When Milosi worked on pool projects with subcontractors, the jobs never seemed to get completed in the time span Taylor Milliken would have liked.
So, in the spring of 2018, Milliken, owner and president of Milosi, a full-service landscape company based in the Nashville area, decided it was time to bring the work in house.
Previously, Milosi would complete the pool design and then subcontract out the construction part. It would complete other aspects of the outdoor living space, but not the pool itself. Milliken, however, disliked this method.
“It seems to be somewhat traditional for pool (subcontractors) to get projects started and then go get another project started and then go get another project started,” Milliken says. “But there just wasn’t a big focus on getting the project started and finished.”
Sometimes projects would take three months longer than expected, which made it difficult for Milosi to schedule jobs. He wanted more control not only over the scheduling, but the customer service.
“In cases where a client was asking us for a referral, we were providing a name to a pool builder or two but not having anything to do with the actual contract between the client and the pool builder,” he says. “Then, there were times that they weren’t returning phone calls, or they weren’t getting things done. And then they were asking us to get involved to help push the project along. So, if we’re going to be this involved, we might as well do it ourselves.”
Customers also wanted to trust one company to carry out their vision, Milliken says, instead of having the company just contract out the work. This, along with an increased demand in pool requests, led to Milliken starting Milosi’s pool division. He also felt that his company could offer something different to customers.
“If you’re looking for just someone to come in and build your pool, we’re not going to be the company,” he says. “A lot of pool contractors in our marketplace… focus mostly on the pool. Where we’re going to be focusing on the pool, the outdoor living areas around it, the landscaping, the lighting, making sure everything drains properly and a holistic approach to building backyards.”
“The key is just making sure that you stand behind your service.” Taylor Milliken, owner/president of Milosi
Building the division.
To build the division, Milliken had two employees work full-time on pools, a lead pool technician, who was hired, and a pool project manager who was transitioned from another department.
Milliken says he promoted from within for the project manager position because the candidate had a deep understanding of the company’s culture paired with an understanding of customer service and the quality that’s expected. The manager also had several years of experience with building high-end, custom homes.
“I felt like there was a lower risk associated with taking this on from within versus hiring someone new,” he says. “Experience from the home building process has similar aspects to the pool building process.” Designers, managers and salespeople added the service to their responsibilities and worked multiple divisions for the company.
The pool division had its workers and they knew how to design pools and the work involved excavation, grading and masonry, all things the company already did. But building pools also required learning new skills, including plumbing layout and a deeper knowledge of job sequencing when it comes to underground utilities.
“On pool projects, there are jobsite constraints that force multiple utilities to be installed in small, tight areas,” Milliken says.
Milliken connected with subcontractors he is friendly with and a mentor who knew more about pools.
Even today, Milosi still hires subcontractors to complete more highly specialized work, but it does most of the work of building the pool itself.
“We’re able to link arms with our subcontractors and do the whole project, so when we leave, it’s ready,” says Jon Zwart, the in-ground pool project manager at Milosi.
With everything together, Milosi was ready to begin building pools.
“Our focus is making every pool that we build now better than the one that we did before.” Taylor Milliken, owner/president of Milosi
There were, of course, some hiccups in the beginning. On job number three, the pool division learned about the importance of having the lot line, set back and easements done by a licensed surveyor during the design process.
“We had to shift gears once we found out that the plat we received was not accurate,” Milliken says. “Fortunately, we had a very reasonable client that allowed us to redesign the pool and patio layout. Also, it is important to identify and include extending foundation and positive drains. These aren’t always easily identifiable but need to be accurate for the bidding and estimating process.”
Like with any mistake, Milliken says they learned from them.
“The key is just making sure that you stand behind your service,” he says. “If you make a mistake, you own it; you fix it.”
This willingness to be open and fix its mistakes led the division to its first customers who already bought into previous projects.
They wanted to be the first ones to have a Milosi-built pool. “The clients that hired us knew that this was new for us, but they trusted us,” Milliken says. “‘I trust you. You guys have figured out how to do other things. And I trust that you’ll figure this out as well.’”
Milosi’s reputation, Instagram page and 3-D design software have also contributed to the pool division gaining clientele, Zwart says. An intern that was later hired on full-time would create a 3-D visual of the finished product in detail before the project even began.
“The detail in the 3-D visuals go can be as specific as ‘do you want steak or salmon on the grill?’ I mean, it’s pretty neat,” Zwart says. “It shows them just the whole project and that’s what the salesperson brings to the client meeting. Then our job – my job – is to make it come to life.”
The division has also pushed good communication to create great customer experiences. The division sends out updates on the projects to customers, sometimes daily, via text or phone call, Zwart says.
“From what I've learned by being in the pool industry is it doesn't have the greatest reputation,” Zwart says. “So, when a company comes along like ours that we do what we say, we communicate, over communicate at times, I think it's refreshing to the client because they're a part of the process.”
Milosi built its first pool in under two months after launching the new division, and the company won an award from the National Association of Landscape Professionals for the second pool built.
“Our focus is making every pool that we build now better than the one that we did before,” Milliken says. “With that commitment to our clients and ourselves, there's been an accelerated growth in our pool divisions and we're building a better pool than some other ones, some other contractors that have been in for a long time, because it's like anything else you have to be really careful not to let complacency set in.”
The division started by doing basic vinyl liner pools, then quickly moved into doing full outdoor projects, which include shotcrete pools and spas, landscaping, lighting, cabanas and full automation, Zwart says.
Now, the division completes about 12 pools each year. This has not slowed because of COVID-19. If anything, Milliken says, it has given the division more pool requests. Customers are staying at home and are bored, so they want a pool built. Even with this growth, Milliken wants to grow this division methodically.
“We want to make sure that we're doing things very tasteful,” he says. “We like to do high-end, luxury pools. And so that limits you within each market of how many of those that you can sell, but it brings about a level of complication that you've got to make sure that you don't get spread too thin, so you can execute it well for the client.”