Industry pioneer Ben Solakian died July 14. He was 80.
The founder/president of Santa Clarita, Calif.-based Val-Pak Products was an educator and innovator who spent more than half a century providing guidance to service technicians.
“He’s left a great legacy behind,” said his son, Mike, who began working alongside his father at age 9 and now is leading the firm. “He always sought quality. His motto was, ‘Make it work.’ No was not an answer.”
Born in Detroit in 1932, Solakian moved to California as a teenager. He was drafted into the U.S. Army, and received an honorable discharge in 1954. He entered the pool industry in 1958, delivering bottles of liquid chlorine door to door. That same year, he started Summerset Pools, a pool service company. In 1963, Solakian sold his business and founded Valley Boiler Service, a pool supply store and heater and motor repair company.
Solakian had a fondness for using his hands and possessed a strong mechanical aptitude that would pave the way for his future successes.
In 1979, while repairing an older, but still popular, pump model, he decided to make a replacement copper line that was no longer available through the manufacturer. He shared the extra inventory with industry colleagues and then became a supplier. A year later, Solakian had sold 5,000 units, and the firm that would become Val-Pak Products was born.
The company flourished over the years through organic growth as well as a number of acquisitions. Today Val-Pak produces more than 700 parts and performs screen printing and chemical repackaging.
However, Solakian wasn’t known solely for his role as a manufacturer. Years before founding Val-Pak, he was active in the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association, and was part of the first group to be certified by the Los Angeles County Health Department. Technical classes were rare then, so he actively sought out whatever knowledge was available and shared the information he learned with others.
Later, he and his son taught seminars at the Western Pool & Spa Show, which Solakian also oversaw for two years as president of its board of directors.
Longtime friend and industry colleague David Dickman remembers presenting an education seminar at the show with his mentor, Solakian, in attendance.
“I had just finished making a comment about the various things that could go wrong with a swimming pool when Ben … in a stage whisper that I could easily hear across the room said, ‘Well, I guess he has learned something from me,’” recalled the publisher of Service Industry News. “It was like pleasing my father.”
Solakian is survived by wife Virginia, two children and three grandchildren.