The finest pool company in the Mid-South
Business View Magazine interviews Mark Reed, President of Memphis Pool, as part of our focus on best practices of the swimming pool and spa industry.
Widely acknowledged to be the leading swimming pool builder and retailer in the Mid-South, Memphis Pool is a force of good in the fight against the big-box retail shopping landscape. Operating successfully since 1952, the firm is not only an award-winning gunite pool builder specializing in custom construction and outdoor living designs, it’s also been under the same family ownership and management for almost 60 years. “My father, Roy Reed, was a schoolteacher in the late fifties,” shares the company’s president, Mark Reed. “Naturally, he was always looking for something to do in the summers. He’d gone to work for a swimming pool service for two or three years when the man who owned it decided it was time for him to retire. My father had a decision to make: continue teaching, or buy the company. He bought it in the early ‘60s and eventually quit teaching to go into the swimming pool business full-time. In the late ‘60s, he opened our first retail store. At that time, it was a two-person operation. From there, we’ve expanded into four retail locations, construction, service, renovations—all things swimming pool.”
Their philosophy has been, and continues to be, one of loyalty to loyalty: ‘build a long-term customer’. And the sales have followed. For Reed, building that customer loyalty starts with the customer experience. He believes in taking the high road—growing the business beyond “just making a sale” and focusing on providing stellar service through relational, not transactional, connections. “We opened our latest store in November 2018,” says Reed. “It was branded an outdoor living store where we sell other items for the backyard space—outdoor kitchens, patio furniture, gazebos, arbors, hot tubs and grills. We opened this new retail location while everybody was telling us that brick and mortar was on the decline. We felt, and still feel, that people need to touch and feel things. They also need that personal touch in their retail and service interactions. There’s a lot of care in service that we deliver personally that can’t be replicated online. We’re very confident in our retail model. It’s just a matter of staying up to date with the changing climate, what clients want, and what new technology is out there. In general, our business model hasn’t changed.”
“With the buildout of our new outdoor living store, we’re in a place where we’re investing in other products that lie to the side of the swimming pool industry,” Reed continues. “Our retail stores, up to now, have been nothing but toys and games, chemicals, and mechanical equipment. We’ve moved into swing sets, play structures – just about the entire backyard environment.”
As a seasonal business owner, Reed is always on the lookout for new growth opportunities. He’s also pragmatic in choosing which areas of the business to scale up. “Right now, we’re interested in the whole outdoor living space rather than just the hardscape and the swimming pool itself,” he says. “I’m not looking to grow our construction division. With our capabilities, we could probably do about 15-20 percent more capacity, but we reserve that for these larger projects that come down the pipeline that require more of our resources. If that pipeline dries up with commercial and competitive pools, then growth in the residential pool sector is certainly an option.”
On the construction and service end, Memphis Pool is big on education and prides itself on presenting its staff and clients with the most current trends in swimming pool science and technology. “Our name is well known,” says Reed. “We probably have the most educated and knowledgeable service and repair staff anywhere.” The company is also a proud member of the Master Pools Guild, an elite global network of custom pool builders whose associates are carefully selected based on their ability and reputation. “What that membership allows us to do is network with other companies outside of our region and outside of our competition,” Reed explains. “We make contacts, we learn, we get educated, and we share our disasters and successes. Along with that, the Guild has vendor partners. Those vendor partners fund our education and our meetings. We, in turn, are loyal to them from a purchasing standpoint. We’re going to purchase anything from a preferred Guild vendor that we can. The Guild is really our biggest and best resource for vendor relations and opportunity presenters. That’s very critical to our organization—our success is our relationship with the Guild.”
Although the company’s retail operation is based out of Memphis, its construction and renovation division will travel up to 350 miles outside of that central zone to service its commercial and residential clientele. “It’s what’s comfortable for us to reach,” says Reed. “We’ve transitioned from 100 percent residential construction to about 50/50 large commercial—municipal pools, competition pools, that kind of thing—and residential.”
“We’d build pools year-round if we could, but the weather doesn’t allow it,” Reed continues. “There are days and weeks on end that we can’t get in the backyard. Our construction volume varies with the size of the jobs we take. We do, primarily, high-end, gunite swimming pools. In that arena are these competitive pools. If we’ve got large commercial jobs going, we’ll build around 30 pools per year. If not, we’re going to be closer to 50 pools. In our company, service is split between two divisions. One is repair service and the other is a weekly maintenance program. In our weekly maintenance program, we’re touching about 400 to 450 pools per week. In our repair division, we’re going to average somewhere around 300 to 400 pools per week.”
On the retail end of the pool business, Reed has found that exceptional customer service and the right knowledge base are the building blocks of customer brand loyalty. “It goes back to my point about the personal touch,” he says. “There’s rarely a week that goes by that I don’t see somebody in one of the retail stores that says, ‘I’ve been doing business with you for 30 years and I’ll never go anywhere else.’ We see that in our online reviews as well.”
Another tool in Reed’s marketing toolkit is a rewards program he’s recently implemented to encourage customers to stay loyal to the Memphis Pool brand. “We’d been doing free water testing in our stores,” Reed explains. “You bring a water sample in, we test it, and make recommendations based on what the water balance is. We’d noticed over the last few years that we had an inordinate amount of people testing water who’d never purchased anything from us. They were doing all their business online or through the big-box stores. We’re doing around 45,000 tests per year and these tests are not cheap. When you calculate the reagents that are used and the employee’s time, we figure it costs us between $5.00 and $7.00 for each test. What we instituted last year—which we’ve never done before and I don’t think anybody else around is doing—is we’re charging for those water tests but giving their money back if they make a purchase. We launched a customer loyalty program that we call Splash Rewards. The customer signs up for a card at the water lab and when they pay $5.00 for the water test, we give them a $5.00 credit on their account. We’ve noticed a huge decline in freeloading at the water lab. That allows us to take more time to service our loyal shoppers.”
For years, Reed hesitated to implement the program out of concern for the customer experience, but ultimately decided it was the best way to adapt to competition with the bigger retailers and online outfits. “You don’t want to make anybody mad,” admits Reed. “But now, with the availability of these things online and in the big-box stores, it’s not personal, it’s just business. We’ve got a sign in our store that compares our prices on our chemical line, and what the concentrations of the chemicals are, with those of six other retail chains and franchise pool companies. You might save a couple of dollars on that box of shock that you bought at Home Depot, but what you bought was something that’s a third of the concentration of what we sell. In the long term, you’re spending more money doing that. You can explain it to people, but they have a hard time getting out of that mentality.”
With its attention to the art of customer relationship management and improving customer satisfaction through reliability of service, Memphis Pool certainly has its place in the custom swimming pool and outdoor living consumer landscape. “We just try to be good stewards of the resources we’ve been given,” says Reed. “As a family-centric company, we like to think that people want to work for us, come into our stores, and interact with us just because we’re helpful. More than helpful, we’re a big family; staff and customers alike. At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Memphis Pool
WHAT: A leading swimming pool builder and servicer
WHERE: Memphis, Tennessee
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