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Dream Team

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Design Corner

Dream Team: To make the transition into high-end work, you need a top-notch team.

By Rebecca Robledo

January 30, 2004

h igh-end builders enjoy the best of both worlds. Not only can they collect more for each project, but they can unleash the full force of their creativity thanks to bigger budgets and higher expectations.

Each high-end project begins with a vision. But that vision can't be carried out without the right people--be it employees, subcontractors or suppliers.

"We're always pushing the limits, looking for that cutting edge," says Joe Deisenroth, owner of Valley Pool & Spa Design & Construction in Palm Springs, California.

"When you're selling a client on something that you haven't done before, it's like that old adage: Is your mind writing a check that your body can't cash? I know I can do it in my mind and make it work on paper, but can we cash the check?"

That's where your subs and employees come into play. You need a tile setter who is knowledgeable about the latest innovations and a plumber who knows more about hydraulics than you do.

Everyone on board

To make the team work, everyonehas to share your excitement and vision. Thus, when Tom Driscoll, president of Cabana Aquatech Pools in Houston, made the change to higher-level work, he shared his enthusiasm with his crews. "When you meet with them, show them the importance of the ideas and make them feel important," he says.

When you're getting your team psyched, you also need to prepare them for the changes they'll have to make, especially in scheduling. For example, an all-tile pool might keep crews or subcontractors working on the same site for weeks or even months. If they're used to getting in and out of a project within a day or so and hitting the next site, this is going to dramatically change the way they work.

In high-end work, close communication with employees and subcontractors is crucial on a day-to-day basis. Driscoll meets on the site with each subcontractor before it's even time for them to begin working. "We review the job with them first before they set foot on anything," he says.

Be specific about what you need. For Deisenroth, tolerances are usually a concern. An architect might demand that one side of the pool line up perfectly with a door, window or other element from the home. To break ground, you have to figure out exactly how thick everything needs to be--the gunite or shotcrete, finishing materials and float--to get the final surface where it needs to be.

"So we go to the excavator saying, 'You've got to move this line over 2 1/4 inches to make this work,'" Deisenroth says. And so it goes through every stage. You need to tell each crew exactly where to place the work.

In addition to making your needs clear, plan on giving your subs more time to work on high-end projects. "Say, 'OK, I don't need this done today' and let them run with it," Driscoll says.

Deisenroth estimates how long it will take to do each stage of the project. He then adds another day or so of cushion before bringing in the next crew.

This new direction may not work for every subcontractor or employee. Deisenroth and some of his subcontractors had to part ways as Valley Pools progressed into more complicated projects. Some didn't understand the process, while others had built their business strategy around production work and preferred to keep it that way.

While you may face those situations, they are usually the exception to the rule. With the right tools and direction, your employees and subcontractors will be just as charged for the challenge as you are.

"If anything, they're excited, and they want to try new things," Driscoll says. "They enjoy being more creative and doing something new rather than doing the same thing day after day after day."

Robledo is a senior editor at Pool & Spa News. A 13-year industry veteran, she specializes in design and construction.