• Credit: Pam Frankhauser / Frankhauser Crafts

It seems to Nicole Locey that she’s been preparing to take over her family’s Michigan-based pool and spa stores since customers first spotted her cleaning DE filters as a young kid.

But there’s still one thing she hopes to accomplish before assuming full ownership of the business her father Paul founded in 1979: go on a genuine fossil dig.

“I have loved dinosaurs since I was a little girl,” says the vice president and co-owner of Locey Swim & Spa in Portage. “I really have carried my love of dinosaurs with me this whole time. It’s a big dream of mine to help a team dig up fossils, dust them off and really be part of the project.”

Locey’s fondness for paleontology may be of a prehistoric nature. But there’s nothing primitive about how the 38-year-old plans to run the two shops.

In fact, some strides to modernize the business took root in the early 2000s when Locey returned to the company after a stint working in public relations.

During that time, she and her team added e-commerce to the company’s website. In addition to designing the online store, the task required staff to develop all aspects of the project, including taking product photos, writing descriptions, updating content and processing/shipping orders.

Nearly 13 years later, the site is going strong with orders coming in from across the country, a fact that Locey believes helps when operating a niche business in a region that has a short swim season.

“It’s kind of cool when you see an order come in from New York, New Jersey, Texas,” says Locey. “It also can help in the slow times, like in the cold months. It can be time consuming, but it’s worth it.”

Of course, the team also shares the responsibility of maintaining the company’s social media sites, and Locey continues to push out mass emails using Constant Contact. Next up is blogging. In fact, Locey is hoping to use the knowledge she acquired while studying at Western Michigan University to write blogs that she expects will boost engagement with customers and increase online and in-store sales.

Despite her emphasis on moving the company forward and adapting to the changing times, Locey still places value on some of the simple business lessons her father instilled in her as a youngster.

At age 12, she learned how to count back change, a skill her father required before she was able to wait on customers.

“To this day, if I hire anyone new, I sit down and teach them how to count back change,” Locey says. “No one does it nowadays, and people always notice that we do.”

In October 2011, Locey took another step toward differentiating the firm from the competition by becoming a certified pool operator instructor. This is especially helpful when dealing with commercial accounts, an area where she excels.

“For my commercial accounts, they say, ‘Hey, she’s got some credentials. She’s not just a pool girl,’” Locey explains.

While there’s still time left before Locey receives 100 percent interest in the company, she intends to learn as much as possible from her father. She suggests anyone else in a similar position take advantage of that knowledge base, too.

“Learn everything you can from your family. Bounce tons of stuff off them. And have your note pad ready,” she advises. “Ask them personal questions like what made them want to start the business, and how they went about it financially. Then you know what’s in store for you.”

Luckily for Locey, when the day comes for her dad to hang up his hat, she doesn’t expect him to disappear from the picture completely. After all, he’s been in the pool business for 46 years, and shares the same love of water as his daughter.

“He loves this place. It’s his baby and he will make his special guest appearances,” Locey says. “My dad is such a brilliant man, in life and in business, and I hope that I can carry on what he built and be as successful.”