“With trust, respect, and focus, you can mobilize an organization to move mountains,” says Joel Culp, chief marketing officer (CMO) for Latham Pool Products, the largest pool manufacturer in the world. For Culp, this is not a theoretical claim. “This past year, we moved mountains,” he says of his team.
They have, at least, moved a lot of pools.
Since jumping into the company in February 2018, Culp has also helped move Latham’s model from business facing to client facing. “Our customers were asking for help with the entire pool-buying process, from start to finish,” Culp explains. “People dreaming about a pool are thinking about the entire backyard. There are many things to consider, and with their excitement comes lots of questions. Latham wants to be their guide, shepherding them from the first time they dream of a pool to their first pool party.”
Latham was built by a collection of strong, independent companies that Culp describes as very effective but historically siloed. The company’s recent pivot means working as a unified organization. This transition has required immense trust from its dealer partners.
“Building trust takes being open to conflict, full transparency, blatant honesty, and listening,” Culp says of this process. Previously, professional pool builders saw Latham primarily as a manufacturer. Though Latham’s focus may have shifted, Culp attests that “we have always worked on behalf of the dealer,” with goals that include increasing the capacity to serve and providing a bridge for end consumers.
Restructuring and refocusing didn’t only mean reassuring dealers. Culp collapsed and consolidated eleven standalone brands and websites, all the while bringing customers along to a completely different go-to-market model, new brand rollout, website, and marketing collateral and messaging.
“Building trust takes being open to conflict, full transparency, blatant honesty, and listening.”
Part of building trust, for Culp, comes from discovering a noble cause for the work. “We are the center of the backyard lifestyle. This is more elevated than just a providing a vessel that holds water,” he says. He leads his team to connect with consumers on an emotional level. When such beliefs are real, Culp feels, they touch all corners of the company, all the way to the employees in the factory. “They’re not just spraying fiberglass,” Culp says. “He is making memories for the family who will own that pool.”
Along with these large visions, Culp knows he must be responsible for the ROI and results of the effort. “In today’s business, we plan in reality, not abstractions. Reality leads to commitment and accountability,” he says. Culp’s department is integrated into every very real element of Latham. They focus on strategies, including product innovation, based on consumer trends and managing company vision and financial goals.
Latham is reinventing itself through, as Culp describes it, a time of unprecedented demand and growth. Culp guides his team to champion products and, he says, respond to a consumer reevaluation of home and life quality, a desire to “get back to a simpler lifestyle” of backyards and family time. Paired with this culture shift, Culp describes design, caliber, and aesthetic innovations in pool technology and compressed installation time—from weeks to days—as elements that increase consumer interest. Following these trends, Culp believes Latham’s growth will be sustainable.
Culp runs on a constant cycle of elevated future planning conversations and diving into the nuances. Right now, looking at the company’s runway, he prepares to explore new directions while working in an evolving marketing climate. Instead of multiple-year planning horizons, he sprints toward annual strategies.
Analytics also play a huge role. “Having access to data is one thing,” he says, “but being able to pull it apart at a local market level is another.” His team thinks and responds locally, by zip code, rather than regionally or nationally. In this time of refocus from traditional forms of advertising, “clever marketing and taglines are important, but the experience is really that interactive actions speak louder than words,” Culp says.
“In today’s business, we plan in reality, not abstractions. Reality leads to commitment and accountability.”
In every aspect of creating this experience, the CMO enacts his basic process: assess the strategy, then build. This includes creating his team. He begins with intentional and careful hiring, seeking people who can enact strategy. His primary goal is finding good culture fit with company values. “I worry less about pedigree and experience,” he says.
Far more, he is concerned with how people think, and he prizes accountability and transparency. Understanding the cross-functionality of marketing, he prioritizes passion, communication skills and an ability to sell internally. In essence, Culp explains, he looks for people who will ask, “Why not?’
During the past year’s massive lift, Culp describes his team of seventeen mountain movers as flawless. While there were mistakes, they corrected and had excellent strategic execution. Culp also gives credit to the many outside partners who saw the opportunity, along with the increased demand for work, and made a huge investment in mission and vision.
Latham’s retooled website demonstrates the excellent strategic execution. The challenge, Culp explains, was to create a rich experience for the end consumer and a functional platform for dealers. The result is a delicate balance that speaks to varied users.
Culp came to Latham because he saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “With the right investment, things could really change,” he says. It was indeed a year of change at Latham Pools. He is ready for the next moment, thrilled to see where the brand goes next.