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Quality Don’t Come Easy

15yearsagoBy Brian Van Bower

‘During the past few years,’ wrote Brian Van Bower to open his Aqua Culture column in March 2001, ‘I’ve come to the stark realization that there are too few quality craftspeople in most geographical areas of our country.  And it’s not just the watershaping trades:  The same holds true for most areas of the greater construction industry as well.’  

‘The hard reality is that, for many people in the trades, it’s easier to do three ordinary jobs in a week than it is to do one challenging project over a month.  I’m starting to think that this is a new example of the age-old quality vs. quantity paradox.  And frankly, it seems to me that coming down more often on the side of quantity is one of the things that threatens to doom our industry to mediocrity.’  He continued:

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‘As [I]’ve looked at this problem, it’s become clear . . . that the driving force here is not money, as one might expect.  It would be easy to understand that a tile contractor, for example, would gravitate toward the more profitable course if he or she was really making more money doing three cheap jobs instead of one expensive project.  By contrast, however, what [I]’ve found is that many craftspeople actually turn away from high-paying jobs with better margins in favor of far more competitive volume work that carries narrower margins and more headaches.’

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‘If it’s not the money, what’s driving the decision?  I think it’s familiarity and the desire of many people to stay within comfortable boundaries of operation.  After all, why put yourself in a situation that forces you to learn?’

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‘This complacency of craft is, I believe, further reinforced by the way we regard people who work with their hands in this country.  In other places, . . . craftspeople are seen as artisans and enjoy prestige in their communities.  . . .  I don’t mean to sound unpatriotic, but the cold truth is that we in the United States don’t share this value system.’

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‘That’s a shame, in my opinion.  It’s too bad for the craftspeople themselves, and it’s too bad for the designers and builders of custom watershapes who would benefit from the presence of a class of tradespeople aspiring to become artists.’

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‘Not to harp on the point, but “workmanship standards” in our country are designed to help the trades avoid litigation, not to build pride or prestige.  So instead of quality-based industry standards, watershapers and custom contractors of all stripes adhere to what can only be called informal standards that radiate solely from the expectations of astute clients.’  

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‘The ability or inability to meet those expectations has everything to do with whether or not these clients report positively on their experiences in acquiring watershapes to other potential clients.  And it all comes back to having craftspeople on hand who can get the job done in a way that leaves the customer smiling.’

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‘[We should] work toward adopting a value system that places greater emphasis on quality.  Ultimately, that effort must begin with the “E word” – education.  Too many trades in this country are learned strictly through on-the-job training.  Indeed, we lack any sort of apprenticeship programs for most of the skills required specifically to build watershapes.’  

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‘And lest anyone think that any movement toward greater quality in workmanship is a trickle-down thing that must necessarily begin on the high-end, let me counter that I think the true breeding ground for this change is in mid-range projects.  Yes, wealthy clients can afford excellence and demand it, but there’s no reason the $40,000 project should not be built to a higher standard.’

‘These watershapes may not have all the bells and whistles and fine details and materials of high-end projects,’ Brian concluded, ‘but they should have sound hydraulics, square and plumb forming, sound installation practices and even a modestly custom design.’

Do you still agree with Brian’s basic point about “complacency of craft,” or is this a situation that has changed for the better in the 15 years since he expressed these thoughts?  And if there’s been change, what effect has it had on the way you do business?  Please share your thoughts and experiences by commenting below!

 

Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of Genesis 3; dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, this organization conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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