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Making the Mechanical Emotional: How Jim Bellamy Designs His Client’s Dreams

As soon as a new client walks into designer Jim Bellamy of California Pools’ office, they’re immersed in a unique experience that incorporates visuals, sound, and even sample design materials ready for their inspection.

Jim Bellamy

The custom pool, the complete landscaping — every detail is carefully designed to not just show the client a potential design, but also to fully engage the client with their irresistible future outdoor space.

It’s a successful approach — one that has earned Bellamy an impressive 75% closing ratio.

In order to achieve that level of client satisfaction, Bellamy has focused on designing spectacular custom outdoor living spaces that give his clients exactly what they want — and more — at every stage of the design process.

But before he could create those immersive experiences for his clients, Bellamy needed to find a new, more exciting way to engage his clients.

Evolving From Vellum Drawings to 3D Software

Pool Design

When Bellamy started designing for his dad’s landscaping business in Orange County, he was just 19 years old. He’d grown up helping out where he was needed, but what he really wanted to do was design pools:

"I started working behind the shovel," Bellamy says, "and I quickly learned that I needed to be in design or management because that's not what I wanted to do."

Starting out, he drew with pencil on vellum to share his designs with clients.

No matter how beautifully detailed his drawings were, however, he knew many of his clients struggled to connect with the design:

"I would study anything I could find, like pool magazines or books," he explains. "It was very mechanical back in the day, you know pencil and paper on vellum."

He used what he was learning to create beautiful designs, but the process felt lacking. When his father told him about new software he’d heard about, Bellamy quickly visited a showroom to learn more.

"I instantly knew that my life had changed forever."

Discovering the Potential of 3D Design

3D Pool Design

The day that designer Jim Bellamy was introduced to 3D design twelve years ago, he immediately recognized that he’d just found the answer he’d been looking for.

"I walked into the showroom and I saw the California Pools gentleman working on a design on a flat screen tv on the wall," he shares. "I ran in there and interrupted the presentation, and politely asked him what the software was."

After years of drawing with pencil on vellum, he was ready for a new way of amazing his clients, and he was excited by what he saw:

"When I found out what it was, I literally did back flips out of the door. Okay, I didn't literally do back flips. I figuratively did them!"

Since embracing 3D design in his business, Bellamy has found that clients are as enthusiastic as he is:

"I would say the biggest thing as the process has developed is, basically," he explains, that "it's evolved from a very mechanical process to the 3D process."

That improved process is what helps Bellamy’s clients see the full value of the designs he is sharing with them:

"[Pool Studio] took it from a mechanical to an emotional connection," he says, since "people could actually see it in 3D. They can visualize their back yard before a single shovel hits the ground. It's an extremely powerful tool."

That new-and-improved design tool is what led Bellamy to develop the next step in his new-and-improved design process: The WITY List.

The WITY List: Discovering What Matters Most

Dream Backyard Pool

The year Bellamy learned about Pool Studio, 2005, "was a pivotal time for me," he says.

He was determined to learn everything he could to make his designs perfect for his clients:

"I came to Vegas every other weekend and took your classroom training when you guys were on Russell Road. I actually have the plaque that Maryrose gave me when I took the advanced course. . . . I was a graduate of the advanced course in 2007."

That determination and focus applied as much to his designs as to his design process — and he wanted to use everything he was learning to improve every stage of the process for his clients.

To do that, he developed the WITY List to help him learn what he needed to include in his design.

What is the WITY List? WITY is an acronym that asks, "what's important to you?" he reveals.

"I ask them what their goals are and I go from there. I start the design process. I start pulling from them what they want to get out of their back yard or what they want to change if it's a remodel. I start looking at the architecture. Of course I photograph the entire house."

With all of that information in hand, Bellamy then begins his design:

3D Pool Design

"I draft the house with every nuance," he says. "I really get into the house part of it because I want to create an emotional connection with them and their house is a very emotional thing to them. It's the number one purchase in their lives, usually, and they're very emotionally connected to it, so why wouldn't they want to be emotionally connected to their yard?"

The WITY List helps him to make sure that the design he’s creating meets their needs, fulfills their goals — and also offers them a new way of imagining what’s possible in their space: "I design everything with my twist and my flair and try to give them everything they want," he says, before he welcomes them into his office to share the design.

Taking Presentations from 3D to 4D

3D Pool Design

The designs that Bellamy creates for his clients today have come a long way from the original vellum or pen-and-paper drawings he used to offer.

Not only does Bellamy now design in 3D, but today he also uses his 3D designs as the centerpiece of a well-planned, exceptionally detailed custom design presentation.

In fact, Bellamy’s own introduction to Pool Studio is mirrored in his approach to introducing clients to their future outdoor living spaces today.

