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For decades, the winter pool cover has been like your mom's sensible shoes — a prudent and functional guarantee against all hazards, but hardly the most aesthetic element in her wardrobe.
That thinking has changed. The new paradigm is that the homeowner wants to keep the backyard looking good, even when the pool is closed for the winter. And to that end, dealers are selling both the safety and the beautification potential of winter safety covers.
It only makes sense, and frankly, it's a little bit strange that it's taken this long to bring a sense of style to the backyard cover. After all, in the Northlands, the off-season drags on for six months or more; that's a long time to be staring at a cover that clashes with just about everything in the backyard.
"Pool owners now are looking for their covers to blend into the environment. They want them to look as 'natural' as their pools," says Dan Rookard of Rookard Custom Pools, a company that serves the Tri-Cities in eastern Washington state — Moses Lake, Chelan and Spokane. "So the more color options I have to offer, the better. No one wants to feel limited; if they do, they might go somewhere else. I recommend these new designer colors because they look terrific. You never know what someone's tastes will be, so I like to have something for everyone."
Oddly enough, Rookard says, the winter pool makeover movement in his neighborhood started with the same color option as Henry Ford offered on his old Model T, and then grew from there. "A couple of years ago we were given the new option of a black material and that really took off," he says. "Everyone wanted black rather than the standard green or blue. Now I give my customers all the options and I take them to various projects I have done so they see, feel and touch the products. And most of the time they choose the more natural black, tan and gray color options available."
Lisa Newton of Splash Pool & Spa Service over in Wenatchee saw the same initial run on black covers, "but now I am often suggesting that customers choose the tan color for their safety cover. Most pools these days are built with stone water features, and the new tan and gray safety cover material coordinates nicely with them — especially since the cover comes right up next to the rock."
Much depends on the natural landscape of the pool. Wenatchee and Chelan are over in the high desert area, where the dominant natural landscape color is brown, but in Oregon west of the mountains, where Nicolas White of Cascade Pools & Spas sells covers in Lake Oswego (suburb of Portland), it's green all year round. That has a strong effect on the cover dealer's palette.
Nowadays, he says, "Only one in 100 customers chooses the old aqua color that was available back in 1962. Green is now the norm. This is Oregon so green coordinates well with most backyards because we have green everywhere. And I sell a lot of tan and gray covers to match the flagstone used on the decks and around the pool area. It goes hand in hand with the fact that homeowners are no longer using white plaster for their pool deck surfaces, nor the six-by-six blue tiles around the pool."
Black is still going strong for Phil Paquette at Paquette Pools out in Hooksett, N.H., but it has a lot to do with the other accessories that are popular in the area, he says. "They are often trying to coordinate the cover with the fencing. Black fencing is very common in this area — black chain link, black powder-coated aluminum, etc.
"We also do a lot of dark gray or slate stamped-concrete decks for our customers, and the black safety cover goes very nicely with this type of deck. Homeowners are definitely more aware of color coordinating all aspects of their backyard today than in the past."
Hmmm . . . Methinks that phrase, "color coordinating all aspects of the backyard" smacks of a designer's or landscape architect's influence.
In fact, the pool cover choice is increasingly affected by the overall design specialist, says Kent Schillinger, owner of IN2H2O, Douglasville, Ga. "I find that more and more of my clients come to me after they have paid and consulted a landscape architect. They already have a drawing of the pool that the architect produced and they know what they want to do with their backyard landscaping. And the landscape architect has provided a color scheme for the backyard, so the client tends to look at and consider a cover that will blend into that color scheme."
White has noticed the trend in suburban Portland, with customers engaging their own design professional for the cover choice as part of the overall plan for the backyard. "More and more of my clients have a designer that advises on the tile color, the stamped-concrete color, etc., and they like the gray winter covers, which look very nice with the stamped-concrete colors available today. Designers make sure it all matches because oftentimes the pool is the focal point of the backyard and it needs to look good year-round."
White often adds a little practical advice to go along with the artistic notions of the designers. "We do recommend the gray and tan the most — not only because they coordinate well in the backyard but also because these colors hold up better to UV fading, don't show dirt and generally look better in most backyards."
No matter how much customers like the new colors and patterns, winter pool covers are really about safety. The appeal to style is just a way to make this crucial safety item more attractive — and to smooth the path to the sale.
"Safety is of course still central to my selling of covers," says Newton. "I still remind customers that it is important to keep their kids, grandkids and pets safe in the winter. But in addition to safety, the selling of covers with unique colors that blend into the backyard landscape gives me something else to talk about and distinguishes me from my competition."
Schillinger takes his own perspective on the same point. "If I create a backyard-pool-landscape that is more aesthetically pleasing because I use one of the new colored safety covers," he says, "I will continue to get more and more referrals. The manufacturers of these covers are definitely doing the right thing to bring in higher-end, higher-quality fabrics and colors. It's a trend that consumers want, and we as pool builders and installers need to be able to offer what consumers want to remain competitive."
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