Master Pools Guild (MPG)
Creating A Global Paradise
Business View Magazine interviews Dick Covert, Executive Director of Master Pools Guild, for our focus on Best Practices in the Pool & Spa Industry
Throughout the pandemic, the pool industry has taken off and Master Pools Guild (MPG) is an association that is integral to the top pool constructors in the industry. Based in Richmond, Virginia, the Master Pools Guild is an exclusive network of over 100 elite custom pool builders from across the globe, all carefully chosen based on their skills, reputation and proven ability in swimming pool design and construction.
Established in 1962, the MPG name has now become the hallmark of quality for residential and commercial clients looking to enhance the outdoor living potential of their property. The Guild brings together the most talented names in pool building to consult, inspire, and support each other. Guild membership is by invitation only and represents the best pool building talent internationally. Always at the cutting edge of swimming pool technologies, Master Pools Guild members continually advance their methods and equipment to stay at the forefront of the industry.
Business View recently spoke with Dick Covert, Executive Director of Master Pools Guild, and Teri Wiltshire, Special Projects Manager, about the purpose of their organization, the many benefits of membership, and what lies ahead for the industry. They had some fascinating insights to share.
BVM: What was the impetus behind the formation of the Master Pools Guild?
Covert: “The Master Pools Guild is an international organization of quality swimming pool builders that was established in 1962. We have our official 60th anniversary next year in 2022. They formed as a group of builders to help a manufacturer develop their products. They put together a small group of consultants who could help them make their equipment better and provide a better service, and from there it began to grow.
“The organization was regional for a number of years and then it went national. It was purchased by what is now Pentair, at that time Sta-Rite, and the group grew and continued primarily for the purpose of exchanging information, ideas, helping each other, and helping the manufacturer. In the mid-1980s they decided to become their own organization, and not be part of a manufacturer. So they made an arrangement with Sta-Rite to buy the name through use of product. And this formed the Master Pools Guild.”
BVM: Why would someone want to be invited to join MPG?
Covert: “We have been functioning as an organization primarily for education and exchange of information and ideas. We are not a franchise, so we can’t tell our members where they can build, but we have certain qualities and standards that we look for. And when we invite a new member to join – and you are invited to join, it’s not an open organization, as such – we stress that they are the only builder in that market. Again we can’t tell members where not to build, but in order to have this exchange of information, we emphasize that if you don’t communicate with the builder whose territory you might be crossing into, it creates a situation where they’re not willing to share.
“We’ve been very fortunate in selecting our members and we represent most of the U.S. and Canada, a lot of the Caribbean, a bit in Europe, Australia, Africa, India, and Central America. It’s a close-knit group and we very seldom lose a member because we have a co-op associated with us, and members literally make money by belonging to the Guild. They get a rebate on the products they buy from our vendor partners and that rebate, in almost every instance, will pay their dues and pay for them to attend our meetings. It’s a win/win. And a great opportunity for someone who’s in the business.”
BVM: How has COVID-19 impacted your members from a business perspective?
Covert: “It’s interesting because with COVID, and the restrictions that so many people have been placed under, that has varied greatly across the country. Last March, we had a virtual roundtable with about 70 members on the call and they exchanged information on how they were being impacted at that time by the pandemic. Some of them had been closed down completely, some hadn’t been restricted at all. Construction almost everywhere was considered essential, so those companies were allowed to continue but they had to change their way of doing business in several ways.
“In many cases, they would have one person in a truck instead of two, which meant sending more vehicles out to the jobsites. Sometimes, the clientele were very particular on how the workers reacted when they got there – were they required to wear masks, what health protocols did they have to follow? Because people were leery of anyone coming into their premises to work. But by the same token, everybody was restricted to their home in almost all the states, so they wanted a pool. So our industry adapted to the protocols that were necessary in each market, in order to continue the construction.
“We have several members that are large commercial builders, however, most are residential. For the last year, a lot of commercial was not active. YMCAs were closed, most health clubs were closed, so they were not available for construction. Now things are starting to open up, a lot of people have had their vaccinations – a lot of people have had COVID – so we’re seeing restrictions loosening up a bit.”
BVM: Is there a shortage of skilled labor in the pool building industry?
Covert: “There is a big shortage of skilled trades in our industry. Not only for specialties like setting tiles, and that kind of highly-skilled work, but nearly all the trades are involved in building a pool. Plumbing, electrical, landscaping, most of our pools are concrete, primarily gunite with some type of finish. So, yes, skill is required and in a lot of cases, it’s hard to find well-trained people. We’ve tried various ways to get support from technical schools and other sources for people who would like to work in an industry that has a great deal of potential. We have members who are booked up through this time next year. It’s extremely competitive but if you’re a good, high-quality builder, you get the jobs. So there’s lots of work out there.”
BVM: What role does education play in the Guild?
Wiltshire: “Education for our organization has always been a top priority but in the least five years, it’s taken on a life of its own. It gets really exciting when our education committee gets together. They’re looking forward to hitting the target of what the industry and our group is going to need 10 years from now. The group is laser focused on education of their current employees and that will speak well for them in the long term, when it comes time to find new employees.
“From an education standpoint, lately we have done more virtual because we couldn’t get together. But typically we have meetings in March and October and there’s always an educational component with special speakers and workshops from educational organizations such as Watershape University and the Genesis Group. We’ve also partnered with some major manufacturers and they have opened up some of their managerial programs to our members and that’s been very well received.”
Covert: “In the last year, we’ve also done virtual programs when laws or codes have changed nationally. If a vendor has a new product or a new innovation comes to market, we’ll make sure our members have an opportunity to be educated on that as well. Our goal is to keep them one step ahead of the competition and we want them to be able to say they have the best training in pool building. They also have approximately 100 consultants they can contact.
“As far as I know, we’re the only organization in this industry that has its own mobile app. Our members can use that to contact any vendor about a product, or if they have an issue they can take a picture of it, and ask for advice from other members. That ability to communicate with each other instantly, no matter where they are, has been a real plus for our people. We also have a fantastic new website that just rolled out.”
BVM: What do you see on the horizon for the industry?
Covert: “I see the pool industry continuing to be a very important market. As long as there is construction happening and people buying homes, they’re looking at some way of entertaining themselves. The pool industry has changed a great deal from your backyard pool that you swim laps in, now it’s an extension of your home. There are pool house structures, outdoor kitchens – you think about relaxing in the beautiful outdoors with music, the sound of a fountain running, romantic lighting… you cook your dinner outside and dine outside, it’s like being on vacation.
“And with technology, you can have it all turned on and ready when you get home from work. That’s what we see as the future. If you have a place where your family and friends can get together and enjoy each other in your own backyard, that’s where you want to be.”
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AT A GLANCE
Master Pools Guild
What: An exclusive network of over 100 elite custom pool builders from across the globe
Where: Based in Richmond, Virginia