by Sally Bouorm | January 1, 2010 8:23 am
By Kristine Archer
When Hollandia Pools & Spas first opened for business 60 years ago, pools weren’t even part of the picture. Founder John Guildemond started the company as a landscaping firm called Hollandia Gardens. It wasn’t until a few years later, when pool requests started coming in, that Guildemond expanded into the industry that would make his London, Ont., company a lasting success.
The pool industry treated Guildemond well; at one point, the entrepreneur even opened his own fibreglass mould fabrication plant to support demand. After the plant was destroyed in a fire, however, Guildemond decided to switch focus to concrete pools, taking on both residential and commercial projects.
Current co-owners, Ed Spitters and Walter Schmoll, got involved in the business by way of their connection with Guildemond—each married one of the founder’s daughters. Spitters, who spent several years working shifts at Labbatt’s, made the move after a fateful phone call from Guildemond and Schmoll (the latter had already started working with Hollandia).
“In 1985, they called me and asked if I wanted to come into the business,” Spitters says. “I thought ‘Shift work is going to kill me,’ so I made the jump—and 25 years later, I’m still here.”
In addition to its design and service offerings, Hollandia maintains a modest 465-m2 (5,000-sf) retail space, where it showcases its hot tub and eco-friendly line of pool chemicals. While the physical location has not changed much in the last several decades, Spitters says Hollandia has grown in leaps and bounds.
Several new staff positions have been added over the years, including an inventory manager and service manager. The company’s vehicle fleet has grown to include more than 20 trucks, eight of them dedicated to service along with several specialty construction vehicles, such as pick-up trucks, trailers, a concrete pump and a spa dolly. Service is still a huge part of the business, Spitters says, one whose growth needs to be managed carefully.
“Initially, my goal for service was a 97-km (60-mile) radius,” he explains. “Now we’re into places as far away as Windsor and Owen Sound. We’re probably going to a 161-km (100-mile) radius now. There are a lot of places not serviced by pool companies any more. Lots of the little guys—the one who ran the little ‘mom and pop’ shops—have retired, so we’re going further and further.”
One of Spitters’ biggest challenges is deciding whether further expansion is warranted—and, ultimately, profitable.
“I have to ask myself, ‘Is it worth going to Windsor for one or two pools?’ On one hand, we want to grow that marketplace. Yet, we can probably make a half dozen calls in London instead of going to Windsor for a couple of pools and having our guys tied up all day. Plus, paying a dollar a litre for gas, fuel costs are a major concern.”
Today, Spitters and Schmoll work on making those difficult decisions together, with each partner focusing on areas where their strengths lie. Schmoll is the more technical of the two, handling commercial construction, where he is heavily involved in the bidding process. He also oversees residential projects. Spitters, on the other hand, directs his energies to marketing, promotion and growing the business.
“The commercial part of the business is growing a lot quicker than the residential side,” he says. “I would say sales are probably a little bit higher now on the commercial end than on residential pools.”
The company boasts several commercial clients. In its hometown alone, Hollandia has built pools for Thames Park and the Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre.
One of its most recent and notable projects was the competition pool at the University of Western Ontario’s (UWO) $35.7-million student recreation centre. Hollandia installed the eight-lane, 50-m (164-ft) pool, complete with accessibility aids such as a lift, barrier-free locker room entrances and a gallery with wheelchair-friendly seating areas.
Over the years, Hollandia has also overseen commercial projects across Canada. While this adds another dimension to the business, it also places extra demands on employees. Finding a balance is vital to success, Spitters says.
“We will send our key people out to the locations—our site supervisors and all that—and hire local talent to do the grunt work. The challenge is that one guy doesn’t want to get tied up in Portage La Prairie, Man., for the whole summer. It’s not conducive to a happy wife,” he says, with a laugh. “So, we rotate our supervisors out. We’re trying to balance having the right people in place, while allowing them to have time to come home and be with their families. That’s the downside of commercial work. You’re all over the map.”
In addition to its commercial projects, Hollandia also designs full residential backyards, including landscaping, hardscaping and various water features, such as fire-and-ice designs, negative edges and waterfalls. Landscaping and stone work are sub-contracted out, but Hollandia has a strong hand in design and planning.
