Though a fire took out his facility, veteran pool builder Lew Akins quickly re-established his operation and is running at full speed.
The blaze erupted April 21 at the Belton, Texas-based headquarters of Ocean Quest Pools by Lew Akins.
“The warehouseman smelled some smoke and brought the fire extinguisher, but it was too far gone. So he just yelled for everybody to get out of the building,” said Akins, president of the company.
A smoke cloud caused severe congestion on the local highway; however, tests showed no dangerous levels of chemicals in the air. There were no injuries, but insurers called the 7,200-square-foot facility “a total loss.”
Investigators could not pinpoint the cause of the blaze, but it was deemed accidental, Akins said.
The builder estimates the value of the losses at approximately $1.5 million. This included the building (containing a warehouse, offices and retail store), in addition to about $750,000 worth of inventory and supplies. Also gone were more sentimental items such as design awards, approximately 100 framed photos of past projects and Akins’ personal memorabilia from participating in an Ironman triathlon in 1991.
Nevertheless, there were copies of most of the important records, which allowed his company to proceed almost as if nothing had happened.
“Our server was destroyed, but it’s backed up off site, so within about three days we had all our financial data back,” Akins said. “We have a paperless office. PaperPort has been my favorite software for a long time — it’s really my favorite now because I’ve got all my documents — every contact, every addendum, everything electronically.”
Because of this, Akins was able to pay employees and subcontractors as scheduled the day after the fire. “There’s a La Quinta hotel right across the street from us,” Akins said. “We moved office personnel into one of the boardrooms, set up laptops and made paychecks. Fortunately, we had some checks at my home, and we brought them over.”
By the following Monday, Akins had signed a temporary lease on another place to work. In the meantime, the company received all its calls on one cell phone to which the business numbers had been forwarded. “We’ve had one person answering one cell phone, and you’re never on a call when several others don’t beep in,” Akins said. “Then you clear those voice-mail messages, give them to the appropriate people in the little board room, and they call the people back.”
Within two weeks, demolition had started on the destroyed building. Akins will build a replica of the 8-year-old facility using the same engineered plans and expects to move back in about four months.
Meanwhile, he has rented billboard space to direct customers off the main highway and to his new store. “[Our temporary space] is alongside the freeway, and we bought a directional billboard on either side of it,” Akins said.
The company continues to operate with all 22 employees on board, and not a day of construction or service was lost, the builder reported. “We’ve just been meeting in our parking lot and dispatching people; our service company’s operating normally. Saving all the financial data was huge because we had our billing data for the service company.”
Ocean Quest Pools by Lew Akins was established in 1998 after Akins sold his previous company, Ocean Quest Pools, to current owner Sandy Vollentine, a former employee.