Mike Church didn’t set out to enter the pool industry.
In 2003, he was an oil man who’d sold a business and agreed not to compete in that market for a few years. While seeking other opportunities, he learned that Georgetown, Texas-based Cody Pools, which was struggling in the recession after 9/11, was seeking investors. Church ended up buying the business, which was building an average of 90 pools a year, with about $3.5 million in revenue.
Fast forward a decade and, for the second straight year, Cody is sitting squarely atop the list of the best builders in the country.
“It was unbelievable,” Church says of being named No. 1 last year. “We were really surprised.”
Business continued to boom in 2013, with 674 completed projects and $42.7 million in revenue, a 56 percent increase over 2012’s revenue that helped secure them the top position last year. Church estimates the company will complete more than 750 projects this year with $50 million in revenue.
“We’ve been busy,” he says. “Every month has been stronger than the month before.”
From January to April, the firm’s digs and contracts already were up 40 percent compared with the same period in 2013. March’s figures exceeded the best month last year and the company hadn’t even hit peak season yet.
The increase surprises Church because he’s not dedicating any more resources to attracting business than he was three years ago. “We’re still operating on the same advertising budget that we had in 2011,” he explains. But, largely through word-of-mouth referrals, the Cody Pools name is becoming very well known.
Being last year’s Top Builder doesn’t hurt, either.
“We don’t push real hard to be a big high-volume builder because we’re not the cheapest. We’re usually the most expensive builder,” Church says. The reconfiguration of how Pool & Spa News set its rankings is part of the Cody sales staff’s pitch to potential customers, along with heading the list. “The guys are always bringing it up. And they’re bringing up, more so, both things: We do have the high revenue, but we also have everything else that supports being No. 1 from [PSN’s Top 50 Builders] qualifications.”
While this year’s digs will center around the same four Texas markets where the company has had success in previous years — Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth — the business boom has prompted the addition of offices and employees.
Cody had one office in Spring, Texas, on the northern side of Houston. In June 2013, the firm opened a second Houston location near Katy, Texas, on Houston’s west side. “Our customers have to come into the showrooms to pick selections, and we’re also trying to be more local in certain areas,” Church explains. Plus, “we figured the exposure with signage would help, which it has.”
Another Houston office is slated to open in the early fall, and plans are underway to combine two offices in the San Antonio market to increase showroom size.
To staff the expanding company, Cody Pools increased from 63 employees at the beginning of the 2013 season to 80 currently. And they continue to be satisfied with their employer. For the second year in a row, Cody was named as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in Texas” by the Texas Association of Business and the Society of Human Resource Management in a recent issue of Texas Monthly magazine. The results are based on the 96 percent of Cody employees who participated in the survey.
Because of those results, Church says the company offered a new employee benefit: a 401(k) program with a company match.
“It was one of the most asked for things, and it was the most appreciated things,” he adds.
Many aspects of Cody Pools have changed in the 11 years Church has owned the business. Not only is the company doing more digs and enjoying higher revenue, but the entire way the firm builds its pools has shifted.
“When I first got in this, we only built pools that were in the ground,” he says. “Now we build pools that can be on second stories of houses or be 20 feet out of the ground. And just the engineering aspect of it — that’s rewarding. Just the things that we’re able to build now that we didn’t even consider five to seven years ago.”
Especially in the company’s Austin market, which is in Texas Hill Country, the engineering feats prove lucrative.
One of Church’s favorite pools ever built by Cody employs these tactics. “It’s on the side of a cliff where you had one pool spilling into the lower catch basin that could be utilized as a shallower area for kids to swim in compared to the deeper pool at the top,” he explains. “I think that was probably one of the more spectacular ones that we built.”
While the engineering of the pools has allowed Cody to build in more locations, the company also started finishing its pools differently. Today, Cody uses Pebble Tec on every project.
“We monitored service calls and warranty calls and we just saw that the plaster was becoming one of our highest service issues — so we made the call to go to pebble,” Church says. “I look back now and I think it’s one of the best moves we ever made as far as the customer. What we offer them is a much better product and longevity of their interior finish.”
Like his customers, Church enjoys a relaxing day spent by his pool, a freeform one built before he bought Cody. Since owning a pool building firm, he has renovated it. “It’s just a freeform pool with a large waterfall and a nice, oversized spa,” he says.
One change he would make to it — knowing what he knows now — would be having an in-floor system.
“I’m a big, big believer in it,” he explains. “Of course, this pool was already built, and we only started pushing in-floor systems about five years ago.”