When asked why the residential side of the pool business is taking a back seat to commercial projects, Spitters says he thinks its an issue of changing demographics.
“People are getting older and they’re not looking to buy swimming pools,” he says. “If they do, its little splash pools—or hot tubs, for that matter.” As such, Spitters says hot tubs have become big business for Hollandia.
“We carry the Jacuzzi line, which is something I’m pushing with our retail manager.” Of course, with popularity comes stiffer competition, as different players try to cash in on a lucrative market.
“Hot tubs are very competitive,” Spitters says. “We have probably 12 players in London alone, not to mention the weekend warriors and warehouse guys who bring in a container or truck-load of spas and sell them at parking lot sales.”
He admits Hollandia can’t compete with the rock-bottom prices these salesmen offer, but is quick to point out that selling at cost is not part of Hollandia’s overall business model. The company chooses to focus on the high-end market, as it has over the course of its 60 years.
“We’ve never been a price-oriented company,” Spitters says. “We’ve always had high-end concrete and vinyl pools. The commercial pool market in itself is very competitive; those are all big-dollar projects.”
Spitters says staying on the cusp of emerging technologies, especially ‘green’ innovations, also gives Hollandia a leg up in the marketplace.
“Whether it’s your dishwashing detergent or hybrid cars, everybody is trying to reduce their carbon footprint and we’re trying to help with that. We want to have some clean air and a place where our children can live comfortably; we’re doing it for the next generation.”
Among the technologies Spitters is excited about ultraviolet (UV)-based sanitizers, which the company has been advocating for the past three years.
“In my opinion, it is definitely easier on the pool and the environment itself,” he says. “You can’t backwash salt water forever without contaminating soil, which is why we’ve gone to UV residentially and commercially. We even have a UV sanitizer for our hot tubs. We challenged our UV supplier and they came out with a smaller unit that can fit under the hood of a hot tub.”
Safety and maintenance issues are also still important to consumers, prompting Hollandia to more actively enter the pool cover market.
“We’ve done a lot more in the safety covers—mesh-type and trampoline-type covers. We’ve put safety covers on a lot of our commercial outdoor pools, too, trying to reduce the facility’s liability. It’s a benefit to them when nobody can fall in the pool when it’s unattended for six or seven months of the year.”
Even a well-established business cannot afford to fall behind in marketing and promotion. As Hollandia celebrates its sixth decade in business, Spitters and Schmoll recognize the importance of embracing new technology.
“We’re always updating our website, to keep our customers informed of what’s going on at Hollandia,” Spitters says, adding he and his staff have worked hard to keep up with the times.
“I’m not a computer guru, but I’m learning more and more about how to drive customers to our website. Our annual newsletter is on our website now; all of our sales are on our website. Customers can interactively schedule service calls, pool openings and closings, new pool appointments, things like that. We’re doing a lot electronically.”
We’re also linked to the Jacuzzi website. When you get to our hot tub section, there’s a Jacuzzi link there so customers can go through all the models, colour combinations, and other things they are interested in.”
When it comes to advertising, Hollandia has had success in various venues. In addition to its website, the company has devoted dollars to radio campaigns and online directory listings. Membership in the Pool & Hot Tub Council of Canada (PHTCC) has also been valuable, Spitters says, as has the company’s longstanding memberships with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the international Master Pools Guild.
“We just got our 25-year BBB tag,” Spitters explains. “We like to highlight our ethics. After all, if you’ve been in business for 60 years, you have to be doing something right, because it just gets tougher and tougher.”
With so many irons in the fire, Spitters says his biggest obstacle is balance.
“My primary challenge is advertising,” Spitters says. “Do I market Hollandia, do I market Jacuzzi, do I market Master Pools? I’m trying to tie those three brands together as best I can. That’s a challenge, to try and let people know that, yes, first and foremost we’re Hollandia, but we’re also an authorized Jacuzzi dealer and a member of the Master Pools Guild.”
This year, tackling those ever-present challenges will be tempered with a spirit of celebration. As the company’s official anniversary approaches, Spitters and Schmoll are looking for ways to properly commemorate the milestone.
“We’re planning a major event to celebrate,” he says, noting the event will likely take place in early summer.
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