Shallenberger Pools, a family-run retailer in Connellsville, Pa., has closed after 43 years.
It’s a common story in the pool business. Builders and retailers work for decades to forge successful businesses, and when the founders are ready to retire, their children aren’t necessarily waiting in the wings to step into that top office.
That was the case for the pool business established by Terry and Norma Shallenberger in 1971.
Norma now wants to spend more time with her mother and grandchildren — and both of Norma’s sons have built their own businesses. Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger owns a construction business in Connellsville and is a majority owner in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team, and Bret Shallenberger owns NXT GEN Fiberglass Pools in New Braunfels, Texas.
Even with Bret in the industry, it was never a question that he might take over the family business. “He has so much talent, and that talent ... really can’t be used here like it can there,” Norma said. “It’s not that we didn’t want him to take over the business. We wanted more for him.”
In 2007, Bret relocated to California, building pools in the San Diego area until moving to Texas in 2013.
“It’s booming,” he said. “I’ve grown leaps and bounds in one year. We’re building a lot of cool, high-end pools.”
With Norma and Terry’s sons pursuing other opportunities, they decided to stop building pools and put the retail business up for sale. Norma reported that there were a few nibbles for the well-established pool supplies store, but no offers.
When retail stores don’t have a family member or employee interested in purchasing the business, closing the doors often is the result. Those who own family businesses often believe someone else in the family will take over, but according to the Family Business Institute based in Raleigh, N.C., only about 30 percent of family businesses make it to a second generation.
Currently Norma is scheduling sales by appointment to move the store’s inventory, and she’s considering her next move.
“I love it so much. I love my customers,” she said. “It’s hard to just walk away from it.” She might continue selling supplies by appointment without the retail store, but she’s not sure yet.
As for Shallenberger Pools’ customers, Norma isn’t quite sure where they will buy their pool supplies now, which is one of the reasons she’s considering sales by appointment next season.
Some customers told Norma they were going to buy supplies online. Others stocked up with a couple of years’ worth of supplies. And some took down their aboveground pools, ending their pool ownership.
“It makes you feel good to know that people think so much of you, but it’s also so sad,” she added.