The Fifteenth Annual AQUA 100

Paragons Of Professionalism

From AAA Custom Pools to Zagers Pool & Supply, 538 different companies have made the AQUA 100 since we started the program 15 years ago. This year a new batch can lay claim to the prestigious award and tell family, friends, customers and colleagues that they're among the best retailers, builders or service pros in the spa and pool industry.

But the AQUA 100 isn't just for them — you're the real reason we put the section together. You see, the companies on this list have good ideas about running spa and pool businesses. Like you, they've weathered poor seasons, had tough times keeping good workers and wracked their brains trying to solve tough chemical or construction problems. And like you they've somehow survived — and even thrived. But even the sharpest businesspeople can learn from what others are doing. And what better group to learn from than the AQUA 100.

We hope you enjoy this year's section and ask you to join us in congratulating the winners.

AQUA 100 Hall of Fame

AQUA is proud to introduce the 2004 class of the AQUA Hall of Fame. This year, 11 companies join the elite club, bringing the total to 71. As usual, the new inductees come in all shapes and sizes. Some are from smaller towns and sell above-ground pools and spas in the dozens, others operate over vast areas and build inground pools in the hundreds. All have one thing in common, though. They can claim to be among the best businesses our industry has to offer. The Hall of Fame was established in 1996 to recognize the companies that consistently convinced our judges that they deserved recognition for their excellence in customer service, product knowledge, workmanship, advertising and store design.

The new Hall of Famers are profiled on the next 11 pages. Each has a unique story to tell. Read on to learn more about what makes them special.

If Patrick Walsh, president of Above Ground Pool & Spa Company, has learned any lessons in his 30-plus years in the pool business, it's that retailers have to stop selling against each other and focus energies on the real threats to business.

"Other pool companies are not your competition," he says. "Travel agents, RV dealers and boat dealers are.

"Just promote the backyard experience."

Walsh has been doing just that since 1995 when he opened a retail store in San Antonio and put his then 20plus years' experience in the industry to work.

Since opening, the company has experienced steady growth, which Walsh says is a direct result of his staff's dedication to quality and service coupled with their extensive product knowledge.

The company has six full-time staffers with a total of 94 years of combined experience. "They have extensive knowledge of pool water chemistry and participate in continuing education classes and industry seminars," Walsh says proudly. Walsh's own expertise led NSPI to invite him to teach seminars at several national shows.

In 2002 the company moved into a 10,000-square-foot, custom-built facility that sits on 1 - acres. The new building includes a huge showroom as well as warehouse space. This new floor space and expansive pool park allow Walsh to better promote the "backyard experience" he talks about.

"We have an outdoor pool display that includes four operating pools and an extensive deck area," Walsh says. "The outdoor pools showcase the higher-end product available for above-ground pools.

"The outside deck is complete with a barbecue grill and a tree-covered patio. The No. 1 focus is making the display pools the most inviting pools the customer will see."

As always, Walsh tries to make Above Ground Pool & Spa Company and the products it sells better than the competition. "The AQUA 100 has given our company the proof behind the claim, 'We are the best.'"

ABOVE GROUND POOL & SPA COMPANY Location: San Antonio, Texas Principal: Patrick Walsh, president Founded: 1995 Outlets: 1 Employees: 6 full-time, 12 in-season Products Sold: above-ground pools, portable spas, chemicals, toys, equipment

Hall of Fame Inductee-AQUA POOL & PATIO, INC.

In 1970, Vytas (Tony) Ramanauskas founded Aqua Pool & Patio as a vinyl-liner pool company, then soon converted to gunite. Tony, whose background was in engineering, sold a pool to Ron Giannamore, another engineer, that first year. You could say Giannamore liked the product so much he bought the company, but that's getting ahead of the story.

"Our common background and shared love of beautiful pools brought the two of us together in 1972," recalls Giannamore, who started selling pools for Tony on a part-time basis while keeping his day job in engineering.

Beginning the next year, Giannamore began buying into the company and continued his part-time sales position. That continued until 1980, when Giannamore bought out his former partner.

In 1985, things began to change. Giannamore moved Aqua Pool & Patio into a 10,000-square-foot building and walked away from his engineering position to begin selling pools full-time. That's when sales really took off.

The company experienced growing pains over the next five years, and Giannamore says controlling the company became increasingly difficult.

"In the early '90s difficult financial conditions took a toll on sales and we were forced to contract," he recalls. "To help bolster sales we opened a new sales office in Wilton, Conn. This location, at the other end of the state, allowed us to enter a new geographical area. And there was a lot of new demand there."

Things slowly improved through 2001, but then flagging sales forced the company to contract again.

But slowing sales aren't about to change the way Aqua Pool & Patio does business. "Our success is based on delivering a quality product and the best possible service to our customers," Giannamore says. "To do this, we have to maintain high standards. This often places us at a price disadvantage relative to our competition, but our quality provides sufficient value for our customers to overcome that."

Giannamore says lately sales have again started to pick up, and he plans to expand and refocus the company's advertising to capitalize on the trend. Still, no amount of advertising brings in prospects like a good reputation and attention to customers after the sale.

"Good service cements the dealer-customer relationship and is the foundation of future referrals," he says.

AQUA POOL & PATIO, INC. Location: East Windsor, Conn. Principals:Ronald Giannamore, president; Michael Giannamore, vice president; Gregg Pruitt, vice president; Michael E. Grabon, controller Founded:1970 Outlets:2 Employees:40 full-time, 47 in season Products Sold:custom gunite pools/spas, chemicals, supplies, decks, landscaping

Hall of Fame Inductee-AQUA-TEKNOLOGY

AQUA-TEKnology is located in Rockville, Ind., far from pool and spa hot spots like Florida and California and Texas and Arizona and the Northeast and the Northwest. I could go on, but I think you get the point. When people think of Indiana, pools aren't the first thing that come to mind. And frankly, that's just fine with Larry and Debbie Wickens, owners of the 15-year-old company.

"We like our way of life, but we'll probably never be that dramatic in numbers out here," Larry admits. "We talk to other dealers at shows and they tell us the numbers they're doing and we're like, 'Wow.'"

Because Rockville and the surrounding area doesn't have the number of potential clients a lot of dealers enjoy, Larry and Debbie say they have to treat each job as an audition for the next one. To do that you can't simply plop an aboveground, fiberglass or vinyl-liner pool in someone's backyard then move on to the next job.

"We're in a farming community. Customers don't exactly beat down the door," Larry says. "For example, we might do 15 to 20 above-grounds in a good year. But we try to give those pools an in-ground effect. We try to create our own personality with what we're doing."

Larry and Debbie's son Jesse, who went to Indiana University in Bloomington and still resides there, is also working in the business, but not for his parents — yet.

"He's got a service route down there. Our hope is he'll make a move with us down the road, but he has to decide that for himself," Debbie says.

The couple's other children — Karen, who starts college soon, and Jamie Farley, who's a registered nurse — both helped out while they were at home but are interested in other careers. "So our son is the only hope," Larry says, laughing.

While Larry and Debbie wait for Jesse, they've got plenty of good help from people they consider part of the family, too.

"We have two guys, Bill and Cloyd, who've been with us for years. And Lori and Sheri in the store," Larry says. "We couldn't do it without them. The customers tell us how much they think of them and the other people who work for us. It's touching, really."

