How to Turn a Family Business Into a Pool Construction Franchise

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All photos courtesy California Pools

As a Christmas gift for his family in 1951, Wayne Steimle wrapped up a pool light and placed it under the tree as a promise for what he would build his family that upcoming summer. Wayne was a high school physics teacher, and that June of '52 he was able to recruit some of his students to help build his family a backyard swimming pool. That sort of thing was possible in those days.

As the summer progressed, and the pool became a reality, Wayne's neighbors started asking him if he could build them swimming pools during future summer vacations, and he said, why not? One thing led to another, and Wayne soon decided he could make more money building pools than teaching high school physics, so he started California Pools.

Wayne's son, Doug Steimle, went to college for civil engineering, and upon graduation, decided to go into the family business. After learning the business from the ground up, Doug ended up buying and running California Pools for over 20 years.

Doug's son, Ryder Steimle, is the current owner and CEO of California Pools. Under Ryder's leadership, they've franchised the operation, and now offer their experience and services to homeowners all throughout the nation, not just in Southern California.

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After graduating with a degree in business, Ryder wasn't sure he even wanted to work for the Steimle family business; however, a sad and unexpected event changed his mind.

"My grandfather passed away right after I graduated college," says Ryder. "California Pools had a sort of awards banquet, during which they paid tribute to Wayne. The tribute really touched me, and I was able to see the potential of the company and what a great legacy my grandfather and father had built since 1952. The next day, I approached my dad and asked if I could work for the company with the end goal of buying the company once he decided to retire. That was the start of my journey."

Under the mentorship of his father, Ryder was thrown into the trenches to learn construction, sales and management — climbing the California Pools' ladder — until he ultimately achieved his goal and bought the company from his father.

In 2018, California Pools became a franchise, which required the company to change its business model and allowed for substantial growth.

"Currently, there are around 28 franchised locations throughout California and the Sunbelt States, but we're also spreading on the East Coast and in the Midwest," says Ryder. "California Pools is headquartered in Texas, and we do construction and remodeling, but a couple of our locations are testing out service, so we anticipate service franchises in the near future, too.

"In my tenure over the last 15 years or so, I've watched the industry change a lot. As the industry changed, or as the demand for pools increased in nontraditional areas, it just became unsustainable for us to try and grow these new areas using the model we were using. We had to take a hard look at how we wanted to grow and carry on the Steimle family legacy, and the California Pools Franchise model was really the only way to do that.

"Since we were already running the company in multiple locations — I want to say we had around 15 company-owned locations prior to 2018 — we already had a lot of tools in place to help us easily transition into a franchise; however, we didn't have the ability to manage local knowledge, or local compliances; that was what franchising would help us accomplish. The farther we got from home base, the better it was to have a partnership/franchise with somebody as opposed to an employer-employee type relationship."

It took two years for the company to become registered as a franchisor, and from there, California Pools fully transitioned its business model into what it is today.

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There were many crucial business decisions over the years, but Ryder believes the real reason for the company's success is its family centered culture and soul.

"My grandfather treated everybody like family, and I would like to believe that both my father and I carried on this safe and friendly atmosphere," says Ryder. "My uncle just recently retired from running his franchise, and during his time as store manager, all his employees called him Uncle Mike. We truly treat all our employees like family, which tends to help people stick around."

The business also tends to be stable, but flexible, in order to grow and evolve. "Financial stability has been a big focus for us," says Ryder. "In our industry, a business can get into financial trouble very quickly. Prior to 2018 when California Pools ran all the company-owned stores, we had a lot of financial discipline and controls in place so we could weather storms like Covid and recessions. Flexibility has also been important to us over the decades. We're always looking at how we can improve, or do things differently, so that there's always a path forward, and we're staying relevant."

Another aspect that makes California Pools Franchise unique and successful is their open lines of communication across the nation.

"A franchisee who's in Texas has the ability to call a franchisee in California to get help and expertise on a problem," says Ryder. "These open lines of communication between locations, employees and franchisees is important; it allows new people to learn from people who are already successful, rather than just going out and winging it, or starting from scratch. My uncle, for example, worked close to 50 years building swimming pools, so a culture where a brand-new employee could call him up and get advice on something has definitely helped."

Philanthropic initiatives are another great way to set the tone in leadership. Whether that means you donate money, products or time to good causes, doing so helps our industry and communities to grow and evolve for the better.

"We are involved in an organization called Operation Underground Railroad (OUR)," says Ryder. "This organization is involved in stopping child sex trafficking, and we've been donating to their cause for years because we truly believe in what they do."

What is the plan going forward? In a word, growth. "The whole point of transitioning from our old model to our franchise model was to grow the business, so we hope to continue to do that. Our short-term goal is to go from where we are today to 40 locations, really pushing towards franchising on the East Coast and in Northern California."

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