Swimming pool tile specialist, Jimmy Reed, is passionate about his work installing breathtaking tile surfaces in swimming pools. He’s also succeeded in featuring his artisanal works in a variety of media settings promoting his artistic excellence. Here he offers advice and perspective for others who endeavor to elevate their reputation by way of today’s accessible communications landscape.
By Jimmy Reed
For the past several years, I’ve actively promoted my work as a custom tile installer across a variety of platforms and settings. It’s a form of self-promotion that has served me well, as it has others in the industry and elsewhere.
When done consistently with a solid message, I’ve found it can be quite effective, especially when it comes to developing a strong reputation. I use a combination of digital media including our website, social media pages, blogs and instruction videos and webinars, coupled with presentations in front of live audiences, as well as one-on-one in-person training. I’ve been gratified by how successful those efforts have been.
Like most forms of communication these days, media platforms are accessible to everyone, but it’s how you use those outlets to form the best kinds of messages that makes the big difference.
First and foremost, you need a clear idea of what it is you’re trying to convey and the motivation behind those impressions and presentations. My reasons for traveling this path are two-fold. First, I am focused on increasing my company’s reputation and business. There is no question that part of my effort is self-serving, but there’s more to it than that. I’m equally, if not more so, interested in elevating the industry’s overall reputation by way of setting a positive example.
It’s no secret that the pool and spa industry has long suffered from a “compromised” reputation. A lack of professionalism, shoddy work, substandard performance and even outright dishonesty are criticisms that have for decades been part of the narrative that at least in part still defines the pool and spa construction industry. My goal has been to hopefully improve the industry’s image, even in a small way, so that consumers will be more likely to hire people within our industry.
When I first became involved with organizations such as Genesis 3 more than 20 years ago, and every organization I’ve come to know since, has proclaimed to have the same goal, that being to elevate the industry. That all sounds good, but often I’ve found that in many cases, that’s really just an exercise in saying what they think others want to hear and as a way to cast themselves as part of the industry elite. Fact is, most groups and many individuals I’ve come to know don’t follow through, even after a very short time.
It’s my personal view that despite a lot of the positive rhetoric, much of the public still sees the industry in a negative light. Perhaps it’s arguable that our industry’s reputation has improved over time, but there’s no question that tainted image still exists.
Having said that, I have also come to know people who are doing great work creating beautiful pools, spas, outdoor environments and watershapes of all kinds. I’ve been inspired to do the best work I possibly can to be part of that group of true professionals who doggedly purse excellence.
The only way to do that is to, in reality, perform top-notch and honest work. And if you read no further here, that is the primary message. If you promote yourself as being great at what you do, it’s all for not if you don’t live up to those claims. That’s the full stop, you have to be the best you can be in order to represent yourself that way. Anything less, and your efforts at self-promotion will inevitably fall short. Some things you simply cannot fake.
My perspective on building positive impressions has been informed by the fact that for a long time, I was in a very specialized niche. When I started, and in the years prior to Genesis 3 and WaterShapes movement, there were very, very few people that focused on the type of work I did, with just a small handful of well-known exceptions. All-tile pools were extremely rare and any type of truly custom tile installation was almost unheard of by most people in the industry, as well as consumers.
Because what I was doing was so specialized and rare, I found that I was being treated differently than other subcontractors. We were greeted with more respect and considered true artisans, largely because the work was so detailed, unusual and expensive.
So, I’ve come at this process of promotion from a decidedly artistic and even elite status within the industry. Custom tile work, especially when you’re working with the kinds of beautiful tile products that I do, is a powerfully visual medium. It looks great in photos and even better in person. It’s a high-exposure element in pools that has the ability to capture attention and create an emotional response.
Of course, there are all the other aspects of building a pool that are just as important, the excavation, the steel, the plumbing, the engineering, all of it needs to be executed on a high level for any project to be truly successful. And while those subtrades and beneath-the-surface work may not have the same visual impact of custom tile, promoting yourself based on outstanding quality and value is available to everyone in the industry.
But again, if you don’t truly walk the walk and do a great job, at whatever aspect of the industry you work in, promoting yourself as something special has no real meaning or value.
The journey to excellence is always different for each person, based on your background, professional focus and guiding philosophy. In my case, I developed my skillset at a young age, growing up in an artistic family and working in tile as a teen. I eventually moved into high-end interior installations in massive custom homes with 15 bathrooms, two kitchens and 50 different types of tiles.
