Big PB or a little guy?

Travelguy73

Member
Aug 16, 2020
17
Houston
Apologies if this has been asked before!

In my search for pool companies, there is a local one that has done a few pools in my area (5 I think). The guy has quite a bit of experience at a large company in another city, and recently struck out on his own. I haven't asked for a design or quote from him yet, but I'm intrigued because I believe he does all the supervisory work himself, and that the bottom line would be (should be!) quite a bit cheaper. BUT, when it comes to pools, what are the risks? Is having a bigger PB with a long track record (and warranty?) that much better than a small guy? I really am conflicted. Anyone use a small guy, and how did you get comfortable with it?

And yes, I would only do this for a substantial cost savings, or not sure what the point would be. :)

Thanks
 

HermanTX

Gold Supporter
May 20, 2020
772
Katy TX
Welcome to TFP. I think you ask a good question.
I would rely on the 5 pools the small PB has done. Is he willing to let you talk to them for a reference? Maybe even let you visit their house - know that may be more of an issue with COVID. A PB trying to build a business may be more flexible and willing to focus on the job he got rather than trying to bid on 10 other jobs for the future. Personally I would give the small PB a good opportunity to show what he can do. Maybe a small PB has less overhead cost but they still need to subcontract the same gunite companies and plaster subcontractors, buy quality pool equipment, so don't get focused on lower cost. The direct supervision is a big plus - this means he is really overseeing that good work is done. I would be careful if there is "substantial" cost savings as that may mean he is cutting corners. You can determine that if you can discuss with is previous customers. Keep us posted.
 

Tres Gatos

Well-known member
Apr 13, 2019
82
Bullhead City, AZ
I personally would not go with a PB that's only done 5 pools. Most PBs do 50+ a year have a track record and have the financial resources to "make it right" if something goes wrong. Your guy could easily go under declaring BK with unpaid subcontractors and now you have an unfinished pool and you have lost thousands of dollars and good luck finding another PB to finish it. This is a sad story repeated over and over. How much of cost savings was that?
 

Dirk

Gold Supporter
TFP Guide
Nov 12, 2017
7,133
Central California
Oh, man. What kind of experience? Running the office? Running a single crew? Or all of them? Supervising an entire build? Or is he just a laborer who thinks he can go out be a PB? Five is just not enough. Herman is right in that his costs are going to be the same as a bigger shop. Possibly higher, because a bigger company, offering steadier work for subs, could maybe get a better deal. There is not a lot of money being made on a pool. If he's scraped together only five jobs, that means, at best, he's sitting on the profit from only five jobs. Which he's not, he spent that on groceries! Or startup costs. So he's not likely got any resources to back himself up if things go astray. And a lot of builds go astray! Plus, unless he was actually running the entire operation previously, he may be missing a slew of skill sets. It's one thing to know how to build a pool, or some part of a pool, something else altogether running a business. If he was building my fence, I might go look at the five he built and give him the job if they looked OK. But a $40-80K pool? One that's supposed to last. That is asking a lot of you to fund his learning curve. And think about it, it's the year of COVID, there are no out of work pool builders right now, some are booked out for a year or two. This guy should have already built dozens of pools (unless he just started out a month or two ago). What's he been doing? Five just isn't enough.
 

Whiskeyfox

Well-known member
Jun 24, 2020
137
Houston, TX
I went with a small builder but he came recommended from my next door neighbor who has known him for 20 years. My neighbor is like my and my wives extra grandpa. He always keeps white claws and Michelob in his beer fridge for us, invites us to swim at his pool, hangout and watch TV in the garage, etc.

Anyways I met with who he recommended and really talked a lot to the guy. He gave me a rundown of his past experience and the builds he has down and had a knowledgeable answer to every question I asked.

He designed the pool, did the quote, sources all of his labor, and is on the job overseeing at every step in the process. He is his only employee and he also runs his own business cleaning 28 pools a week.

He did emphasize that he pays contractors on time and has had a good relationship with them for years, and they know he always pays on time unlike the big pool companies in Houston so even though he is small they will come out to do his few jobs a year. I do have experience with this as my mom ran a sundek company for over 20 years with her ex husband as the laborer doing hundreds of jobs a year. The biggest pool names in Houston regularly were 10+ invoices behind in payment, and would tell her, oh go finish these 3 jobs right now that we're behind on and we'll pay you for the last 6. Constant BS from even the hugest builders.

Anyways that's one of the big things that made me trust him, along with loving his design based on our wants/requests, his pricing, the fact that he is there Everytime work is being done...all led me to chosing him. It sounds like a horror story to have a sales agent, a designer, a receptionist, the project manager, etc. That comes with the big companies. If I don't like something, want to change something, or ask a random question it's all just 1 guy and I like that.

