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 By Brian Van Bower

10-year logo‘For all the talk about the spectrum of watershaping – the existence of those who, on one extreme, pursue high-quality, truly custom projects and those on the other who live in a low-end, cookie-cutter realm – I must say that I’ve yet to run into anyone from the fringes of latter camp who’s stepped forward to
say, “Yes, our company crawls in the dirt to win jobs based purely on price, and it’s only possible because we deliberately do substandard work.” ’
That’s how Brian Van Bower began his September 2007 Aqua Culture column in WaterShapes before continuing:  ‘Quite to the contrary, people in the watershaping business at all levels will tell you that they’re in business to provide a quality end product that delivers real value to clients whether the average cost of their output is $30,000 or $130,000.  And in the vast majority of cases, even those on the lower-cost end of the spectrum truly believe what they say.’  He added:
‘I hear about this polarity between top-flight, custom watershaping and lower-end, cookie-cutter operations all the time – and I’m actually encouraged by the frequency of these discussions, because it tells me that there are lots of people out there who now recognize the benefits of raising the proverbial bar and are aware that doing so goes way beyond simply paying lip service to doing better.’ 
‘But there’s no pretty way to say it:  There are still numerous companies out there that do nothing but compete on price.  Although it’s important to remember that price alone will never be the sole factor determining the difference between good and bad, the disparities observed between outcomes produced by low-bid operators compared to those who focus on real value and quality at a fair price point to a problem with perception.’
‘Even if you consider measurable differentiation in equipment choices, finish materials and other features, the gap is too great for the low bidder to avoid significant compromises. . . . [T]he low bidder will be working with a design template and off-the-shelf engineering – but that still doesn’t explain the disparity.  Fact is, every single element of the project will have to be cheapened or downgraded in some way to make the equations work, and that includes everything from structural steel, plumbing and the shell to project management and on-site job performance.’
‘What’s involved in moving away from the low-bid mentality and toward true quality has been the subject of countless articles and columns in WaterShapes and stands at the core of . . . the Genesis 3 programs:  No matter the source, it’s all about education and a willingness to address every aspect of how you focus your efforts.’
‘Once you perceive the distinctions and can differentiate the low-bid mentality from the quality perspective and make the decision to step up, you need to plot a course of action.  Because of the . . . “fear factor,” however, too many firms are far too tentative in the way they roll out their new attitudes.’ 
‘If you want to be different, then think in terms of being completely different and then balance and support what you’re doing by expanding your capabilities and focusing on your goals.’
‘On a more practical level, of course, those who commit themselves to taking the high road have to figure out how to promote their different selves to prospective clients who seek the best our industry has to offer.  That’s a real stumbling block for some people, because there’s a “chicken or the egg” issue here:  That is, to find quality-minded clients, you need to present them with a track record that speaks to your ability to hit the high marks – and until you’ve done a few of those projects, there’s no way to have them in your portfolio.’ 
‘[T]here are no shortcuts.  There’s absolutely no way on earth to get over the hump, at least not honestly, without fully embracing a no-compromises dedication to moving in the right direction.’ 
‘It takes courage to move in new directions and pursue change,’ he concluded, ‘but you also have to follow through when you land quality-oriented jobs and then stand behind what you’ve done.  We all have learning curves to master, no matter where we start, so there’s no point to moaning that if you haven’t already done something, you never will.’
Have changes in the marketplace added weight to Brian’s thoughts from five years ago, or has a survival mentality made raising the bar too difficult to consider?  Please share your thoughts on this issue by commenting below.  
Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group; 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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