The company is among the pioneer developers of swimming pools and supplier of products in the region
Some of the oldest swimming pools in Nairobi County such as the ones at the Nyayo Stadium and in Kimathi Estate and in celebrated schools such as Alliance and Starehe Boys Centre were constructed by Davis & Shirtliff (D&S).
“Despite the fact that our company was founded in 1946 (by ex-military officers Messrs Eddie Davis &Dick Shirtliff after World War 2) in Westlands, Nairobi, essentially as a plumbing firm that serviced the then municipal council water systems and especially pumps in areas such as Karen and Loresho, we later went into swimming pools construction and water treatment,” explains D&S’s Group Pools Manager Steve Muhia in an interview with East African Constructions Digest magazine.
“When we did pools, we undertook everything from construction to fitting of pumps and water filters among other related equipment & accessories and after 30 years we went into sales and servicing of specific equipment and left some of our specialized fundis and technicians (whom we had trained) to go privately into pools construction,” Muhia further adds.
Muhia explains that D&S then had a team of 30 who worked under engineers. “They worked in teams of 10 each under an engineer and each team could do a pool in a month. We provided tanks and equipment and used a combination of professionals including masons, plumbers and electricians. Among other cardinal requirements the pools had to be water-proofed,” Muhia expounds.
In tandem with D&S business growth strategy, the company, 20 years ago ventured into providing, installation and servicing of solar, power and irrigation equipment in seven segments namely Pumps, BH (Borehole) Pumps, Solar, Pools, Power, WT (water) and irrigation. “We provide power generators and engines for pumps and we are essentially involved in the water and energy sectors in full throttle among other key water sector operations,” adds Muhia.
Swimming pools evolution:
“Change of designs including shapes and sizes have characterized the major change in swimming pools construction. Initially 95 per cent of pools in the country and region were rectangular but this has changed a lot in the last few years,” Muhia reflects.
He says that nowadays swimming pools have add-on features such as waterfalls and playing areas.
“Thanks to the evolution, it’s now possible for people to construct small and affordable swimming pools in their homes. Such pools could be 10M by 20 M and don’t have to be as deep as the previous pools with some small ones forming play areas for families and can cost even sh 2 million. We at D&S are always happy and keen to provide most of the equipment including water features ones with support from our partners,” he adds. According to Muhia, some of the value additions on the pools can cost even more that the cost of the actual swimming pools.
“We have realized that pools have evolved to become more than a play tool; they raise the status and value of homes and other establishments such as hotels. In schools, pools attract more learners,” Muhia adds. According to him, pools have helped in promoting various technologies including in heat pumps, variable speed and solar pumps. Modern pools types and profiles include infinity & beach pools and flat and shallow pools among others.
D&S Products and Solutions
Water filters are a key component for swimming pools. D&S has for a long time been manufacturing filters in its factory. “Initially, we made galvanized iron filters given that fibre glass wasn’t available. Today we manufacture fibre glass filters and pool water tanks and we have greatly improved our pumps through innovation. For instance, the bear shaft is no longer visible because we ‘ve produced closed coupled pumps,” Muhia expounds. “We sell most of the swimming pools products required in the country in one-stop-shops across the country and in the East Africa region,” Muhia affirms.
Remarkably, Davis & Shirtliff has partnered with local and overseas manufactures that customize its products under the DAYLIFF brand. The Company also operates in Ghana and has also set up shops in Somalia, Zambia and Zimbabwe and is keen to tap the DRC (Congo) market despite pools in the country not doing very well. Since the country is required to hire local people from these markets, it trains them including in on-line meetings.
“We also help the staff in these markets do proposals and quotations,” explains Muhia.
Notably, it is providing simple product offering with pumps that can cost as low as sh20,000 to sh50,000 and even sh100,000 and which can operate swimming pools of up 50,000M2 water capacity.
For the last close to 20 years, moreover, D&S has been providing solar energy to power pumps. Though renowned for pumps, the company identified a niche in the solar sector in 2004 with demand growing tremendously in the last few years. For instance, 20MW worth of solar power equipment were sold in 2021.
