After 15 years in corporate America, Denise Wolfgang decided it was time for a change. She and husband Tom wanted to build a house in Florida, but it wasn’t a simple case of packing up and heading south.

Denise’s Maryland real estate appraiser license wouldn’t work in Florida, and she didn’t want to start all over again, retraining to get a license in the Sunshine State. “I had a master’s in business, so we said, ‘Let’s look for a business to run,’” Wolfgang recalls. She wound up buying a pool service route — and Blu-Aqua Pool Service Inc. was born in Naples, Fla., in 2003. It’s her firm, by the way. Tom owns a trucking and warehouse company.

Smart moves

Wolfgang started with 170 customers, and kept one of the service employees on board. The former owner, a pool builder, turned out to be a big help. After he built a new pool, he’d refer the customer to Blu-Aqua, which would provide service for a while, hoping they’d become clients. He also sponsored Wolfgang to get a Florida pool/spa contractor license, so she could do repairs.

In another smart career move, Wolfgang formed a strategic alliance with a model home builder, and also started opening pools for two other builders. Her clientele was steadily growing. Then the economy turned sour. At the high point, she had 600 accounts; now she has 425, but Wolfgang is proud to have that many in these still uncertain times.

No doubt part of that substantial client list is due to the fact that she gets great satisfaction from making customers happy. Clearly, a good reputation is important to Wolfgang, and she says right now the hardest thing is finding good, qualified employees who want to work. “I need to be able to trust them,” she explains. “I can’t watch them all the time. I fired a couple of new hires after just a few days because they said they’d done work, but they hadn’t.” Nowadays, her six-person staff is short-handed, so she pitches in, spending half her time out in the field.

Despite the challenges, Wolfgang wouldn’t have it any other way. “Women are very good at this business,” she says. “It’s competitive, but what isn’t? If you’re worried that you’re lacking [certain] skills, take classes. Go for it, absolutely!”