{AQUA} Making the Leap: How to Find and Tap into Your Local High End Niche

Hybrid Pool {BRN} Legendary Escapes (13)So many of us start out in this business building pools for the mass market; basic designs for basic budgets, nothing really special or unique, but there’s plenty of customers to buy what we are building. If volume is your thing, then this might be a business model that makes good sense.

For us, this wasn’t the kind of business we wanted. Rather than quantity, we were hungry for creativity. We didn’t care so much about how many pools we built; we just wanted each of them to be truly unique. And we wanted to do it locally, staying in southeast Michigan while we grew.

Crazy? Maybe, but it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of that (and probably not the last).

Granted, Michigan is not the first place you think of as a hot spot for the pool industry. Between the tough climate (we have just a few good months of pool weather every year) and the economy (Michigan is always among the first to feel the pinch, and the last to recover) we’ve got our share of challenges.

And we did it anyway.

In thinking back on how we did it, how we built a high-end artistic hybrid pool company by tapping our local market, I realized there were three major turning points for us along the way.

Famous for What?

I spent a lot of time researching and paying attention to builders that were known for original, creative projects instead of building standard, basic-budget pools. I studied the types of projects they built, the materials they were using, and the ways they were putting their projects together. I became really good at identifying each local builder by their individual style. From this knowledge I envisioned the kinds of pools I would build when I had the budgets they were working with. In other words, I started to define what I’d be known for – completely custom artistic hybrid pools.

I realized, as I studied the companies that I admired that were doing this, that they were dealing with an entirely different type of clientele.

They certainly weren’t the kind of client I was used to having, with set budgets and set expectations as to what a “pool” means. So I asked myself, “How can I find a client who is willing to hire me to do this different thing I want to try?”

As I talked to more and more prospects, I found a very receptive audience when I suggest a new idea or an unusual design. The key was in having a clear idea of the kinds of pools I wanted to build, and asking my clients to let me do it. Once I could articulate my vision, they began to say yes.

How Much are You Worth?

I’ve shared this story before, about my customer who was so pleased with the final results that he told me flat out I could have charged 50% more for the project and he would have happily cut me a check. This blew me away, as I began to realize that not only were my skills and craft advancing with each project, my value was going up accordingly.

People were not just buying my pool building skills; they were not buying the concrete and the boulders and the rock and the tile. They were buying my art and my creativity, the part of my business that feeds my soul and keeps me slogging through the concrete day after day.

Sure, there were some new things we tried that we didn’t make a ton of money on. But we never gave our work away, like some folks in the industry recommend. Once you realize what you are worth, you can charge accordingly without hesitation. This is a critical step in finding clients with those dream budgets. They don’t expect you to work for cheap; they expect to pay for the skills you bring to the project.

We started out building $25K pools, then made the leap to $30-40K pools. At the time, that seemed like a huge, scary leap to make. But we did it, and we pushed on. The leap to $50K was a turning point for us, so much so that the next big jump, to $75K, didn’t feel like such a big jump after all. From there, we thought if we can build a $75K pool, why not $100K or $150K, and so on. It’s just a number on a piece of paper, after all.

Tell the Right Story

What we quickly realized is our ideal customer is not looking for a pool, they are hoping to create a lifestyle experience in their backyard. To provide that, we have to know why they are spending that kind of money, and understand what they expect to get out it.

They weren’t doing it to impress their neighbors, or improve their property value. They were doing it to create an experience that suited their family, something specifically and uniquely their own.

Once we knew this, we could market to this audience using messaging that would resonate. We knew we were only going to get a very small percentage of the local pool buying market—and we were totally okay with that. We now had a voice and story to share that would resonate with the right clients, the ones who were looking for what we had to offer.

Social media and online marketing was the perfect vehicle for our marketing, as we were able to tap into an audience that was really receptive to what we had to say.

Ultimately, it was this process—defining what we wanted to do; understanding the value of what we offer; and telling the right story to the right people—that got us out of that basic “starter pool” mentality and helped us create a thriving niche business that we love.

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Al Curtis is the designer and builder for Legendary Escapes Pools. He has pioneered the hybrid vinyl liner/gunite swimming pool, and is known for his unique and innovative custom designs. Also known online as @askthepoolguy, he blogs, does video, training, and events for the pool loving public and fellow industry professionals. He can be found online at www.AskthePoolGuy.com.

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