Most of us love a good story, and Ryder Steimle, CEO of California Pools, is no exception.
Steimle’s company started back in 1952 when his grandfather, a schoolteacher, decided to build a pool over summer break. “After he completed his own pool for his family, all the neighbors were kind of watching, and they said, ‘Hey, will you come build a pool for us?’ So that was sort of the birth of our company,” he recalls.
Today, California Pools is one of the world’s largest pool builders, with more than 20 offices throughout the Western United States. Though it’s responsible for 60,000-plus pools over nearly 60 years, it remains the consummate family business, having been stewarded by multiple generations to its current leadership.
Another company with a great story, and one Steimle continually looks to for inspiration in running his own firm, is Patagonia.
In the 1960s, avid mountaineer Yvon Chouinard was dissatisfied with the equipment available to him at the time. So he began making his own climbing hardware, which he sold from the back of his car. As demand increased, he partnered with another climber, and in 1965, the beginnings of Patagonia were forged.
Steimle sees similarities in the tales of his company and Patagonia, and believes the use of these stories in their individual marketing strategies helps to set both businesses apart from the crowd.
“We do have similar stories and backgrounds, and Patagonia uses their story a lot in their marketing, and in their company’s philosophies, and we do the same,” he said. “We tell our story in [sales] presentations, and that separates us from our competition. Even some companies that have been around for a long time still don’t always have a story or a soul to their company. So we’ve definitely tried to capitalize on that. And Patagonia does that as well.”
Another aspect of Patagonia that Steimle admires is their adherence to the ideals they feel defines their company, be it a commitment to protecting the environment, or to crafting a high-quality product that keeps customers coming back.
“I like their commitment to values,” Steimle says. “There’s product values revolving around quality and customer service, there’s environmental values, and then there’s also company lifestyle values. With Patagonia, I know they’re very selective in the people they hire. They want to make sure everyone’s in alignment with the vision and mission of their company. That’s something that’s inspired me to strive for in my own company as I’ve watched Patagonia over the years.”
Steimle, himself a lover of mountaineering, skiing and the outdoors, spent his college years in Utah, taking classes at night and skiing by day. It was out on the mountains that Steimle first heard of Patagonia’s superior equipment, and began using the company’s products. That word-of-mouth is something he works to re-create for his own California Pools.
“Patagonia’s philosophy is basically to rely on word-of-mouth and use direct advertising as a last resort. In our industry, that is such a lesson to be learned — with advertising being so expensive, a referral is just huge. And if you don’t have quality products and good customer service, you don’t get referrals.”
To this day, Steimle keeps a book titled “Let My People Go Surfing,” close at hand in his office. It was written by Patagonia’s founder. He also has a favorite jacket, which he’s owned for 15 years and still values greatly.
“Man, I have worn that thing thousands of times, and on thousands of different adventures,” Steimle says. “Everything from sailing through the Channel Islands off the coast of California to rock climbing in Utah. That jacket is one that I‘ve had for a really long time, and probably will continue to use for a lot longer.”