It's that sense of family and the company's small-town way of doing business that have helped put AQUA-TEKnology among the elite above-ground dealers in the country despite its modest size.

AQUA-TEKNOLOGY Location: Rockville, Ind. Principals: Larry and Debbie Wickens, owners Founded: 1989 Outlets: 1 Employees: 3 year-round, 11 in-season Products Sold: package vinyl-liner pools, fiberglass pools, above-ground pools, renovations 

Hall of Fame Inductee-BACKYARD AMENITIES

Nobody goes into business thinking about failure. Entrepreneurs are famously optimistic, and success rarely comes as a surprise. Sometimes, though, it comes a little sooner than expected.

"I never imagined we'd have the tremendous amount of success and growth we've had in such a short time," says Brad Stephens, who, along with his wife, Patty, owns Backyard Amenities. "I knew we'd be successful, but I never dreamt it would happen so fast.

"It's been a lot of hard work, but it has all been worth it, especially when you stop and realize that we've gone from a new company to one of the top pool companies in the entire Houston market in less than six years."

Brad began working in the pool industry straight out of high school, and while he enjoyed the work he always dreamed of striking out on his own. "While I was working for other people," he says, "I always thought of things I'd do differently if it were my business."

Six years ago, Brad got the chance to put those ideas into practice. One of the differences between Backyard Ameneties and other builders is the amount of involvement he and Patty have with every project. Brad, who is still the only salesperson Backyard Amenities has ever had, oversees every aspect of construction, from beginning to end. While this makes for a very busy schedule, it provides customers with the assurance that they won't get passed from salesperson to construction crew to who-knows-who-else. In other words, at Backyard Amenities, the buck stops at Brad's desk.

Patty's job is to design and draw all the pools and to oversee the operations end of the business — no small job for a company that's built over 800 pools in such a short time.

But both Brad and Patty are quick to give much of the credit to their employees, who they say are key to their company's success.

"We feel that to run and maintain a strong business, through good ethics and practices, you must start and carry this throughout your entire business," Brad says. "This means you treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers and you. You have to set a good example."

While Brad and Patty are extremely proud to have earned AQUA Hall of Fame status so quickly, nothing makes them more proud than their solid reputation among customers, which Patty credits for the company's meteoric rise in the competitive Houston market. "That's something you can't buy," Patty says. "You must earn it."

BACKYARD AMENITIES Location: Baytown, Texas Principals: Brad Stephens, president; Patty Stephens, secretary treasurer Founded: 1998 Outlets: 1 Employees: 10 year-round, 10 in-season Products Sold: custom gunite pools/spas, chemicals, supplies, outdoor kitchens, accessories


Like countless college kids, Fred von Lewinski needed a job to help him get through school. Should he work at a sub shop. Wash dishes in the student cafeteria. Maybe he could work nights at a canning factory . . . Not Fred. He'd grown up around water his whole life and wanted a job that would keep him close to it, so he decided to get into pool maintenance, a job with the added benefit of allowing him to be his own boss.

"I spent my summers in Canada growing up, and when I was 17 I spent my first summer in the D.C. area," he explains. "I thought to myself, Gosh it's hot here. I'd never experienced heat like that before. So I said, 'I've got to be around water.' That's what got me started."

By the time he graduated from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1976, von Lewinski had been doing pool service for a few years and had fallen in love with the area, a place appropriately known as the Jewel of the Commonwealth.

"I graduated with a B.S. in landscape architecture. I didn't want to leave Charlottesville, and since I already had the service business here I decided to start building pools in 1976. I've been doing it ever since," he says.

He opened his first retail store in 1986, where the business remained until three years ago when Charlottesville Aquatics moved into a new 8,000-square-foot facility that in addition to housing warehouse and office space includes a 4,000-square-foot retail showroom.

Today, von Lewinski's company ranks among the top pool and spa companies in the business. And like he did as a young man, von Lewinski still wants to be around water.

"There are certain aspect of the business I can do without, and hopefully I can farm those out," he says. "But I still enjoy it and I'm not planning to retire anytime soon.

"I can't see myself kicking back on a front porch or anything like that."

CHARLOTTESVILLE AQUATICS Location: Charlottesville, Va. Principals: Frederick von Lewinski, president; Antoinette von Lewinski, vice president Founded: 1973 Outlets: 1 Employees: 25 year-round, 31 in-season Products Sold: gunite pools/spas, package vinylliner pools, portable spas, billiards, chemicals, supplies, toys, grills

Hall of Fame Inductee-EASTON POOL & SPA, INC.

In 1958, Henry Hobaica was a school teacher who wanted to earn some money during the summer. Nothing unusual about that. Lots of teachers paint houses, do odd jobs or work retail to supplement their incomes.

What was unusual was Henry's chosen line of work — building swimming pools. Well, Henry both taught and built pools until 1986, when he left the world of education and dove into Easton Pool & Spa full-time. By that time his sons, Bob, Paul and David had joined the family business, which had grown steadily and now included a retail location.

The first store in South Easton, Mass., was so successful, the Hobaicas opened a second one in Middleboro, Mass., in 1987. A few years later, Walpole, Mass., had a location, too.

The next 10 years saw continued growth, and in 2002 brothers Bob and David, who had taken over for their father upon his retirement in 1994, bought a parcel of land less than a mile from the company's original site and built a 15,000-square-foot facility to support its growing retail, sales and service divisions, in addition to serving as its corporate headquarters.

Apparently Henry's teaching extended beyond the classroom, as his sons learned the pool business well and helped him take his summertime hobby and turn it into one of the most professional companies in the industry.

"The staff of Easton Pool & Spa is proud that we will be inducted in the AQUA Hall of Fame," says David Hobaica. "For the past five consecutive years it has been an honor to display the AQUA 100 logo in our showroom and marketing materials."

Like their father did, Henry's sons are branching out into new areas with a new business, called Atlantic Water Services. "It's a separate entity complete with two artesian wells, a 40,000-gallon holding tank and a fleet of vehicles capable of delivering water to our sites or anywhere else," David says.

The old teacher must be proud of what he and his students have accomplished.

EASTON POOL & SPA, INC. Location: South Easton, Mass. Principals: David Hobaica, president; Robert Hobaica, president of construction division Founded: 1972 Outlets: 2 Employees: 8 year-round, 43 in-season Products Sold: custom vinyl-liner pools, chemicals, supplies, toys

Hall of Fame Inductee-MISSION POOLS, INC.

Mission Pools, one of the largest independently owned pool companies in the country, was started in 1960 by the owner of a pump and filtration company who wanted to build himself a pool. After talking to numerous pool contractors, he felt none of them met the design and building standards he was looking for, so he decided his company, Webb Pump and Supply, would get into the business of building residential pools, starting with the one in his own backyard. The company was named after the street it was on, and Mission Pools was off and running.

Ten years later, Bruce and Jeff Dunn, both graduates of California State University in San Luis Obispo, took over leadership of the company, and in 1975 it recorded its first million-dollar year. Remember, that was 1975, when pools cost just a fraction of what they do today — even the high-end ones Mission has a reputation for.

"We became known for handling the tougher design and construction projects, and quality home builders began to specify us," says Bruce. "Then in 1978, we had a chance to buy the company, so we did."

By the end of that year the two moved into commercial construction when they bought Aztec Pools in San Diego, where Mission opened a second office. Today, this division represents 45 percent of the company's construction portfolio.

