By Scott Webb

From an inkling in a designer's mind to a top-selling pool pattern, vinyl travels a winding road

Vinyl pool begins with an idea — both in a customer's and a manufacturer's mind. Not always simultaneously, of course, but somewhere a mother of swimming-age children considers the possibilities of outdoor preteen recreation (and indoor tranquility), and in another place, a vinyl liner manufacturer has just seen an image, an outcropping of rock, a sea creature, something . . . that he or she thinks would make a great pattern.

Sometimes the inspiration is as simple as the design at the edge of a dinner plate. That was the genesis of "Vineyard," the newest pattern from Triac Ind., Ontario, Canada, according to vice president Michael Gibson. Some time after his evening meal, Gibson got in touch with a major manufacturer of vinyl for pools. He huddled with the manufacturer's designers, and after some back and forth, emerged with what Triac hopes will be a hot new pool pattern.

"It's actually a vine with leaves that travels across the top perimeter of the pool," he says, "and it's designed to be fully visible above the waterline. The vine appears to be coming off the wall of the pool."

Jeff Mazzone, director of marketing for Pacific Industries, Latham, N.Y., takes the same approach, finding patterns in the everyday world around him. "My wife says I need to get a life," he says, "but everywhere I go, whenever I see something that seems like it would make a great pattern, I take a picture of it. Of course, some of it works, and some of it doesn't."

Like most vinyl liner manufacturers, both Pacific and Triac buy printed vinyl in huge rolls and then cut and shape it to the dimensions of a particular pool. The dimensions may come from a builder for a custom pool installation, from an existing pool for a replacement liner or from a package vinyl pool manufacturer.

That's what is under consideration, back in residential USA, where Mom and Dad have made a large financial decision. In fact, they've arrived at the dealership of Vincent J. Wuebker, that is, Marshall Spas and Pools, Watertown, S.D. They're ready to move on this idea, and they'd like to look at some patterns for vinyl-liner pools. As

Wuebker settles in with the couple to display some samples, he is directing his efforts toward one of the two buyers in particular.

"It's the woman that makes that decision, almost every time," he says of the liner selection process.

John Mosher, owner of Central Iowa Pool & Spa, Des Moines, Iowa, agrees completely. "The woman picks the pattern — 90 percent of the time — and really makes most of the decisions about the pool. There's some give and take, and the man may come in to put down the deposit, but it's the woman who begins the process of what's going to happen."

Back in South Dakota, Wuebker runs through a selection of a few dozen patterns, but keeps the roster to a manageable number. He could offer more pattern choices, but believes it helps customers to limit the possibilities.

"It's hard for customers to settle on a pattern sometimes," he says.

"Sometimes you get too many patterns. It's too confusing for the customer and then it's hard for them to make a decision. So we usually limit what we show them."

THE ESSENTIALS OF MAINTENANCE

Those beautiful eye-popping designs and colors that attract buyers to vinyl come with a caveat: They are more sensitive to degradation from the sun and chemicals than other surfaces. Once that vinyl liner is installed, it's important to keep its colors vibrant and its surface in good repair.

1) First of all, keep a good chlorine residual, between 1.0 and 1.5 ppm, to keep algae and bacterial growth from staining the liner.

2) Maintain a good water balance.

Keep pH in the 7.2 - 7.6 range, total alkalinity near 100 ppm, and calcium hardness at a minimum of 100 ppm.

When pH drops too low, the liner can begin to form wrinkles.

3) Keep the water level up. The more liner border you have above the waterline, the more your vinyl is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun, which bleaches out color over time and degrades the vinyl itself.

4) If using chlorine in any form, it's important to keep the concentration even throughout the pool.

Concentrated chlorine is a vinyl liner's enemy.

6) Keep the waterline clean of scum, which can be baked into the liner by the sun, but do not use abrasive cleaning aids or agents, which will score the vinyl.

Beyond these issues of fading, abrasions or degradation, if a major problem does arise, it is likely to be a tear in the liner. Unless it's a UV problem at the waterline, It won't take a genius to diagnose, as the water level in the pool will begin to drop.

Don't drain the pool, as it will cause the liner to shrink. Instead, the liner must be fixed underwater. That means getting out the tank, mask and fins, if you are licensed and trained to use them. If not, find some one who is.

Vinyl liner patch kits are very effective, and come with special glue for underwater work.

As our customer scans the samples, decision time approaches — crunch time, really, for the pattern manufacturer. The lady is about to reject dozens of designs, all painstakingly developed in the hope of becoming a winner in the battle for vinyl liner market share. Only one will become her new pool. And according to Wuebker, at this point, a "pattern" is already developing in the area of customer preference.

Despite all the efforts of pattern designers to make each one appealing, the public rewards only a few with top sales. Says Wuebker, "Every year there's one pattern that everybody seems to like and want. You never know which one it will be."

The lady points. The selection is made. The dealer makes a call to the vinyl-liner pool manufacturer, and work begins at the factory to turn large vinyl sheets into a swimming pool.

As sales figures roll in, Gibson and Mazzone and dozens of other designers begin to get the word. Have they succeeded. Or failed.

Some of their best new work is on display in the pages that follow. You be the judge.

• Dry storage beneath the top step Perfect for keeping towels, robes and spa chemicals within easy reach.

• Rugged construction features attractive woodgrain texture and is available in a variety of woodtones to compliment any spa cabinet.

• Hand Rail (Concept 1 and EMBRACE only) is available as an option for easier access to your spa.

• Available in rectangular, curved front and circular EMBRACE for round tubs.

• Spacious dry storage area is lockable

The Evolution of Pattern

Evolution in a species takes a long time. Fortunately, evolution of pattern style in the vinyl liner industry proceeds more rapidly. And the pace of change is accelerating. With each passing year, manufacturers are pressed to come up with new and inspiring patterns in order to compete.

Like the process of natural selection, the changes in vinyl liner patterns can be quite subtle, as manufacturers are forced to keep the vast majority of their product lines in some shade of blue. Still, consumers have become very discriminating in recent years, and demand a relatively wide selection from which to choose.

Displayed below are some of the new looks you'll be seeing in retail stores around the country. Some are understated and dignified, others are bombastic and scream for attention, but a common thread is creative embellishment of natural themes. Hidden in these abstract designs are gemstones, flowers, rocks, crystals, shells and creatures of the sea. Some are obvious, and some require a bit of . . . imagination.

This summer wave pattern for in-ground pool liners is now available from Canadian General Tower's exclusive line of in-stock patterns. The new pattern uses an intricate placement of mosaic tiles precisely placed to give the feel of handmade mosaic design work. It uses rich blue tones highlighted with golds, yellows and amber accents that will give any pool a glowing summer appearance.