If a company is new to the business it does not necessarily mean they provide a lower quality product. But with everything else being equal, a company that has been in business for many years has done so for a reason.
This is a big red flag. Branding, marketing and advertising are all very expensive. No one builds a company and a reputation and then changes the name for a good reason. It is usually to wipe the slate clean of negative information or financial mismanagement.
Association of Pool and Spa Professionals is the bare minimum that a quality company should belong to. After APSP other groups such as buying groups, the National Plasterers Council and educational organizations like Genesis 3 all provide information and continuing education to pool professionals. It is imperative that your company belong to some if not all of these groups. The technology and building practices in our field changes on a yearly, if not monthly, basis. Companies that do not invest the time and money to belong will fall behind very quickly.
Research into new products and building materials helps a company stay on the leading edge of technology. It takes a lot of time and money to do so. All of our top people complete an average of 20 hours of continuing education each year. That along with attendance at the national pool show as well as the northeast pool show keeps us abreast of what is going on. We also host an all-day seminar for every member of our staff once a year to bring everybody up to speed with the new products.
They are very important. A specific list of references can be suspect. We provide the names of every pool we have built, ever, if you would like. A little more manageable is the names from the past year or two. That gives a good sense of recent work and it erases all bias from choosing just a few specific names.
A list of 3 distributors and manufacturers that a company has worked with for at least two years is a very good reference. Talk to these distributors and ask them about the company. They are a great source of information for many reasons. Does the company pay the bills on time? Do they order as much material as they say they do? Good relationships with manufacturers and distributors is an insurance policy for the client. If something fails or needs replacing during or after the construction process the companies with the best relationships are taken care of far better than others.
There is nothing wrong with using a subcontractor. For vinyl pools, Rainbow Pools does all the work in-house with no subcontractors whatsoever. For bigger gunite jobs we do use subs. The important distinction is that an owner or foreman is on-site every time a sub is there. This allows us to oversee and make sure our high standards are being upheld. Long-term relationships with subcontractors are as important as the ones with distributors and manufacturers.
Communication is the key to a project of this magnitude. You want someone who is intimately familiar with your site and everything that goes on. We build pools for clients that want to be completely involved in making phone calls and scheduling and others that are hands-off. As a client it is your responsibility to convey to the contractor what you want your level of involvement in the day to day proceedings to be. It is the contractor's responsibility to see that through. We recently built a pool for clients that were living in China for a year. There were many timely, on-sight decisions that had to be made. You need to feel comfortable that the person making those decisions knows your needs and has the projects best interests in mind.