In 1981, the company opened another office, this one in the Orange County area. The business was growing rapidly, and the name Mission Pools became widely recognized for its quality design and construction. The name was so good, in fact, the company considered licensing it.

"Franchising the name was considered," says Bruce, now Mission's president. "But we felt the responsibility for construction belonged to Mission Pools and not an agent using the name.

"Like any organization, we rely heavily on the performance of our people in the field. Whether it's sales, construction or support staff, they all are equally important in the recipe for success. Our goal of quality construction extends all the way from permitting to plastering."

MISSION POOLS, INC. Location: Escondido, Calif. Principals: G. Bruce Dunn, president; Jeffery G. Dunn, executive vice president Founded: 1960 Outlets: 4 Employees: 192 year-round, 192 in-season Products Sold: custom gunite pools/spas, commercial pools/spas

Hall of Fame Inductee-MOUNTAIN HOT TUB, INC.

There are few places that better exemplify the hot tub lifestyle than Bozeman, Montana, with its breathtaking vistas, excellent skiing at Big Sky and Bridger Bowl, and numerous mountain resorts and condos. Vacationers and locals alike are wont to unwind in swirling hot water after a day spent on the slopes, hiking in Yellowstone or just shopping and eating in the quaint resort town. Yeah, the hot-tub-per-capita ratio is pretty high there and elsewhere in Montana. And Mountain Hot Tub, founded by boyhood friends Tom Walker and Scott Smith, supply more of them than anyone else in the state.

As teenagers in Bozeman, Walker and Smith often visited the area's many natural hot springs, as did most of their friends and classmates. That's what you did in Bozeman. "So when they saw an ad in a magazine for redwood-barrel hot tubs, they knew they'd found what they were looking for," says general manager Kelly King. "Everyone could enjoy a hot spring in their own backyard."

That dream took Smith to California in 1979 in search of a manufacturer. From there, they got in touch with a dealer in Sun Valley, Idaho, who taught them how to install hot tubs that would withstand the harsh Rocky Mountain winters. But in 1979, few people in Bozeman knew what a hot tub was, King says.

"The turning point was when they landed a few large projects at Big Sky, a small ski resort in the area," King says. "From there, they just kept growing and by the end of the 1980s they'd installed most of the commercial spas in the area."

In 1989, the two moved their business to Main Street in Bozeman. By that time they'd largely gotten out of the commercial spa business and were concentrating on portable spas for residential customers. New stores in Butte and Helena soon followed and the business kept growing — along with their reputation.

In July 2001, Scott Smith died in a car accident, a tragedy King says was felt throughout the hot tub industry.

"One of Scott's strongest attributes was he knew how to make people feel special," King says. "He made such an impression on HotSpring Spas that they have honored Scott by naming an award after him. The Scott Smith Superior Customer Satisfaction Award is presented each year at HotSpring's annual awards ceremony.

"Scott's legacy is still living on at Mountain Hot Tub."

MOUNTAIN HOT TUB, INC. Location: Bozeman, Mont. Principals: Tom Walker, president; Kelly King, general manager Founded: 1979 Outlets: 3 Employees: 16 year-round, 19 in-season Products Sold: portable spas, saunas, gazebos, chemicals

Hall of Fame Inductee-PALMER POOL SALES

In 1969, Virgil C. Palmer, owner of a water well drilling company, found himself embroiled in a nasty competition with other area well drillers, all of whom were trying to undercut each other. Unwilling to stoop to such levels to stay in business, he decided to leave the industry he'd spent 15 years in to do something totally different. Well, it still involved digging and water . . .

"He went to Chicago and picked up a Hallmark fiberglass pool and brought it back and installed it next to our house in Mercer," recalls son Jeffrey V. Palmer, the current owner of the company. According to the younger Palmer, this was a revolutionary idea at the time for a rural community in gritty western Pennsylvania.

Like most pool companies, Palmer started out small. Virgil's wife, Virginia, ran a retail store in a 10-by-10foot area of what the family called "the shop" and did the bookkeeping while the couple's three children, Roxanne, Jeffrey and Mary Ann, helped run the store. Jeffrey was especially helpful, chipping in whenever he wasn't in school. "It was a start," Jeffrey says. The company may have been humble, but it had a solid foundation thanks to the lessons in honest business and pride in workmanship Virgil learned in the well business. Soon, the word around Mercer began to spread and the Palmers found the 100-square-foot retail area wasn't going to cut it anymore.

"Between newspaper and radio advertising and by word of mouth, the business began to take off," Jeffrey says. "We began installing Buster Crabbe vinyl-liner pools in 1970 and built a new 50-by-100-foot retail store."

Virgil retired in 1985 and transferred ownership to his son. Jeffrey's sisters also work for the company today: older sister Roxanne Burry does payroll and younger sister Mary Ann McCullough is the office manager.

Virgil passed away in 1997, but his kids continue to do business the way their father did.

"He taught us that you have to have a good, moral work ethic; value and respect your employees and customers; use quality products and provide quality service; and find your niche in the market," Jeffrey says.

PALMER POOL SALES Location: Mercer, Pa. Principals: Jeffrey V. Palmer, owner; Mary McCullough, manager; Emily Straub, assistant manager; Gary Rose, service technician; Roxanne Burry, payroll and office Founded: 1969 Outlets: 1 Employees: 4 full-time, 10 in-season Products Sold: above-ground pools, chemicals, supplies, maintenance equipment, toys

Hall of Fame Inductee-PERFORMANCE POOL & SPA

Unlike most of the retail world, it's still possible to start with almost nothing and rise to great heights in the pool and spa industry. Can you imagine a momand-pop hardware store selling more hammers than Home Depot Or a home-based stereo store outselling Best Buy? In the six years between 1989 and 1995, Performance Pool & Spa went from a small sub-contractor operating out of a garage to the largest pool builder in Minnesota. Since then, the company has continued it phenomenal growth, all without having to hire their own subcontractors, according to treasurer Brett MacNally, who joined founders Mike Pearson and Terry Moody as a partner in 1998.

The key to this success is what many people say is too often missing in the retail world — attention to the customer.

"Performance Pool & Spa's formula for success lies with customer service," MacNally explains. "We focus on referrals, and to do that you've always got to treat the customer right. It's imperative to manage your schedule, do what you say you're going to do, and never leave things undone. "When customers think back on their experiences with Performance, they remember professionalism, speed, flow, direct owner interaction, and following through on what we say we're going to do."

These attributes, along with the company's impressive growth record, have helped the Woodbury, Minn.-based company consistently earn spots on the AQUA 100, an achievement MacNally says makes the owners proud and impresses pool and spa shoppers.

"Being a member of the AQUA 100 has given us quite a bit of credibility," he says. "It is also a great way to step back and measure yourself against the rest of the industry. It lets you know what you're doing is bringing you the success you want."

PERFORMANCE POOL & SPA Location: Woodbury, Minn. Principals: Mike Pearson, president; Terry Moody, vice president; Brett MacNally, treasurer Founded: 1989 Outlets: 3 Employees: 26 year-round, 88 in-season Products Sold: in-ground vinyl-liner pools, concrete pools, landscaping, fencing, portable spas, chemicals


Charles Barnes left his sales and marketing job at a Fortune 500 company in 1982 and founded Riverbend Pools in Plano, Texas, about 20 miles north of downtown Dallas. "Using ideas learned during my first career, I developed a sales and marketing strategy and tailored it to the pool industry," he says. "The result was that Riverbend experienced one of the most consistent growth patterns of any pool company in the area."