Just as he walked into the California Pools showroom twelve years ago and was both delighted and surprised to see a 3D design playing on a TV on the wall, he welcomes his clients into his office today to a design that they’re happily surprised to find already playing on the wall.

"I bring them into our design center which is pretty unique," Bellamy reveals. "I put their 3D project up on an 80 inch flat screen and I close the design center so there are no interruptions. I present it to them there, with design samples around them like tile and pavers. All of the materials that would be in Pool Studio on the screen are actually there to touch and feel."

"It's actually kind of a 4D presentation."

3D Pool Design

In that 4D presentation, Bellamy includes everything his clients might want to see — and even things they did not imagine they’d get to see:

"They get to see their house and backyard completely finished and landscape finished," he says, adding: "I want to show them how their pool and their barbecue and their patio cover relates to their entrances and exits. How many square ft. of deck do you need? How many people do expect to have at a party? I take all of that into consideration and put it in the design. Then I show them their backyard in the design center."

What’s crucial, he says, is this: "I draw everything. I don't just draw the pool. That's the most important key. I draw the entire back yard. I design the dream."

Closing the Sale by Making Connections

Dream Pool Design

Designing the dream is, for Bellamy, the goal. In fact, it’s "kind of my 'thing,'" he acknowledges.

"Design the dream first," he explains, "and then we'll decide what you want to build and what you don't want to build," when he sits down with a client to go over the specifics.

In order to make that emotional connection Bellamy realized would be possible when he first was introduced to 3D, he does not rely on simply showing his clients his designs or sharing with them a few especially interesting details.

Instead, he structures the presentation so that he helps his clients feel confident — as well as delighted.

When Bellamy’s clients first arrive at his office, they haven’t seen any hints yet of what’s to come: "They don't even know what to expect other than what they've been told," Bellamy says.

"It's really interesting because after the presentation starts they hardly ever look at me. They are emotionally involved and they feel like they are there."

That, he says, "makes it a lot easier to make a sale or close a sale. When the confidence level is high and they know they are going to get what they see and see what they get, they are much more willing to sign checks and contracts."

Facing Challenges Directly

Vegas Pool Design

Building that confidence for his clients includes much more than just the client’s final design. Bellamy also acknowledges any issues or concerns that might impact the client, including the drought in California, the recent recession, and even the rare client who might at first seem to hate a proposal:

"The challenge of being a builder or designer are pretty much all the same. You're dealing with humans. Whenever you are dealing with a human being and their money, there's always a level of anxiety that you have to deal with."

Bellamy prefers to face any challenges or concerns clearly and directly:

"Let's not run away from it. Let's be honest about it. Let's tell people the truth because you don't have to run and hide if you tell people the truth."

"The biggest challenges," he admits, "are things that we can't control, like the drought in California," which "has been tough for us."

"Even though there have been no restrictions, per se, the threat of it has been kind of daunting. I think some buyers have pulled back a little bit because of that," he admits. "The biggest challenge of that nature was the recession from 2010 to about 2014. It was really tough."

For Bellamy, however, his willingness to engage with his clients and face any of their concerns helped him keep growing even during the recession:

"What really saved me was that even though I didn't do a lot of building, I relied on my designing. I built where I could, but I relied on my design ability for other builders who didn't have that ability. Pool Studio has been a huge part of my career from that aspect."

3D Pool Design

By using his 3D software to design exceptional projects for his clients, Bellamy builds his clients’ confidence and proves to them exactly how prepared he is to address their concerns.

"We'll sit there and work with them in 3D in the design center until their vision is exactly what they want," he shares. "Whether or not it's what I want doesn't matter. They're the buyer and the homeowner and we create that for them."

Making People Happy

Spa at Night

For Bellamy, the truth is that making people happy and creating a design they love really is the best part of his job: "Absolutely," he says. "I’m not kidding."

"The other day we had a lady who came in who had [gone through] five or six failed attempts with other builders making a design for her back yard. She sat down with us last Saturday for about an hour and half. She started to tear up because it was such a relief for her. She said, 'I'm going to do this because now I know what I'm going to get.' It was actually kind of cool. It was a neat moment."

Moments like that are what inspire Bellamy to stay focused on creating design experiences that delight his clients.

"I would say, honestly, we don't have a lot of objections or people that are on the fence. You find that they either like it, love it, or they don't. And if they don't, we'll redesign it right in front them and start tweaking it and playing with it until they're happy."

In fact, because Bellamy and his father work as a team, it’s easy for them to improve the design even as they are sharing it with their clients:

"Let's say that the Smiths are coming in at 3 o'clock on a Friday," Bellamy says. "I'll obviously have the design done and I'll have it priced out."

