My story begins back in the ‘60s when after high school there were basically two choices - continue on to college or join the United States Army. My decisions was the United States Army, and as us old Veterans say, my continuing education was one year in the University of South Vietnam. I got out of the Army in 1968 and went to work for Sylvan Pools in Doylestown, Pennsylvania which was owned by Herman Silverman. Working for Herman I learned a lot and the main lesson, which I still practice today, is to treat your employees and customers fairly and honestly. The word CAN’T was not in Herman‘s vocabulary.
In the ‘60s there was much turmoil in America and Herman signed a contract to build 48 commercial pools in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. These were a big, aluminum aboveground pools which were built on tennis and basketball courts throughout the city. I was a superintendent to get these pools constructed. I thought for sure Herman would fire me when the first pool was opened and the local TV station was filming the kids swimming in the pool and one wall of the pool collapsed because of the wave action. Everybody in the pool went sliding down the tennis court asphalt in a small title wave and this was all caught by the TV cameras. Herman truly taught me to turn a negative into a positive when we got together and I started to apologize for what happened, he looked at me and said, ‘Do you realize how much publicity we got out of this - everybody in Baltimore knows Sylvan Pools.’
During my next 10 years working for Sylvan Pools they started franchising their pools and I found myself in such exotic countries as Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Japan, England and most of the states in the United States teaching our technique of how to build a Sylvan Pool. In 1977 I was offered, as I’m sure many of you have, one of those offers you can’t refuse in Pensacola, Florida. When I talked to my wife and three daughters about it, they were all excited because they figured they could spend every weekend at Walt Disney World. We were living in New York at the time and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that Disney World was eight hours away from Pensacola. So we moved to Pensacola, Florida looking forward to a new life and substantially more money. In two years the pool company I worked for was out of business because they didn’t pay their taxes and the IRS put a chain on the door when I showed up one morning for work.
In 1985 I went to work for one of the larger pool companies in the northwest Florida area and one of the first pools we started building was a commercial pool for a homeowners association in a subdivision. We permitted the pool started construction and got the steel in it and then got a phone call from the inspection department. They said we couldn’t go any further because they made a mistake issuing us the permit because we were not commercially licensed the owner only had a residential license. The owner said we only had one choice and that was for me to find out when the next test would be given somewhere I could go take it and get my own license and become a qualifier for the company- I took the test passed it and became a qualifier for that company for 25 years and in 2009 at the age of 63 really got the urge to start my own pool company. In 2010 I did start my own company Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas LLC, and like many other entrepreneurs, struggled the first few years worrying about if I would really make it with the kind of money you need to put out in everything it takes to start a swimming pool company, as I’m sure many of you already know that. I borrowed from my IRA and maxed out credit cards did everything it took. We have all heard how you have to focus on what you do best and I have truly stayed focused on just building swimming pools. I don’t have a retail store and I don’t do service other than my own customers. I try my best to stay away from remodeling and so far in the last few years it has really started to pay off. I tried to stay right around 50 pools and have been doing that for the last four years and the reputation I have built by just focusing on new pool construction has taught me that word of mouth is much more important than any type of advertising or social media. Check me out; I don’t run ads, I don’t do billboards, I don’t send out postcards, I don’t do any social media whatsoever, and this year my new pool construction is up 30% over what it was last year and my advertising budget is zero. I do print T-shirts and yard signs. My reputation is what it is because I run my company on my cell phone which means every phone call that comes in is answered by the owner of the company 24/7. My customers are shocked when we pull up with the excavating equipment to start digging their pool that the owner of the company is on the jobsite making sure everything goes smoothly. On gunite day I am the first one on the job and the last to leave and we have never had to go back and redo any shoot because I handle it all myself. I know this isn’t for everybody but it’s how I run my company so I am always in communication with my customers and now that I’ve reached 74 years old I am slowing down a little bit instead of walking out of the house at 4:30 a.m. every morning it’s now 5:00 a.m. when I walk out the front door. So 53 years later I am still building pools, still married to the same lady I married in 1966, raised three daughters, and now have seven grandkids and two great-grandkids with two more great-grandkids on the way. I can truly say my decision to go to work for Sylvan Pools in 1968 was the beginning of my career in the swimming pool industry that got me where I am today. I hope everyone who spends their career in the swimming pool industry can look back and agree that it was one of the best decisions you’ve ever made in your life.
Mike Esmond, Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas LLC