The company grew throughout the 1980s, despite poor economic conditions and high interest rates.

"Our strategy was to build a high-quality product and sell it for a fair price, to be professional, treat customers with respect and exhibit honesty and integrity in all things," Barnes says.

That strategy paid off, as the company went from 37 pool sales in its first year to more than 200 by the end of its fifth.

In the 1990s, the company continued to grow, as did its reputation among customers looking for high-quality custom pools.

"We started to develop our own software to help manage the business more effectively," Barnes says. "Lead and quote modules were refined and we built a large indoor sales showroom."

Barnes applied what he'd learned in the world of big business and placed special emphasis on sales. Each new salesperson had to spend three full months in training and had to learn Barnes' sales system. By the end of 1998, the company was selling almost 500 pools a year, all without advertising, and grew to become the largest custom pool builder in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

Five years ago, Riverbend merged with Sandler Pools, another AQUA Hall of Fame company in the area. It's owner, Travis Bain, was a Fortune 500 CEO before getting into the pool business, so the two saw eye-to-eye in many areas.

By 2000, with sales and construction synergies in full swing, sales for both companies had exceeded 900 pools, a 30 percent increase from pre-merger sales the two companies combined.

The two businesses were run separately until 2002, when they combined to form Riverbend Sandler Pools. Both Bain and Barnes give much of the credit for the company's success to their salespeople, who are well-trained by two men who know a thing or two about the subject.

"The pool sales department is key to any builder's success," Barnes says. "Remember, your customers' decision to buy a pool is made based on the impression your salespeople make."

RIVERBEND SANDLER POOLS Location: Plano, Texas Principals: Charles Barnes, president and CEO; Travis Bain, chairman of the board Founded: 1982 Outlets: 2 Employees: 200 year-round, 200 in-season Products Sold: custom gunite pools/spas 

AQUA 100 profiles

AQUA POOL & SPA  Ripon, Calif................................................................92

AQUALAND POOL, SPA & PATIO  Bowling Green, Ky.....................................................92

BACHMANN POOLS & SPAS, LLC  Madison, Wis..............................................................93

BUILD YOUR OWN POOL, INC.  Mesa, Ariz..................................................................93

CLAFFEY POOLS  Southlake, Texas.......................................................93

COLLEY’S POOLS & SPAS  Hamburg, N.Y.............................................................94

CONTEMPORARY WATERCRAFTERS INC.  Gaithersburg, Md.......................................................98

EASTGATE POOLS  Cincinnati, Ohio.........................................................98

FLOHR POOLS, INC.  Chambersburg, Pa.....................................................99

GREAT ATLANTIC POOLS, SPAS, PATIO, FIREPLACE  Virginia Beach, Va...................................................99

LUTHER STEM  Fort Smith, Ark..........................................................99

MARYLAND POOLS, INC.  Columbia, Md............................................................100

OCEAN SPRAY POOLS AND SPAS  Westhampton Beach, N.Y.........................................100

OLYMPIA POOLS & SPAS  Ft. Wayne, Ind...........................................................102

OREGON HOTSPRING SPAS, INC.  Beaverton, Ore.........................................................102  

PARAGON POOLS  Las Vegas.................................................................104

POOL & PATIO CENTER, INC.  Coventry, R.I................................................................104

POOLS OF FUN  Plainfield, Ind...........................................................105

POOLS PLUS, INC.  Elizabethtown, Ky....................................................105

POOLSIDE  St. Paul, Minn............................................................106

RICH’S FOR THE HOME  Lynnwood, Wash.......................................................106

RIVER OAKS POOLS L.P.  San Antonio, Texas......................................................107

ROBERTS POOL AND SPA  Omaha, Neb..............................................................107

SABINE AQUATECH POOLS & SPAS  Lake Charles, La.......................................................108

SANDCREEK POOLS, INC.  Brentwood, Calif......................................................108

VAUGHAN POOLS  Jefferson City, Mo.....................................................110

WESTPORT POOLS  Maryland Heights, Mo...............................................110

WILDWOOD AQUATECH POOLS INC.  Fresno, Calif...............................................................111

WOLTER POOL CO. INC.  Beloit, Wis..................................................................111 

Aqua Pool & Spa Location: Ripon, Calif. Principals: Richard Townsend, president; Gregg Whitley, general manager Founded: 1988 Outlets: 2 Employees: 150 year-round, 185 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 3 Products/Services: gunite pools, commercial pools, decks Status Report: Aqua Pool & Spa had a huge year in 2003, with profits growing by an impressive 35 percent. "We have a great product and a quality sales and design staff," says general manager Gregg Whitley. Unit sales of in-ground pools grew by 30 percent in 2003, but Whitley expects the company's strong and growing referral base to help double business in 2004. The strength of the company's referral base will allow it to scale back its advertising budget, too. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We increased the number of products we offer. Tip For Success: Take care of your customer, treat your employees with respect and deliver a high-quality product on time.

AquaLand Pool, Spa & Patio Location: Bowling Green, Ky. Principals: Darri Pinerola, president; Dino Pinerola, vice president; Jerry Mefford, general manager Founded: 1982 Outlets: 1 Employees: 8 year-round, 13 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 3 Products/Services: gunite pools, vinyl-liner pools, above-ground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, toys, residential service Status Report: Unit sales of in-ground pools, above-ground pools and spas slipped in 2003 because of poor weather, but revenues stayed steady and company officials expect sales to grow in 2004. A new competitor forced AquaLand to increase its advertising budget, and that increased exposure is also expected to help boost sales. Other factors in the company's favor include an improving economy and better weather, according to Darri Pinerola, president. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We diversified our advertising and increased our advertising budget substantially. Tip For Success: Be organized, stay motivated, have qualified people and work hard.

Encore Performances

This year, the AQUA 100 proudly welcomes five companies that have never appeared on the list before: Ocean Spray Pools and Spas, Paragon Pools, Roberts Pool and Spa, Sandcreek Pools, and Wolter Pool Co.

The other 24 companies are repeat performers, many of which are nearing AQUA Hall of Fame status. Following is a breakdown of how many times each of these companies has appeared: 

6 HAVE ACHIEVED AQUA 100 STATUS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . TWICE 4 HAVE ACHIEVED AQUA 100 STATUS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . THREE TIMES 5 HAVE ACHIEVED AQUA 100 STATUS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FOUR TIMES 5 HAVE ACHIEVED AQUA 100 STATUS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FIVE TIMES 2 HAVE ACHIEVED AQUA 100 STATUS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SEVEN TIMES 2 HAVE ACHIEVED AQUA 100 STATUS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . EIGHT TIMES THE LIST DOES NOT INCLUDE THE 71 MEMBERS OF THE AQUA HALL OF FAME. THOSE COMPANIES HAVE APPEARED FOR FIVE CONSECUTIVE YEARS OR EIGHT YEARS OVERALL. 