3D Pool Design

When the clients first arrive, as they’re being greeted, the video is already playing:

"I'll create a video of a fly-through of the yard, and I'll purposely create the video so they only see the pool in the back yard. Then at the very end of the video is where they see the house. And I have their name up there, of course. That's when they make the connection."

What’s unique about his process is that Bellamy always takes care to surprise his clients:

"It's so much fun to watch them and see their faces when they realize that that's their backyard, not just somebody else's that just happens to be up there. Their faces light up like a roman candle. It's amazing! Then we'll pull off the video and walk them through the design."

Surprising his clients with amazing designs is one way that Bellamy has grown his business and built his reputation — in fact, he’s achieved such an impressive closing ratio that he credits his focus on creating an amazing experience as one big key to his phenomenal success.

Achieving a 75% Closing Ratio

Beautiful Custom Pool Design

Designing even the most beautiful custom projects is not enough, Bellamy recognizes, if the client doesn’t feel confident that Bellamy will deliver what he’s promising.

It is, for Bellamy, therefore vitally important that he offers his clients a design they can fully understand, and that he takes the time to go through the details of that design so that they see that he truly understands exactly what they want.

"What I've found lately," he reveals, is that "the ability to make revisions on the spot is a really valuable tool."

"So if they say, 'I like it, but I don't really want a curvy pool.' I say, ‘okay, just give me a minute,' and my dad will talk to them while I make the revision. He sells for us. He'll keep them engaged while I make the change. And then they're like, 'wow, that's perfect.' They not only have the confidence that we can design in front of them, they have the confidence that we can build it for them too."

In some cases, that means he’s completely redesigned a pool on the spot for a client:

"We don't have a lot of objections," he says, but occasionally a client is not immediately ready to sign the contract: "I did this killer design for this guy. He came in and sat down and it was everything that he wanted. And he said, 'I hate it. I don't like it.' One in a hundred will say they hate it."

For that client, Bellamy says, "We actually sat down and changed the entire design based on what he said he wanted. He looked over at his partner and said, 'What do you think?’ And he said, 'well I hate what you just told him, but I love what he first came up with.’"

This is, Bellamy has found, not uncommon when clients initially feel uncertain about a design:

"You find that so often they come back to the first design. It's a unique experience."

"When you're drawing a 2D drawing, people can't picture what a flat piece of paper looks like. They think they can, but they can't. There's no denying what they see in 3D."

The results speak for themselves: "we have a 75 percent closing ratio in our office," Bellamy reveals.

Building Confidence to Grow Sales

Build Confidence

That impressive closing ratio is, according to Bellamy, the result of more than just offering impressive designs to clients:

"It's based on the process of how we get people to the point where they understand what they're going to get. Because if they are legitimately looking for a backyard project, they're going to buy from whoever they feel the most confident with and who understands their vision."

"The confidence level is over the top for everybody. The vendors know what to expect to build and the clients get to see what they are going to get for what they are paying. It's such a powerful tool."

What that means for Bellamy is that price is not, and should not be, the primary focus: "competing on price," he says, is "the worst level of competition there is because everybody loses. If everyone's beating each other up on price, the number one loser is the homeowner. They aren't going to get the quality that they expect."

"They come to California Pools because they want a good experience. They come to us because they don't want the standard 35,000 dollar pool/spa combo that you see all over the desert. There are tons of other builders for that. They come to us because they want the upper echelon, upper level of design and class. They want the heritage. We've been in business since 1952 and have more then 60,000 pools in the ground in California alone. That's pretty amazing."

Joining — and Creating — a Healthy Industry

Bellamy is not secretive about the methods he’s used to get to where he is today. Instead, he encourages other designers to join the industry, and shares advice with newcomers.

"There's enough work for everybody out there," he emphasizes. "It doesn't have to be cutthroat and nasty. If I talk to someone starting out that wants some advice, I tell them this: Learn Pool Studio. Don't even talk about anything else. Learn that software."

Bellamy says, "I tell people all the time, if I had to go back to 2D drawing, I'd go sell cars or something because it's such an amazing tool."

"I know I'm only using 50% or 60% of its capabilities," he admits. Even so, "we had a record sales in March. We sold $1.13 million in our territory alone."

"I tell people all the time, don't even waste your time. Learn Pool Studio, learn VizTerra, and get Vip3D and learn that. I tell other guys about it, and I promote it, because here's the thing: a strong healthy industry for me is good for everybody."

Give Bellamy’s advice a try — design your next project with 3D software and see what you can create for your clients.

Noah Nehlich

About the author: Noah Nehlich

Noah Nehlich is the founder of Structure Studios. As an entrepreneur, investor, and tech company enthusiast, he’s into everything 3D. With two decades of experience building the design software that pool and landscape designers use, Noah’s goal is to improve lives through 3D experiences.

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