Alabama Pool Builder Drowns Downtime With Bobcat Equipment

Thu September 29, 2005 - Southeast Edition

Over the past three years the growth in the backyard swimming pool market has significantly increased, according to industry observers.

Pool builders and installers are more frequently being called upon to create a fun atmosphere where families can stay cool and enjoy their time with each other without leaving their back yard.

Mike Shoemaker is one pool builder who has seen his business increase in the past few years. His driving passion has always been to create a total experience for his customers, even when building the swimming pools involved a lot of manual digging. Now, as the owner of Shoemaker Pool Services, he has found a way to create his water park visions more efficiently with compact equipment.

More Than Just a Pool

Each year, Shoemaker Pool Services, based in Hoover, AL, constructs approximately 14 high-end residential and commercial custom swimming pools typically ranging in price from $150,000 to $250,000. Shoemaker custom pools not only provide the basics, but they usually include several “extras,” including a deck, heating system, water and rock features, slides, multiple elevations and other landscaping. The pools themselves are steel-reinforced Gunite.

But when it comes to providing a complete experience for his customers, Shoemaker didn’t want to stop there. He has added several divisions to his company in order to offer even more services and products, such as pool cleaning, pool tables, arcades and spas, and most recently, audio and video. Shoemaker’s pool cleaning division might be one sign that the swimming pool market is big business. The company cleans more than 360 swimming pools each week.

Recently, Shoemaker’s pride in providing a complete pool experience was featured on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” when his company helped construct a 20-by-40-ft. water park for the Harris family in Birmingham, AL. The water park was part of the TV show’s efforts to rebuild the home of Chris and Diamond Harris, the parents of America’s first-ever surviving African-American sextuplets.

Shoemaker admits his company, which employs 40 people, has come a long way since its humble beginnings more than 25 years ago. Shortly after leaving college, Shoemaker said a major pool builder in the area offered him a job. Three years later, after learning what he could from his first employer, he decided to branch off on his own. For the first few years, Shoemaker built his custom pools by hand digging the plumbing ditches and grading work. Then as the number of projects increased, he hired a subcontractor to do the excavation work. While it was more efficient than using a shovel to dig the plumbing ditches, Shoemaker soon realized his timelines were being dictated by the subcontractor.

“When we called a subcontractor to dig a pool and they said, ’Oh, we’ll be there in two to three days,’ that’s when we saw the need to purchase our own compact equipment,” he said. “We knew that if we bought our own equipment it would get used every day.”

Equipment Increases Efficiency

Making the switch to purchase his own compact equipment has been one of the biggest investments Shoemaker said he could have made to help grow his company. In fact, he credits the equipment with helping him become one of the most successful pool builders in the South.

A Bobcat skid steer loader was one of the first pieces of compact equipment Shoemaker purchased more than a decade ago. Today, his crews use a Bobcat 863 skid steer loader and 334 compact excavator on every pool installation project. A Shoemaker Pool Services employee transports the machines and attachments from job to job.

“These are very productive units, working 12 to 14 hours a day,” Shoemaker said. “They are the key to getting our projects completed on time, even in bad weather. Customers are very demanding and, because this is a service industry, we have to constantly work better and faster, and deliver quality. To do that you need good employees and good equipment.”

By doing its own excavation with the compact equipment, Shoemaker Pool Services has been able to increase its construction of new swimming pools by approximately 30 percent.

“Our machines are so dependable that our employees keep working and making money,” Shoemaker said. “Of course, that means the company makes more money and since jobs get completed sooner, our clients benefit as well.”

The skid steer loader has been used for several years to excavate the pools. Shoemaker said the loader makes it easy to get grade and elevation correct for the pool shell, and its precise and close cutting requires less trimming around the edges.

“A skid steer loader delivers precision in pool digging applications,” he said.

Usually, Shoemaker uses the bucket attachment on the 863 loader. But when crews run into harder rock such as sandstone, they’ll rent a Bobcat hydraulic breaker attachment, which he said smashes through concrete and hard rock even on an incline.

Before the compact skid steer loader, Shoemaker said he tried using a large tractor-loader-backhoe but found that it was too large to get into back yards of existing homes and its weight damaged driveways.

“It was too cumbersome and inefficient,” he said.

In addition, Shoemaker’s crews are finding new uses for the long-arm Bobcat excavator every day.

“It’s great for moving rocks; digging footings, drains, and plumbing ditches; removing stumps; cleaning up sites; grading driveways; and even moving spas into place,” he said. “Some people might find it hard to believe that a compact excavator would be so valuable for a swimming pool contractor, but I wouldn’t want to be without it.”

Shoemaker said his equipment has the same characteristics as a chameleon.

“My skid steer loader and excavator are very adaptable; they change with the demands of the job. Add an attachment and you have a completely different job-site unit,” he said. CEG