Bachmann Pools & Spas, LLC Location: Madison, Wis. Principals: Fred Bachmann, owner Motto: Believe in Bachmann Founded: 1985 Outlets: 2 Employees: 16 year-round, 18 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 5 Products/Services: above-ground pools, portable spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, casual furniture, toys Status Report: Above-ground pool sales were off slightly due to a low-price competitor, a slow economy and poor weather. General manager Pete Papineau says offering installation specials this year should boost sales, and that an improving economy won't hurt, either. Chemical sales, on the other hand, were up due to the company's growing customer list and Bachmann's free water-testing service, Papineau says. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We hired a new service manager and restructured our service operations. Tip For Success: If you don't know where you are, how can you know where you are going. Continuously monitor and modify your business plan to achieve your goals.

Build Your Own Pool, Inc. Location: Mesa, Ariz. Principals: Rex Richard, president; Donna Erzen, vice president Motto: Golden rule principle Founded: 1992 Outlets: 2 Employees: 22 year-round, 25 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 3 Products/Services: gunite pools, chemicals Status Report: Sales of in-ground pools at BYOP were up slightly in 2003, but revenues slipped a shade because the company offered discounts to counter the negative effects of the war in Iraq, according to Rex Richard, president. In 2004, Richard plans to add a third location in the highly competitive Phoenixarea market. Look for an increase in advertising expenditures and improving market conditions to help the company grow profits this year. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Loss and removal of unmotivated employees. Tip For Success: Communicate well with clients, employees, vendors and everyone else. Live and work with integrity.

Claffey Pools Location: Southlake, Texas Principals: Charles Claffey, president; Shelly Claffey Broder, vice president; Brian Claffey, secretary/treasurer Motto: Quality is our commitment to you Founded: 1987 Outlets: 1 Employees: 45 year-round, 48 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 2 Products/Services: gunite pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, grills, pottery, statuary Status Report: Last year Claffey concentrated on larger projects with bigger price tags, so while the company built fewer pools, profits rose. Company principals expect revenues to grow again in 2004, citing improved economic conditions and increased marketing efforts. Because the company has had such success with word-of-mouth referrals, it's going to scale back on advertising in 2004. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Bringing several divisions in-house. Tip For Success: Do what you say you are going to do, have your customers fill out questionnaires to improve quality, and always look for ways to improve your company.

Colley's Pools & Spas Location: Hamburg, N.Y. Principals: Jeanine Colley and Scott Colley, co-owners Motto: Escape to your backyard Founded: 1963 Outlets: 3 Employees: 20 year-round, 70 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 4 Products/Services: vinyl-liner pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, above-ground pools, portable spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, grills, snowmobiles, propane, residential service, commercial service Status Report: Co-owners Jeanine and Scott Colley say they plan to expand their showroom space and add a warehouse in 2004. Referrals are the company's best form of advertising; Jeanine says about 95 percent of her customers will recommend Colley’s to friends and relatives. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Starting work on our Pool Park. Tip For Success: Earn the loyalty and exceed the expectations of your customers.

Help Wanted?

Finding and keeping good employees remains an industry problem

Not everyone had a hard time finding qualified retail, construction and service personnel in 2003, but many of those who did list it as the industry's biggest concern for 2004 and beyond.

An improving economy will help pool and spa companies in many ways, but unfortunately it's not going to increase the pool of good workers. The truth is, there are only so many people out there who know how to acid wash a pool, fix a leaky pump or sell spas. A company's best bet, therefore, is to do what it can to attract those workers or to train people with good potential. Here's a sampling of what AQUA 100 executives had to say about recruiting and retaining good help.

  • Our service department has little turnover, as we pay well and keep them employed year-round. Sales staff is more difficult and you roll the dice on potential.
  • You have to pay a good wage to keep good people and treat them with respect.
  • Empower your employees to be self sufficient and responsible and create a productivity scale they can be measured with.
  • Offer fair wages, health insurance, profit sharing and a healthy family atmosphere.
  • We have full staff meetings weekly.
  • We communicate with them in these meetings to discuss new products and listen to any suggestions. We want the group to work like a team.
  • Everyone on our team is respected and acknowledged for his or her contributions.
  • We are building our own training center and have plans to start a year-round training program to grow our own techs in-house.
  • Be honest, communicate well and treat them fairly.
  • Always listen to what they have to say.
  • Set goals, hold employees accountable and reward well.
  • Compensate employees well not only in salary and benefits, but also in flexible work schedules.
  • Provide monetary sales incentives.
  • Create a working environment that provides feedback and positive reinforcement. People like to know if they have done a good job and like being rewarded for it.
  • I recommend continuing education and instilling pride by recognizing and verbally acknowledging the quality work each individual and the company has accomplished.
  • The key is to help new employees learn the product and procedures in a controlled and thoughtfully measured training program.
  • Interview well and hire integrity.
  • Provide enough work and maintain a professional working atmosphere.
  • Offer structured jobs and organization. Employees need to know what's expected.

Tough Projects

Case Closed

Have you heard the one about the lawyer and the pool builder? It's no joke for Luther Stem Pools & Spas, which was contracted to build a high-end custom pool in an attorney's backyard.

"That was our most challenging project last year," says Luther N. Stem, Jr., owner of the Fort Smith, Ark, company."He was on the job site every day from early morning till night watching all areas and stages of construction and questioning half of them." ("Objection, your honor. The witness is not an expert in 9-inch-deep sunning areas.")

While undergoing the third degree from the tenacious attorney, the company built a first-rate pool that included a 33-foot serpentine negative edge, a lower basin that was to serve as a play area for his young son, and a rock column rising out of the water to support the roof of the nearby house.

After a long process, the defense, er, the crew rested. Luther Stem had built a strong case and a beautiful pool, but now the decision was in the hands of the one-man jury.

The verdict: "The attorney was happy and we were relieved," Stem says. 

Fire And Water

Claffey Pools completed a project in 2003 for a customer that wanted just about everything a backyard retreat could incorporate. The pool has a negative edge, there's a waterfall with a fire effect, a swim-up firepit, a cabana, an outdoor kitchen, you name it. "There's a lot of stuff going on," says Shelly Claffey Broder, vice president.

The construction-end didn't cause too many headaches. After all, Claffey has been building pools since 1987 and last year built more than 250 of them. Instead, it was figuring out how to lay out all the natural gas lines that proved most difficult.

"The biggest challenge was getting the design just perfect," she says. "There are gas lines running all over the backyard for the tiki torches, the firepit, the barbecue and the waterfall.

"It was a three-month project, and we had to deal with some rain, too. But it turned out beautifully."

Smart Shopper

Pool salespeople know that today's customers enter negotiations with a lot more knowledge than they did in the past, thanks largely to Internet research. That's a good thing, most people agree.

But Eastgate Pools in Cincinnati dealt with one customer that was a little more educated than most.

"He worked for the Environmental Protection Agency, and he was an engineer," says Eastgate's president Greg Brandstetter. "Technically speaking, he was the most educated person we have ever sold a pool to, and he verified every piece of information we gave him, including wall thickness, liner gauge, concrete psi and even head loss of the filtration system."

The customer didn't sign the order until he'd met with Eastgate eight times and had done all the calculations personally. Maybe he'd make a good pool designer himself.

Contemporary Watercrafters Inc. Location: Gaithersburg, Md. Principals: Howard Weiss, president Motto: Making poolside living easy Founded: 1982 Outlets: 2 Employees: 25 year-round, 35 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 4 Products/Services: chemicals, pool/spa equipment, grills, hearth products, residential service Status Report: Contemporary Watercrafters saw revenues expand by 3 percent in 2003 and company officials expect similar growth in 2004, a year in which the company plans to shut one of its two locations. "We'll close the non-producing store to focus on our target market," says owner and president Howard Weiss. Chemical sales grew modestly, but Weiss expects better weather after two cold springs to result in stronger chemical sales. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We started to specialize in what we do best. Tip For Success: Try to specialize your offering to customers, and systematize the processes you use in that offering to as many aspects of your company as possible.

