, to listen to their ideas. That's definitely helped the liner pool because people don't want what their parents had or their neighbors have. Everyone is looking for something unique."

Schaeffer says his supplier, Cardinal Systems, has the ability to generate plans and packages quickly for custom pools, which is crucial. "Their turnaround time is very fast, which is extremely important when you're selling a vinyl pool," he explains. "People are very impatient about buying decisions. Even with something as expensive as a pool, they have to have it now."

THE SWEET SPOT

David Owens, owner of Owens Custom Pools and Landscapes in Eugene, Ore., also offers all types of pools, which he says enables him to easily navigate the ebb and flow of consumer preferences.

"The market's weird," he says. "Some years everyone wants gunite, others it's all package pools and sometimes people are more interested in the stainless-steel hybrids. There was a time when package pools were sold mostly because they were the least expensive option. They are still more affordable compared to concrete pools, but the reasons homeowners want them go way beyond price. For example, I'm doing a project right now on a 2.5 million dollar house where they're putting a vinyl lap pool in its own building."

And there are cases where vinyl's cost and capabilities are the only solution, Lenz adds. "We're building an L-shaped pool right now with multiple depths. It's designed for volleyball at one end with a diving board on the other. It has roman ends and beautiful decking.

You could never do that in fiberglass, but if you did it in gunite it would be far more expensive," he says. "That's the sweet spot; you don't have to live with what's in the book. And you don't have to have a pool built in 10 to 12 weeks; you can have it in four to six."

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"That definitely appeals to homeowners who are in a hurry for whatever reason," Owens says. "I've done one in seven days, a basic 20 by 40 with no concrete work. Generally speaking, people do buy them at least in part because they're quicker. Century Pools, who I use, makes everything to order; you call and they make it. Other manufacturers have inventory for their standard models."

 

That desire for expediency extends through the life of the pool, Owens explains, especially when it comes time to replace the liner.

"Many homeowners really appreciate the fact that replacing a liner is a lot easier, faster and less expensive than re-plastering," he says. "You can change a liner in a day. When you re-plaster, it can take up to two weeks or more by the time you chip out the old plaster and install the new surface. The process is slow, dirty and expensive. With a new liner, the pool looks brand new with a fraction of
the hassle and expense."

 

ROOM FOR MORE

Clients do indeed save money when opting for a package pool, but those savings don't just stay in their wallets. Instead, those savings are often spent on developing the rest of the backyard environment. In that sense, the vinyl option leads to much broader client discussions that extend beyond the water.

Lenz recalls a project where the homeowners came to the buying process with a slim $40,000 budget. At that level, the only pool Lenz could build was a package pool. "Otherwise," he says, "the conversation would've ended right there. But then, they started thinking about some of the other things they wanted, and the budget expanded. Now they have an outdoor kitchen, a hot tub and a fire pit."

"They definitely like all the bling that goes around the pool," he adds. "It's surprising how elaborate some of these package pool projects can become when people start thinking about all the creative things they can do with decks and coping and everything else you can put in a landscape."

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"Because the price of the pool is less, they do spend more money on other features," Schaeffer confirms. "Saltwater chlorinators are very popular in our area and everybody wants LED lighting. And they will spend more on the landscape. It's a completely different kind of conversation when you're creating the backyard of someone's dreams instead of just installing a pool. They get excited about the process and view the money they're spending as an investment in their lifestyle. If it wasn't for package pools, that wouldn't happen for a lot of people."

 

OLD RESISTANCE

According to Owens, the only resistance he meets with package pools are with clients who cling to the old perception that vinyl liner pools are cheap and primarily the realm of aboveground pools.

"It's really just perception," he says, "and some people just won't let it go. They think of vinyl and in their mind they see an aboveground pool. It surprises some homeowners when I tell them I install these pools in multi-million dollar homes and that you cannot tell the difference between a custom package pool and a gunite pool."

"We build the entire environment, which is why our projects are usually well into six figures," Lenz says. "These days package pools lead to discussions about all the ways you can customize your outdoor living areas. Now it's all about identifying what the customer wants. That's a very different conversation than simply picking a shape from a brochure."

Eric Herman is Senior Editor of AQUA Magazine.
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Well written article. Although I'm surprised about the comment about Cardinal having great turnaround time. As a distributor who buys from a handful of package pool suppliers, I'd say they are by far the slowest. Extensive offering, though.