The Company currently operates in 60 per cent of the counties in Kenya in 40 branches expected to increase to 45 by end of 2022. Despite having 4 business clusters in the country in Coast, Eastern, Western and Nairobi, Nairobi and the Coast are its biggest markets. The Davis business is picking up very well in Kisumu, Nakuru, & Eldoret among other towns in the western region with its products and service getting well received in hotels and homes.
In the Eastern cluster, business is picking in Nanyuki, Meru, and Isiolo with great growth realized in the last 10years. Prospects for solar panels that power pumps and heat homes and pools are good seeing that sales doubled in 2019 and 2021. As expected, business was low in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic worst phase.
Davis has continued to innovate now producing pumps with variable speeds with speed becoming lowered when pools are not in use this helping to save power. Many pumps are also now being integrated with solar energy. Generally, demand for D&S products and solution has grown with 2019 marking the biggest growth. People that work at home have raised demand for home pools and things are getting better. By year 2020, the company had manufactured over 10,000 water filters at its fully-fledged fibre-glass factory with dedicated 20 employees.
“We regard others in the sector as partners not competitors and we work to supplement each other,” affirms Muhia.
The company often works in projects managed by contractors some of whom trained at D&S. The contractors buy D&S products and solutions.
Moreover, digitization of pools operation is making maintenance easier. “Through digital means, we are able to monitor PH and chlorine levels and when signals are sent to us that the levels have dipped to unacceptable levels, we send professionals to correct the situations,” Muhia reveals. Digital gadgets also send alerts when borehole pumps jam or when power goes off; this alerts are sent to both D&S and the clients directly.
“we’ve learnt that that the market is increasingly dependent on technology. With technology evolving rapidly new products are available every other day. As aforementioned we’ve contracted the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) to brand the products we buy as Dayliff. The OEM products are affordable and flexible. In addition to our Dayliff brand, we also use other premium brands as per clients’ tastes and needs,” Muhia expounds.
Davis also sources other products such as pools chemicals from manufacturers and is allowed to repack under its Dayliff brand. The company also stops using brands and products that prove unreliable. Employing close to 300 professionals in the country, the company has over the years learnt that partners (these include service providers and suppliers) are critical and values their support.
Some of major completed projects where D&S has been involved in include the Olympic Pool at the Nyayo Stadium; the Garden City water play; the waterfall and feature at the Two Rivers mall; the water feature at the New Uhuru Gardens off Lang’ata Rd and the prefabricated pools at the Paneltim among many others.
Projects get delayed raising costs from the initial contact costs due to products prices escalation among other factors seeing that most contacts have a clause over no costs changes even when prices changes. As a market leader D&S sees its products getting commoditized.
“At times, our products are taken over by others in the market and since we don’t have unique products copying of the same is unavoidable,” Muhia explains. The company also faces the challenge of counterfeit products. “Due to commoditization, some of our products can be fully faked in the market,” he rues. Selling over 70,000 pumps per year, D&S is obligated to advise manufactures to improve the same in the feedback reports it gives from the experience it gains using the equipment.
Pools chemicals have also been counterfeited and adulterated through importers forcing the company to import directly from the manufacturers. Notably, the company imports chlorine (the main pools water purification agent) and two other pools agents worth sh 200 million from China making this big business.
As could be expected, pumps failure in the pools is not a big challenge given that D&S maintenance professionals are always at hand to help. “Our sales representatives and equipment maintenance teams also train customers on maintenance,” Muhia says. The company routinely calls clients and links them to engineers and builders and plumbers among other pool professionals for training. “We keep them informed of new products and as well as seek their feedback,” explains Muhia. Other challenges faced at times have included unreliable and slow service providers and poor logistics services compounded by poor access roads in some areas.
Word for Customers
“We are good partners who provide all that you need. We provide a whole range of premium and affordable products and solutions removing the need for tedious and expensive importation,” Muhia avers.
Our clients must also know that swimming pools are now quite affordable and provide luxurious living courtesy of evolution and changing trends. Pools can be small and as deep as 3 meters (M) (deep end) and 1.2 M to 1.5 M in the shallow end,” he adds. He says that 1.2 to 1.5 M depth for home pools can provide more enjoyment; such pools are also easier to maintain.