Eastgate Pools Location: Cincinnati Principals: Greg Brandstetter, president; M. West, D. Brandstetter, J. Stengel, B. Hennessey and M. Buehler, vice presidents Motto: For the quality you deserve Founded: 1981 Outlets: 1 Employees: 26 year-round, 36 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 5 Products/Services: vinyl-liner pools, above-ground pools, portable spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, hearth products, billiards, air hockey, foosball, bars, bar stools, residential service Status Report: Eastgate spends between 7 and 8 percent of its revenues on advertising, which is about three times more than the industry average. Although company officials aren't sure which form of advertising is most effective, they plan to increase TV ads this year and do less advertising in newspapers. Revenues were off slightly in 2003, but vice president Max West says they'll rebound in 2004. "To expect less would ensure failure," he says.Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We added a new warehouse, allowing us to purchase larger quantities, thus getting better buys.Tip For Success: Retrain staff, reinvest profits, respond to customer needs, react to change.

Flohr Pools, Inc. Location: Chambersburg, Pa. Principals: Mark R. Flohr, president; Frank R. Flohr, vice president Motto: We bring a backyard vacation everyday Founded: 1968 Outlets: 3 Employees: 30 year-round, 80 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 5 Products/Services: gunite pools, vinyl-liner pools, indoor pools, above-ground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, gazebos, toys, residential service Status Report: Unit sales of in-ground pools and portable spas rose in 2003 for this Chambersburg, Pa., company. Above-ground pools were harder to sell, however, because of rainy weather in the area. "That makes it hard to get jobs done," says Mark Flohr, president. This year Flohr expects sales of all three to increase, adding that "a little bit of dry weather will help a lot."

Great Atlantic Pools, Spas, Patio, Fireplace Location: Virginia Beach, Va. Principals: Richard A. Werber, president; Eileen S. Werber, vice president Motto: Your relaxation station . . . Since 1978 Founded: 1978 Outlets: 4 Employees: 26 year-round, 30 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 8 Products/Services: vinyl-liner pools, above-ground pools, portable spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, grills, hearth products, tableware, garden accessories, patio islands/bars, residential service, commercial service Status Report: The past year was a good one for Great Atlantic, which saw unit sales of portable spas increase by 15 percent after the company opened and aggressively marketed a new store. In-ground sales were also up, though more modestly. Sales of above-ground pools were down in 2003, but Rich Werber, president, expects that to change this year. "It can't rain that much again," he says. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We opened a "branded" spa store. Tip For Success: Hire the best sales staff, set realistic goals and practice, practice, practice.

Luther Stem Location: Fort Smith, Ark. Principals: Luther N. Stem, Jr., owner; Luther N. Stem III, president; Wendell W. Stem, vice president; Debra Stem, secretary/treasurer Motto: When better pools are built, we build them Founded: 1962 Outlets: 1 Employees: 30 year-round, 37 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 3 Products/Services: gunite pools, vinyl-liner pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, decks, aboveground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, holiday items, residential service, commercial service Status Report: Luther Stem had a good year in 2003, but the company has its sights set on an even better 2004. Inground installations and remodels are at capacity now and there aren't plans to increase that side of the business, but store manager Brenda Harmon says the company plans to almost double sales of portable spas and to increase above-ground sales by almost 50 percent. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We updated our Web site to include numerous pool photos, which generated positive response. Tip For Success: Build a quality product, provide excellent service and maintain good communication with your customers. Also, pay attention to details.

Maryland Pools, Inc. Location: Columbia, Md. Principals: Robert Landon, president; Robert Spero, vice president Motto: A satisfied customer will always refer you to a customer who wants to be satisfied Founded: 1949 Outlets: 2 Employees: 50 year-round, 200 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 5 Products/Services: gunite pools, indoor pools, decks Status Report: By raising its pool prices and concentrating on selling high-end options, Maryland Pools was able to increase revenues in 2003 even though it built fewer pools than it had the year before, according to vice president Robert Spero. This year he's hoping low interest rates, increased consumer confidence and the addition of new salespeople will increase sales and add to the bottom line. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Hired better salespeople and improved communication with customers during the construction process. Tip For Success: Build the best product available. Offer the best options available. Be a contributor to the good reputation of our industry.

Ocean Spray Pools and Spas Location: Westhampton Beach, N.Y. Principals: Joseph Musnicki, president Motto: Quality products, backed by professional service Founded: 1981 Outlets: 3 Employees: 15 year-round, 27 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 1 Products/Services: portable spas, chemicals, gazebos, residential service, commercial service portable spas" for the increase in that product line. Few AQUA 100 companies sold more portable spas than this company did in 2003, but Musnicki isn't satisfied. He expects sales to increase by more than 25 percent in 2004. Why. He's excited about new spas and accessories and has faith in his sales and service staffs. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We delegated more and increased accountability. Tip For Success: Focus on an idea, surround yourself with the best people in the industry and set your goals high.

Getting Out There

Tour Of Pools

For years the Tour of Homes has been an annual ritual in communities across the country. People interested in buying homes — and people who just want to look — flood models built by local builders to see the newest houses in the newest subdivisions and developments.

Shelly Claffey Broder, vice president of Claffey Pools in Southlake, Texas, decided the idea had been monopolized by the real estate industry long enough.

"We just started last year because nobody else was doing it," she says. "They've always had home tours, but there's never been a pool tour, so we created one." 

The tour showcased 10 "backyard retreats," including several NSPI award-winning designs. Claffey representatives were on hand at each location to answer questions.

"It went fantastically," Broder says. "We had about 350 people take the tour, and people have already called to ask when the next one is. I think it'll end up being a real big success over the years."

Proceeds from ticket sales were donated to Project Graduation, a national effort to provide graduating seniors an alcohol- and drug-free place to celebrate.

And Now For Something Completely Different

During the busiest times of the year, it’s easy to get caught up with construction and service scheduling, running water analysis for customers and the general commotion of operating a business. It’s easy to forget why you’re in the business in the first you’re in the business in the first place. At times like these, the owners of Pool & Patio Center like to remind themselves and their customers that the pool and spa business is all about fun.

“We celebrate themed weekends with gifts, decorations, hats, confetti and snacks,” says Annette Stockley, vice president and secretary of the Coventry, R.I., retailer. “It’s a big hit with our customers and our staff."

According to Stockley, these weekends diffuse stress during the busy season and energize the staff, in addition to promoting the company’s “outstanding, outrageous and unexpected” customer service.  

You're On In Five, Four, Three, Two . . .

Pool safety is an issue that's too often ignored in the industry. Fearful that talking about safety will scare people away from purchasing a pool, many skirt the issue and do the industry and the pool-buying public a grave disservice.

Thankfully, the industry's attitude about safety is changing and people like Joe Vassallo, president of Paragon Pools in Las Vegas, are openly talking about it. Through several live interviews, he helped spread the word to Las Vegas television viewers about safety, and in doing so helped create goodwill for both his company and the industry as a whole.

