Meeting Of The Minds

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Heading into its 36th year, Downes Pools has established a reputation for excellence that has put its design and consulting services in demand not only in the Midwest, but across the country and around the world. To maintain their grasp on the latest products, trends and techniques, owners Lou and Mike Downes send a contingent to AQUA every year to shop the trade show, attend the seminars and rub elbows with industry colleagues. Mike Downes outlined the AQUA Show's value to the awardwinning company.


"Our business is half service and half construction of concrete pools, spas and water features. The AQUA Show has continued to expand and improve every year, offering more things geared to the construction and service side of the industry. I generally attend the sessions on management and high-end design/build techniques. I find it very helpful for our type of business and I always get new ideas and principles that I can put to work."


"There are multiple things that bring me back to AQUA every year, and one of them is the people involved. We've made friends with people throughout the country and we always get together at the show to discuss the way we do things, new technologies, new designs, and what the common trends are in different parts of the country.

We talk on the phone all the time and trade ideas, but the AQUA Show gives us an opportunity to meet face-to face, sit down and actually talk about these things."


"We've sent a number of our employees to AQUA over the years to walk the show and attend the seminars, including our office manager, construction foreman and service technicians. We're going to send our design consultants to an upcoming show. We look over the seminar schedule and narrow it down to the ones we think would be most useful for them based on their job responsibilities with the company. Some years I've sent as many as six to eight technicians to attend the service-oriented seminars."


"My No. 1 reason for attending AQUA is to walk the show and look for new products and services available within the industry. I spend as much time as possible doing that, and I always find something new to benefit our business. There have been a lot of different things that we've liked and started using — from small service products to large construction items. It's hard for one person to walk the show and see everything, so that's another value of bringing employees. My service guys really pay attention to all the different service products to see if there's anything they think might be helpful, and the same is true with our people on the construction side."


"One of the things I love that AQUA does is a very upscale party for the AQUA 100, Hall of Fame, and Design Award winners. It's a very impressive event and a great opportunity to talk to everybody in the industry, including the AQUA Magazine staff. We also attend the House of Blues party and take our employees to that, too. I make it a point to introduce them to the people I know and encourage them to network."


"We submit entries into the AQUA Design Awards every year, and attend for that reason, as well. The various awards we've received, and being part of the AQUA 100 and AQUA Hall of Fame is something that we're very proud of and that we showcase in our store and advertising. It's something that our customers have been very impressed with and that has positively impacted our business."


"I like Las Vegas as a destination. I don't gamble, but there are so many other things to do when you're done with the trade show and seminars. Whether it's playing golf or having dinner in a nice restaurant, I think it fulfills anybody's requirements as to what they want to do after show hours. I've been very happy with Las Vegas and the Mandalay Bay Convention Center — and it gets us out of Chicago in the winter, which is very nice."

Business Basics

MIKE DOWNES' FATHER, Lou, started Downes Swimming Pool Company with his brother in 1970 as a service-only company, eventually expanding into construction. Mike joined the business full-time about 11 years ago, but virtually grew up in it. "As soon as I knew the alphabet I was filing papers," he laughs. Located in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling, Ill., the company specializes in high-end residential gunite pools, spas and water features. Named to the AQUA 100 seven times, Downes Pools was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. Its reputation for excellence has been proven in hundreds of regional, national and international design awards. Today, the business is owned by Lou and Mike Downes and operated with the help of 70 employees. Last year the company moved into a new facility four times the size of its old one. It features two showrooms, a design center and a conference center. "It has really set us apart from everybody else," says Mike Downes. "We have the homeowner come in and we sit down with them and literally design everything about the pool from start to finish — from shape and size down to the smallest detail such as the color of a handrail."

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