Sorry for the rambling, I'm sure my paragraphs don't make any sense etc. But it's 6am and I haven't slept yet lol


Edit: there was a time I was nervous and that was while waiting for gunite. After 1.5 weeks of delay(which is actually short atm during corona) the gunite company had missed like 3 days where they said they'd be here and they didn't show up. I started thinking they were doing jobs for the big companies and ignoring my PB since he only had the 1 job at the moment. I wondered if we'd ever get gunite. Luckily on the 14th day they finally showed up. 2 of the days they missed was actual truck problems and then a problem with their generator thing they use. They had a free standing one on a trailer and you could see the one on the gunite truck was broke and they weren't using it, so I guess they hadn't been lying.
 
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spd500

Well-known member
Jul 20, 2020
547
Houston, TX
I am using a smaller local builder that has been in business for almost 40 years and has good reviews. I am starting to wonder if we are being delayed more than neccessary because he is a small customer to the gunite company and other subs.
 

BowserB

Silver Supporter
Jul 29, 2018
363
Katy, Texas
Travelguy, I have the same story for the same reasons. Made first payment in May 2018. Over a month before digging. Four months to complete. Filled Sept 30, 2018. He didn't know how the Intelliconnect he provided worked. Had to have Pentair rep help, then replace the box. It took a call to Pentair tech support before I learned the capabilities of the equipment and that he and the sub left out the communication line between the pump and Intelliconnect, leaving the pump to be programmed or manually run only from the panel, rather than from my PC or phone. City of Katy inspection issues added delays, even though the PB assured he was familiar with city codes ("Oh yes, I've built tons of pools in Katy." It didn't occur to me that "tons of pools" isn't that much. The water in our pool weighs 62 tons! :) ) A couple times he had to bring his daughter to the jobsite, because his wife was busy--I worried about that little girl's safety. He only knew, apparently, the routine approach to sanitizing and cleaning--and I knew nothing, so took his word. Wasted money on tablet chlorinator and pressure side cleaner and booster pump, none of which were used after I learned here about CYA and robots.

One of the other builders warned me about "a guy with a wheelbarrow who used to work for a pool company and now thinks he is a pool builder." At the time he said it, I thought it was funny, but he was right. We're coming up on two years with the new pool. So far, it seems that delays and unnecessary gear mentioned above are all that still seems wrong. The other mistakes are matters of preference and experience--our fault, not his. To the PB's defense, it does seem better designed than some I've seen. Several return jets including two in the bottom of the pool. The Pentair VSF pump is very flexible in settings and programs. The Pentair filter is sized right, I believe. Valves are easily adjustable to control water flow into the spa and/or pool as well as skimmers and floor drain. There is an autofil (still not adjusted right IMO) and an overflow drain to the street, and that drain also collects water from two back downspouts so rainwater doesn't run over the deck into the pool. Two years and the only thing that has broken (knock on wood) is the stupid, nearly useless pressure side cleaner that never worked very well anyway. I think now that when covid ends and the economy recovers, we should probably sell the house before things do start breaking! Next time, do it differently or maybe don't do it at all. I'm still hoping to get to the point where I spend as much time in the pool as I do maintaining it.
 

Dirk

Gold Supporter
TFP Guide
Nov 12, 2017
7,133
Central California
It sounds like a horror story to have a sales agent, a designer, a receptionist, the project manager, etc. That comes with the big companies. If I don't like something, want to change something, or ask a random question it's all just 1 guy and I like that.
This did occur to me when using a "big" pool plaster contractor. Not everybody on the same page. The 1 guy shop does have its advantages in that regard.
 

Travelguy73

Member
Aug 16, 2020
17
Houston
Thank you all for the feedback. Lots to think about. We decided to narrow down to two of the big companies. Hoping to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.
 

KeysNole

In The Industry
May 7, 2016
27
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
I didn't read all the replies, but:

Everyone has to start somewhere. The guy you speak of may be amazing, but he cannot build his 6th pool until someone believes in him.

Also, especially here in South Florida-everyone uses the same darn subs. Two gunite companies, several rebar companies, and a few paver suppliers.
 
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Sotex

Gold Supporter
May 11, 2020
95
San Antonio, TX
I didn't read all the replies, but:

Everyone has to start somewhere. The guy you speak of may be amazing, but he cannot build his 6th pool until someone believes in him.

Also, especially here in South Florida-everyone uses the same darn subs. Two gunite companies, several rebar companies, and a few paver suppliers.
Re: the subs. This is so true! Most of our subs work for the "top" two PBs in the SA area.
 

Sollace

Gold Supporter
Aug 16, 2020
304
Byran TX
Our neighbor went with one company -- It was basically a one man business. He took on too much work, putting pools in new builder homes, not managing his money flow, and couldn't pay the workers on our neighbor's house. He became sloppy. Wouldn't show up, put other commitments ahead of theirs. It took over a year to get the pool up and running. My neighbor said he'd still go with the guy, he saved him $10K. Me? No way. No way is that headache worth saving money. At first I was impressed with the guy's work ethic. He was over there beyond 10PM each night working on the pool. But as time went on and a 2 month build turned into over a year, there's just no way.