"We have for several years partnered with the local chapter of the American Red Cross for pool safety month," Vassallo says. "In 2003, they enacted new laws in Las Vegas and the surrounding area requiring new pools be fitted with some type of safety system inside the home or around the pool itself."

Vassallo appeared on the local NBC morning program with reporter Maria Silva to discuss the new laws and to demonstrate the range of approved devices.

"Even though the new law only applies to new pools permitted beginning in January 2003, we encouraged homeowners with existing pools to also install some type of device to protect children, pets and those with physical and mental challenges," he says.

Olympia Pools & Spas Location: Ft. Wayne, Ind. Principals: Keith Hoskins, president; Judy Hoskins, treasurer; Brian Hoskins, vice president; John Hoskins, vice president Motto: #1 in backyard fun Founded: 1970 Outlets: 2 Employees: 15 year-round, 30 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 2 Products/Services: gunite pools, vinyl-liner pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, above-ground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, grills, backyard playsets, residential service, commercial service Status Report: A switch to a different brand helped Olympia sell almost 50 percent more chemicals in 2003 than it had the year before, says Keith Hoskins, president and CEO. That helped increase revenues by a healthy percentage. This year the company is adding a second retail store and expects that to help with sales of portable spas and above-ground pools. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Changing chemical lines. Tip For Success: Maintain a strong relationship with a group like the Master Pools Guild. Attend educational seminars like those at AQUA and the International Pool & Spa Expo.

Oregon HotSpring Spas, Inc. Location: Beaverton, Ore. Principals: Wilfried Mueller-Crispin, president; Deanna Mueller-Crispin, strategic planning Motto: The pleasure is all yours Founded: 1979 Outlets: 6 Employees: 27 year-round, 27 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 7 Products/Services: portable spas, chemicals, gazebos, toys, residential service Status Report: Executives at Oregon HotSpring Spas, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2004, credit a more-focused marketing strategy and more-competitive selling for the 10 percent jump in unit sales last year. This year, owner Wilfried Mueller-Crispin predicts, sales will increase by another 45 percent. Why. "The economy and training, training, training," he says. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Developed new marketing strategy. Tip For Success: Appreciate your existing customers and treat your staff with respect. Make your business fun for both customers and staff.

Paragon Pools Location:Las Vegas  Principals:Joseph M. Vassallo, president   Motto:A model of excellence and perfection   Founded:2001 Outlets:2 Employees:6 year-round, 6 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 1  Products/Services:gunite pools, commercial pools Status Report: The past year saw sales and revenues double for Las Vegas builder Paragon Pools. “This increase was due to a growth in new home sales for the area and a larger referral base,” explains Joe Vassallo, president. He expects to double the number of pools the company builds in 2004 for the same reasons. Like many high-end builders, Vassallo says his ad budget is minimal and that most work comes from customer referrals. The company also places brochures and business cards at model homes built by established homebuilders.  Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Recruiting additional staff and an executive. We hired a full-time CAD engineer and MIS manager and we recruited a key swimming pool executive for the position of vice president.Tip For Success: Show respect to everyone you meet and do business with, including employees, vendors, sub-contractors, inspectors, competitors, governmental officials, the media and clients.

Pool & Patio Center, Inc. Location: Coventry, R.I. Principals: Kenneth J. Stockley, president and treasurer; Annette M. Stockley, vice president and secretary Motto: "Outstanding, outrageous and unexpected customer service since 1986" and "We make it easy" Founded: 1986 Outlets: 1 Employees: 4 year-round, 30 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 4 Products/Services: above-ground pools, portable spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, toys, residential service Status Report: Annette Stockley, vice president of Pool & Patio Center, is a big believer in trade show attendance. "There is a direct correlation between taking our staff to trade shows, seminars, etc., and the tripling of our sales over the last six years," she says. Last year alone sales grew by almost 33 percent, due in large part to the 49 percent increase in sales of portable spas, where Pool & Patio Center spends most of its advertising dollars. Stockley says the company doesn't want to increase the number of above-ground pools it sells. "In order not to tarnish our outstanding, outrageous and unexpected customer service, we purposely limit our sales and installations," she explains. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We expanded our service department by purchasing three service vehicles and hiring and training four additional service staff members. Tip For Success: Provide outstanding, outrageous and unexpected customer service. Great customer service is not enough. And make it easy! When you make it easy, you are giving your customers a gift — the gift of time. Pools of Fun Location: Plainfield, Ind. Principals: Bruce L. Holmes, CEO Motto: We make dreams a reality Founded: 1981 Outlets: 5 Employees: 50 year-round, 75 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 2 Products/Services: vinyl-liner pools, fiberglass pools, renovations, portable spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, casual furniture, grills, residential service Status Report: The main business for Pools of Fun is in-ground pools, which stayed steady in 2003. But while the company sells 10 times as many pools as it does spas, it's the portable spa side of the business that's growing the fastest. From 2002 to 2003, sales doubled, and CEO Bruce Holmes is expecting similar growth in 2004. "We have growing retail and service divisions, and we're pricing our products better," he explains. Look for Pools of Fun to add a fifth location this year and to increase its ad budget to keep pace with rising media costs. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Starting an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). Tip For Success: You need good organization, proper management, exceptional leadership and communication skills. Increase knowledge and have a strong team approach.

Pools Plus, Inc. Location: Elizabethtown, Ky. Principals: Fred and Linda Butler, owners Motto: Your outdoor store Founded: 1981 Outlets: 2 Employees: 18 year-round, 30 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 2 Products/Services: gunite pools, vinylliner pools, renovations, above-ground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, grills, holiday items, residential service Status Report: Opening a second retail location worked so well for this Elizabethtown, Ky., retailer it plans on opening a third in 2004. Revenues in 2003 grew by 12 percent despite poor weather, which affected above-ground sales. Portable spa sales were up, as were sales of chemicals. Both of those categories were helped greatly by the second location, according to co-owner Linda Butler. Tip For Success: Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it.

Poolside Location: St. Paul, Minn. Principals: Rob Anderson and Jerry Theisen Motto: "Backyard living at its best" and "Unequalled quality and service" Founded: 1964 Outlets: 2 Employees: 30 year-round, 60 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 2 Products/Services: vinyl-liner pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, above-ground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, grills, holiday items, residential service, commercial service Status Report: Revenues at Poolside (which also won AQUA 100 recognition last year under the name All Poolside Service) rose 10 percent in 2003 despite slightly lower unit sales of portable spas and above-ground pools. "We lowered our advertising budget and sold fewer spas, but made more money," says Jerry Theisen, president of one of Poolside's two locations. In 2004, Poolside executives plan to add to current retail space or buy a larger building. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Keeping a tighter rein on expenditures. Tip For Success: Realize the effort it takes to obtain a new customer and insist on providing exceptional customer service to existing customers.

Rich's For The Home Location: Lynnwood, Wash. Principals: Jon Chapman, Jim Van Norman Motto: The Northwest's premier home comfort specialists Founded: 1979 Outlets: 3 Employees: 50 year-round, 70 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 2 Products/Services: portable spas, chemicals, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, grills, hearth products, holiday items Status Report: Dedicating some of its top salespeople to selling spas only has made a dramatic impact on how Rich's For The Home delivers its message to potential clients, according to James Fossen, spa sales manager. That, plus the company's success at home shows and fairs meant another profitable year for the Lynnwood, Wash., retailer. This year Fossen expects to sell more spas as the economy gets better in the Pacific Northwest. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We assigned some of our top performers to "spa only" status. Tip For Success: Keep the message easy and simple and keep it fun. We sell a fun product with many benefits. Show the benefits and keep a smile on your face!

