Take care of everyone: customers, employees, vendors, and partners.
Tim Murphy is the founder and CEO of Presidential Pools, Spas & Patio, the nation’s largest pool builder, and co-founder of Blue Square Manufacturing, which manufactures an advanced in-floor cleaning system and other best-in-class pool hardware. Both companies are based in Gilbert, Arizona.
Tim is well-respected both within and outside the pool construction industry for his ingenuity in operations and product development, commitment to customers and employees, and success as an entrepreneur.
Where did the idea for Presidential Pools come from?
Growing up in Arizona, I’ve always been around pools. As a teenager, I made money cleaning pools and wanted to try building them. In 1990, a friend had an opportunity to build a house, and he allowed me to manage his pool building process. How hard could it be? Turns out, it’s much harder than it looks. I worked side by side with the contractors, learning every step by working through it. It was hot. It was hard. But I loved it.
In 1991, I established Presidential Pools, Spas & Patio, and I’ve been building in-ground swimming pools ever since. Thanks to the hard work of my partners and employees, Presidential Pools has grown into the largest pool builder in the country and an industry leader.
Through our industry experience, we also saw a need for research and development in pool equipment, and we spent years designing and perfecting a suite of best-in-class utility pool hardware. That’s the genesis of our other two companies, Blue Square Manufacturing, and Pebble Radiance.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I’m an early riser, and no two days are the same. I’m up by 5:30 a.m. I get to the gym three days a week to clear my mind and get energized. Apart from the gym, I’m emailing or reading up on something going on in the industry. The rest of my day is filled with hiring new employees, exploring partnerships, leading strategy discussions, or visiting construction sites. I try to do anything and everything I can to make sure our clients have top-notch experience, and that starts with finding the very best people join the Presidential family.
How do you bring ideas to life?
We always start with customer need, and that’s what has allowed us to go from an upstart company to the largest in our industry in a relatively short time. When we identify a customer challenge, we try to look at it from every angle imaginable and really try to walk in their shoes. This helps us optimize for the best possible customer experience.
When it comes to implementing ideas, I’m a firm believer in hiring highly specialized talent and delegating idea iteration and implementation to them. At Blue Square, we have someone on staff that has sold over 50 million consumer products. The person responsible for building the largest pools on the West Coast is a Presidential employee. Our design consultants include people with degrees in architecture, backgrounds in landscaping, and all sorts of other fields. The diversity of talent and decades of experience allows us to break new ground in our industry.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The most exciting trend to me is the way customer communications is evolving. We’re working to pioneer innovative ways to interact with our customers remotely that will increase our levels of service while decreasing the pool-building cost. Can you imagine the world where your potential new pool could be sent directly to your pair of virtual reality goggles and show you how it would look in your own backyard? Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that in a few years.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m a little ADD, so I love exploring new opportunities. This has lead me down some interesting paths and opened doors to partnerships I never thought possible. Being open to new possibilities is a mindset and one to which I’d attribute much of my success.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
In my early 20s, I did thousands of acid washes. I was responsible for draining green pools of their dirty water and then working my way around the pool to scrub the algae off. It was physically grueling but gave me the work ethic you can only get by getting your hands dirty.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’d spend more time focused on being the best, instead of worrying about what others were doing. I used to obsess about our competitors and wonder what they were doing. But I’ve learned that the biggest competition is a distraction and a lack of focus. Now, we put our heads down and work hard at making customers happy.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Taking the risk to commit to a decision and being passionate about making sure that decision leads to success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My parents were in the insurance business and regularly repeated this saying: “Settle the claim.” That simple idea has served me well. Take care of everyone: customers, employees, vendors, and partners. Every day there are opportunities for us to cut corners and make an extra buck or two. We don’t. We do things the right way and try to go above and beyond to make customers into advocates for life. While we sometimes fall short, we always try to make things right and take care of the customer. This causes us to be less profitable in any given year but has helped us grow tremendously over the years.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In 2008, I went from an entrepreneur to the hatchet man, having to downsize from 350 employees to 80. It was brutal and humbling. In the midst of this broad, yet personal, economic crisis, we had to come up with a plan. Luckily, we did so quickly and were able to stay in business. The same can’t be said for a lot of our industry peers. We took risks, including investing in software and reinvesting in communication to improve customer loyalty. We saw the signs early and really watched things closely. I think our attentiveness and commitment to finding solutions saved us from a far worse fate.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
As dumb as this sounds, I’d say there is a big opportunity for someone in the online marketing space to do things the right way. We have historically had a terrible time finding help in online marketing and have cycled through firm after firm trying to find someone who knows what they’re doing and will treat us fairly.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
I love sports and really enjoy spending time with my family, so the best $100 I’ve recently spent is on Diamondbacks tickets for my son and me. We had a blast, and the team even won!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Technology is invaluable to our business these days. Over a decade ago, we invested in Pro Edge Build, which introduced a valuable way for us to communicate with homeowners about their specific builds. About five years ago, we added Pool Studio, which gave us the ability to render all of our pool designs in 3D, helping homeowners to better visualize all the moving parts that must work together to transform a backyard.
We’re now implementing a new software system called DBX that will connect all our departments, ultimately allowing us to better serve our customers. It’s something we’ve been working on for what feels like an eternity, but it’s coming to fruition, and we couldn’t be more excited.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
I’d recommend Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One” That may seem like an odd recommendation coming from a pool builder, but he does a fantastic job explaining business fundamentals around innovation, which I’ve found invaluable.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Actually, there are some really smart and inspiring leaders driving change and momentum throughout the pool industry. One of our tried-and-true partners, Pentair, continues to roll out impressive customer-centric solutions like the Screenlogic system, which allows people to manage their pool control panels from their phones. The products they offer, including the variable speed pump, are state of the art, and they never seem to slow down. Pentair’s leadership group inspires me with their commitment to constant improvement and motivates me to continue refining everything we’re doing at Presidential and Blue Square as well.
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