Pools of Fun: Diving in the deep end Homebuilder’s ‘experiment’ still paying off 25 years later

In 1981, few central Indiana residents considered an inground pool a backyard necessity, but Plainfield custom homebuilder Larry Good added one to a spec home anyway-and jumped into the deep end of a new enterprise.

“After it was installed, the home sold immediately,” said Bruce Holmes, CEO of the company Good launched.

Pools of Fun started with one location and four employees. Today, it has five locations, a range of products and 90 full-time employees who share ownership of the firm.

Pools of Fun installs about 300 pools per year-not to mention spas, hot tubs, grills and other outdoor accessories. Since pools are a seasonal item, the company often switches into construction mode during the winter months, undertaking a variety of projects in addition to the spas and saunas that have become routine.

The company is far from alone.

All told, the U.S. pool, hot tub and spa industry contributed more than $20 billion to the American economy in 2001, according to the most recent data available from the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals.

Things went swimmingly for Good and Baker, who bought the company from its founder in the mid-1980s. Longtime employee Holmes took over as CEO in 2000, three years before the employee ownership program took effect.

Now, everyone helps set a direction for the company, while Holmes oversees daily operations and makes the final decisions. The structure means employees are committed to efficiency and are always looking for ways to trim costs, Holmes said.

“You are only as good as your staff,” Holmes said. “We have training sessions and team building, and we try to educate our people throughout the business.”

Pools of Fun also is benefiting from a business plan that outlines goals through 2010. Tops on the to-do list: expanding its reach to 12 retail locations statewide. Holmes said the company has been setting goals on all levels to make that happen.

“We dominate in the area with a 35 to 45 percent market share because of our local presence and the use of technology, which helps streamline our infrastructure,” said Holmes. “… Many of our competitors simply wait for the business to come to them, but you can’t do that in today’s market. You have to be proactive.”

Holmes says that his company’s biggest marketing tool has been a solid customer referral base and a good reputation-something he thinks is more effective than a largescale advertising campaign.

Michelle DeVoe of Indianapolis-who is working with Pools of Fun to install a pool, patio, hot tub, fireplace and pool house-appreciates how the company can work without her constant supervision.

“I don’t have the time to hire a ton of subcontractors to work on the project,” she said. “Their prices were comparable to other pool companies, and they didn’t waver on what they could and could not do.”

A pool is a major investment, with the median price of about $41,000. But costs can climb based on what a customer wants.

Indianapolis residents Doug and Jane Pillow purchased their pool 11 years ago and still recommend Pools of Fun to their friends due to the company’s willingness to go the extra mile. Once, when they were on vacation, an employee volunteered to come out to their home and add necessary pool chemicals while they were gone.

“They really go above and beyond,” Jane Pillow said. “They do a nice job, they clean up their mess and they work really well with people.”

Bruce Holmes runs Pools of Fun, an employee-owned firm that specializes in backyard entertainment.

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