River Oaks Pools L.P. Location: San Antonio, Texas Principals: Dan Pendley, president Motto: Designs of Distinction Founded: 1984 Outlets: 1 Employees: 60 year-round, 60 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 7 Products/Services: gunite pools, renovations, import pottery, residential service Status Report: By spending a little more on advertising in 2004, general manager Jim Wanamaker hopes to generate more leads and sell more pools. "Most of our business is from referral. We also get a lot of exposure from local landscape shows," he says. "And we're looking at the possibility of television." The company is also hiring a sales manager to oversee and develop salespeople. Among the new hire's goals will be to improve the sales staff's presentation skills and increase its closing ratio. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We put a greater emphasis on developing in-house crews and supervising projects to ensure quality workmanship. This has resulted in fewer warranty claims and greater customer satisfaction. Tip For Success: Take the time to get to know each of your employees, from the managers to the maintenance techs and excavators. Money is not what retains employees, loyalty to the employer is.

Roberts Pool and Spa Location: Omaha, Neb. Principals: Jesse and Marcy Roberts, owners Motto: A passion for service, a commitment to excellence Founded: 2001 Outlets: 1 Employees: 11 year-round, 16 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 1 Products/Services: gunite pools, fiberglass pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, above-ground pools, portable spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, toys, tanning beds, residential service, commercial service Status Report: Sales doubled in 2003 for this two-year-old retailer and builder. Spa sales rose by 62 percent, which paled in comparison to the 135 percent jump in in-ground pool sales and the 450 percent gain in above-ground sales. Next year the company hopes to grow revenues by another 25 percent, and plans to up its advertising budget to keep pace with its growth. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Our location went from an 1,800-square-foot leased showroom to a purchased 5,000square-foot showroom. Tip For Success: Honesty, integrity, customer service and understanding that the customer is never wrong.

Sabine Aquatech Pools & Spas Location: Lake Charles, La. Principals: Joey Tassin, president; Dean Tassin, production manager; David Tassin, sales manager; Houston Tassin, founder and chairman (ret.) Motto: Backyard living at its best! Founded: 1975 Outlets: 4 Employees: 56 year-round, 72 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 4 Products/Services: gunite pools, vinylliner pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, above-ground pools, portable spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, casual furniture, toys, grills, backyard playsets, windsocks, flags, candles, residential service, commercial service Status Report: A combination of the war, the economy and poor weather dampened sales of above-ground and inground pools for this Lake Charles, La., company, but president Joey Tassin expects the economy and weather to improve in 2004. Spa sales stayed steady. A new location is another reason for Tassin's optimism about this year, in which he expects to see revenues grow by 10 percent.

Sandcreek Pools, Inc. Location: Brentwood, Calif. Principals: Steve and Kathy Barr, owners Motto: "Don't just dream it. Live it!" and "Our job is to make yours easier" Founded: 1999 Outlets: 1 Employees: 13 year-round, 13 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 1 Products/Services: fiberglass pools, aboveground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, gazebos, casual furniture, toys, grills, outdoor lighting Status Report: Sandcreek took a step toward becoming what it calls a “Backyard Fun Store” by dedicating retail space to displaying outdoor furniture and barbecue islands. Co-owner Kathy Barr says Brentwood, Calif., is a growing area, and that’s why the company was able to sell 15 percent more in-ground pools in 2003 than the year before. The growing number of people looking for fiberglass pools should increase revenues again, Barr says. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We transformed our pool construction and maintenance store into a complete Backyard Fun Store. Tip For Success: Hire good employees with experience in the pool industry and use their knowledge to train other staff and instill the willingness to help your customers. Your customers need to know they can count on you.

Vaughan Pools Location: Jefferson City, Mo. Principals: Richard C. Vaughan, president; Catherine Vaughan, vice president; Cathy Crocker, secretary; Rick Vaughan, treasurer Motto: Dreams come true Founded: 1971 Outlets: 5 Employees: 55 year-round, 65 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 4 Products/Services: gunite pools, vinyl-liner pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, above-ground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, gazebos, toys, grills, residential service, commercial service Status Report: Sales of in-ground pools rose in 2003 for this company, but sales of spas and above-ground pools were probably hurt by area road construction, says co-owner Rick Vaughan. Overall revenues were up, thanks in part to one job that billed $1.2 million. This year, look for Vaughan to add a new location and increase spending on ads to spread the word about it. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: New logo and store renovation. Tip For Success: Have great employees and customer service, and offer quality products and customer service.

Westport Pools Location: Maryland Heights, Mo. Principals: James Bastian, chairman; Doug Caton, president; Dave White, director of business development Motto: The design and installation of signature pools Founded: 1967 Outlets: 1 Employees: 84 year-round, 114 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 5 Products/Services: gunite pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, decks, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, residential service, commercial service Status Report: Westport Pools built 13 commercial pools and 11 residential pools in 2003, which was about 10 percent more than they built the year before. Revenues rose by an even greater percentage due to an increase in the number of expensive commercial projects. The company's owners plan to attend more trade shows this year in an effort to secure more commercial business, according to Dave White, director of business development. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: We nearly doubled our office square footage. Tip For Success: Surround yourself with intrinsically motivated people who possess high integrity and believe in a common vision. 

Wildwood Aquatech Pools Inc. Location: Fresno, Calif. Principals: Jeff Kearns, president Motto: Where excellence and value are pooled together Founded: 1972 Outlets: 2 Employees: 25 year-round, 30 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 8 Products/Services: gunite pools, indoor pools, commercial pools, renovations, residential service Status Report: Home sales in the Fresno, Calif., area are more or less "maxed out," according to Wildwood president Jeff Kearns, so sales of in-ground pools were steady in 2003 and should be steady again in 2004. That's not to say the company is planning to sit tight, though. Kearns says Wildwood is moving into a new, 6,500-square-foot building that will house offices, a warehouse and a showroom. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Participated more in our buying group programs. Tip For Success: Keep communicating with the client during and after construction and have them evaluate and identify any shortfallings.

Wolter Pool Co., Inc. Location: Beloit, Wis. Principals: Russell and Patricia Wolter, co-owners Motto: A family owned business serving families since 1965 Founded: 1965 Outlets: 1 Employees: 7 year-round, 16 in-season AQUA 100 Appearances: 1 Products/Services: vinyl-liner pools, indoor pools, renovations, decks, aboveground pools, portable spas, swim spas, chemicals, pool/spa equipment, saunas, gazebos, toys, grills, holiday items, candles, hammocks, residential service Status Report: Founded in 1965, Wolter Pool Co. of Beloit, Wis., is one of the oldest retailers on this year's list, but the adage "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" certainly doesn't apply. Last year Wolter saw revenues increase after moving into a better location and increasing the range of products it offers. This year it plans on adding features to the pools it sells to increase the average price, store manager Kim Wolter says. Best thing I did for my business in 2003: Building a new store in a more prominent location and advertising the new location regularly. Tip For Success: Deliver what you promise. Sell quality products. Hire, train and keep knowledgeable, honest, people-pleasing employees. They are what make you succeed.

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