It was during that phase of my career that I developed a keen eye for the finest details; the cuts, the grout lines, and the use of color and contrast among countless other facets of the work. It was a constant learning experience and the techniques I learned back in those days are still on display in the work I do in pools today. As cliché as it may sound, it’s also true that the pursuit of excellence should never stop. As much as I know these days, I still learn and perfect different aspects of the work all the time.
The big turning point in my own career was when I moved from those finely crafted, yet smaller interior treatments into swimming pools. It meant going from using a variety of materials across a range of settings: countertops, showers, backsplashes etc. to using only one or two tile types over these comparatively massive surfaces. All of a sudden, I was creating these giant diamonds that became the most visible and dazzling feature in the landscape. And, it didn’t hurt that working on that larger scale was lucrative.
I was impressed by the attention the work commanded. Project teams would be onsite for weekly meetings with all these professionals clamoring to move up the ladder, so to speak. Yet, in that competitive professional environment, almost everyone was blown away by the massive tile surfaces. I discovered on that scale, there’s almost a theatrical type of impression that occurs. The pool takes on a visually dramatic quality that can stop people in their tracks. The clients especially were ecstatic.
When glass tile became a popular choice for pools, that wow factor only increased. Suddenly pools with relatively simple designs could become vibrant works of art.
Suffice it say, I knew I was on to something special working pools.
All of the above has fueled the success of my promotional and instructional media efforts. It helps to have attention-getting work product to show off what you know will grab people’s attention. But as I said above, if you’re doing quality work you will have worthwhile messages to share. Assuming you are in a good position from a professional standpoint, there are some key factors to consider when mounting a media campaign.
The first is a willingness to devote the time and effort it requires in the first place. Fortunately, these days, the personal media outlets are so readily available, promoting yourself and your company isn’t necessarily as expensive as it used to be; but, you do need to invest the time, something that you need to factor into your business plan.
You also have to feel a desire to share, both with consumers and fellow professionals. I’ve always been a good fit where that’s concerned because I love sharing what I know with others in the trade. I don’t keep secrets and am not the least bit afraid to elevate others’ skillsets out of any kind of competitive concern. Quite the opposite.
Nowadays, I’m routinely contacted by people who have questions or want me to show them a specific technique. Is there an aspect of ego on my part? Of course, it feels good to have other professionals seek you out for advice; but, I believe if you come to that process with a truly open and giving attitude, the benefits to your career and reputation come back multi-fold. I see no downside and only benefits to helping others do a better job.
While I’m not a big fan of the marketing jargon of branding or becoming a “thought leader” etc., it does help to think in practical terms of things like a catchy company name. In my case, the name Rock Solid came from a time when I living with a girlfriend who was working in the music industry. We decided to share an office phone and for convenience’s sake, we used a company name that worked for both our businesses. Over the years, the term has worked and I’ve stuck with it.
Depending on your business focus, having quality pictures will be of varying importance. If you specialize in building great equipment pads and plumbing, or do custom concrete work — whatever the case may be — always remember that we live in a very visually-oriented society and recording your best work in pictures is never bad idea. Quality photos are necessary for everything from websites, to social media to building Power Point presentations.
The most important asset you have in a promotion is always confidence, which directly circles back to being really good at what you do. Confidence is the most attractive of all human characteristics, but it has to be genuine. I’m rarely boastful and do not carry an elitist attitude, but I am extremely confident in my abilities and, I believe rightly, am proud of my work.
When you have the quality of confidence based on learning and professional achievement, others will respond to it in a positive way, regardless of the means of transmitting your message.
NO ONE WAY
There’s no set blueprint for how you approach self-promotion, marketing or whatever you choose to call it. I’ve tried numerous avenues and they all have been useful to varying extents. For example, I enjoy working with trade publications, such as WaterShapes and others, but publications work on their own schedules and are not always available.
By turning to my own platforms online and in person, I have complete control. I can say whatever I want and when I want. There are certainly all sorts of media companies out there that will help you develop a “campaign” or you can do it all yourself, which is what I’ve done. Whatever way you choose to approach the process, the essential qualities of true professional excellence, a willingness to share and the confidence to do it in an engaging way, you can succeed in building impressions that serve your interest and others in the industry.
Jimmy Reed is president of Rock Solid Tile, a tile design/installation firm based in Calabasas, Calif. He founded the company in 1985 after spending his teens and early 20s learning the tile-installation trade. In between, he attended Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, Calif.) and spent several years working in the entertainment industry.