• Credit: Denise Baker

There’s no doubt that entrepreneurship runs in the Nielson family.

Eric Nielson started servicing pools as a teenager in the 1970s, mostly stepping in for neighbors who went on vacation. But in the early 1980s he started his own construction and service business, West Hills, Calif.-based Willow Creek Pools. Over the years, he’s made a name for himself in the industry, serving on the board of the Independent Pool and Spa Service Association and currently finishing his term as president of the Western Pool and Spa Show.

But his family’s entrepreneurial ventures don’t end there. The Nielsons have other businesses, too, including a Penske truck rental and a company that customizes tee shirts, signs and vehicle wraps. Then there are the less-instituted business interactions or, as Nielson’s son Michael puts it, “buying and selling pretty much anything. If you have an old classic car, we can fix it a little bit and sell it. There’s always something going on in our house. Somebody’s getting something and somebody’s selling something.”

The family’s most recent enterprise was the purchase last year of a wholesale distribution company, TSP Limited in Los Angeles. The Nielsons saw this as the perfect branching-out opportunity for Michael, who is 26 and now manages the store. “He’s shown a lot of desire to do something different,” Eric Nielson says. “He has a lot of good personal relationship skills, talking to people and dealing with people. Plus we have a good amount of Hispanic clientele, and he and I both speak Spanish.”

The younger Nielson’s computer skills allow him to be more involved in printing the tee shirts and signs, many of which are customized for pool professionals. He’s also looking to improve the company’s website.

But perhaps the biggest project Michael Nielson has in front of him is adding a retail component to the 4,000-square-foot distribution facility. “It was originally just a wholesale store for service technicians, but it’s not prolific enough to just sell to pool men in general, especially with online sales and other major places,” Michael Nielson says. “We’re not going to turn away people who are looking for help.” To be clear, however, the company honors different price lists for the different customers.

The younger Nielson is employing some methods that are new to the company to attract retail customers, which currently make up about 10 percent of its client base. “I will ride around with fliers and I use Google Earth to see which houses have pools in them, and I make sure they each get a flier,” he says.

Michael Nielson attends college and is preparing to transfer to California State University Channel Islands to begin studying for a bachelor’s in engineering, with a specialty in mechanical engineering.

But what he’s inherited from his family so far will prove invaluable. “I grew up around salesmen my whole life,” Michael Nielson says. “The other side of my family has an auctioning company, so I got to see them sell stuff ... for extraordinarily large amounts of money. We’re entrepreneurial people.”