Pentair Pool Builder Software Could Be a Game Changer –

In partnership with the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, the Sacramento-based company is able to educate and certify young professionals

When Lance Irby came to work at Premier Pools & Spas for owner Keith Harbeck in 2012, he didn’t even know what a protein skimmer was.

“But I found out pretty quickly!” he jokes, after a 10-year career as a pool professional and sales manager at Premier Pools & Spas in Sacramento, California. Irby’s previous “experience” in the industry consisted of a public pool lesson and some construction work. He became the man his mentor Harbeck calls “the best swimming pool salesman I have ever met”. That’s high praise considering Harbeck founded Premier Pools & Spas in 1988, a company that is now the largest pool builder in the world with franchises in over 60 locations.

Like many construction companies, pool builders have struggled to attract and retain young talent like Irby. This is something Harbeck noticed and felt compelled to change.

“Although we have salespeople here who have worked for other manufacturers before, that’s not really what we do anymore. And that’s also true in other places, even when it comes to planning and supervision,” says Harbeck, who started cleaning swimming pools himself as a child. “I think it’s much more important to hire for character than for skill. We can train and teach in this industry.

Premier Pools & Spas - Sacramento, CA
Premier Pools and Spas – Sacramento, CA

Certification programs raise the bar

The alliance of the swimming pool and the spa (PHTA) supports this goal of bringing new life to the industry. PHTA sets professional standards and provides training and certification. Irby took “all the classes” offered by PHTA last year and became a Certified Master Pool Builder and Design Professional. This is the highest level of certification under the PHTA Certified Pool Builder & Design Professional Pathway, powered by GENESIS® and offered in person and virtually.

Premier Pools & Spas just signed up 43 more people to start their certification journeys this year, an investment from the champions at Harbeck and which Irby says has “really accelerated” his abilities.

Both Harbeck and Irby say the message is clear: “It’s a career. It doesn’t have to be just a job.

“I had other jobs before working at Premier Pools & Spas. I clocked in at nine o’clock and left at five o’clock. And I knew when my breaks and lunches were, and it was mundane and repetitive,” Irby recalled. “Our industry is quite dynamic. I don’t know if we still present ourselves as an industry, as a very professional environment or as a destination for qualified employees.

Climate change depends entirely on customers and employees

“Dynamic” is an understated way of describing a long career at this company. Constant change is one of the reasons Harbeck has remained with the company for over 30 years. Technology has impacted everything. The move from phone book listings to online and SMS advertising and communication. Digitization and increasing complexity of the authorization process. The shift to 3D software and virtual reality in sales and design. These are all areas that require new approaches.

“When I started in ’88, yes, there were elaborate pools, but not like today. There are so many features and options, and things that people can add to pools. It’s a very different product and a very different consumer,” says Harbeck. “So it’s a relatively young industry when you stop and think about it.”

The technological acceleration comes as the swimming pool sector is booming. It’s a recessionary throwback for Harbeck. Business peaked before the recession when he was building 1,000 pools a year in the Sacramento area. In 2008, he was building 260 pools a year. It nearly bankrupted him.

“It was the Great Depression of the American pool. We had a 75% drop in business. What this taught me then, as always, comes down to your customer service and your reputation,” says Harbeck: “The experience of building a swimming pool has always been my passion, so coming out of this recession, I have redoubled my attention on it.

Harbeck took to the streets. He went door to door putting up leaflets to do business. It worked. Premier Pools & Spas has survived and thrived. During the first 10 years of the recession, the business grew by 20% per year.

Train the next generation of pros

Last year, Premier Pools & Spas recorded an impressive growth rate of 37%. Harbeck does not expect this to be sustainable. Instead of stepping back from the day-to-day, he dove deeper, especially when it comes to nurturing his next generation of leaders, like Irby, who in turn champions a focus on customer service.

“Keith is a great teacher. He treats people well. He’s kind. He’s humble. And when you’re like that as a leader, and you instill that in other people throughout the organization, it’s just a ripple effect on how we treat our customers,” says Irby.

Now Irby’s brother has joined him in the pool business. He says he will continue to spread the message that the pool industry is the place to be, that it’s “a really good career (that) will take care of your family”.

Consider the newest Irby in the business one more person who will soon be starting a PHTA certification program. Irby says he knows how empowered people feel in their careers.

“Everyone was extremely excited about what they were learning,” he says of his team’s GENESIS® journey. “There was a lot of positivity on the job board the next day after going online. It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding.

Photo credit: Jovan Valdez