James “Jim” Shanni, whose career in the pool industry spanned nearly a half-century, died March 30 at age 70.
Shanni saw the development of the vinyl pool liner that helped make backyard swimming pools affordable for many Americans.
His company, Factory Direct Liners, manufactured pool liners for dealers across the nation. He sold its manufacturing arm in 2011 and was working to expand a separate retail division when he died of cancer.
“He had a lot of plans for the company,” said Evelyn, Shanni’s wife of 49 years. “He always wanted to franchise it, and we spent a lot of time coming up with a business plan so he could do this eventually.”
Shanni began his career as a news photographer for the now-defunct wire service United Press International in New York. Evelyn also worked in the bureau.
Soon after, a cousin bought a house in New Jersey and became fascinated with the pool business, eventually talking Shanni into joining him as a salesman. Their company built pools and manufactured liners.
“He gave up the job in New York because he thought it would be a better opportunity, and that’s how he got into the pool business,” Evelyn explained.
Still in his early 20s, Jim Shanni bought his cousin’s part of the business and expanded to two or three locations. At the time, PVC liners were still being developed and he was involved with many people who helped create that segment of the industry.
In the early 1970s, a business trip took Shanni to Atlanta, and when he got off the plane, he called his wife in New Jersey. “He said, ‘It’s 70 degrees here and it’s beautiful,” she recalled. “‘We’re moving here.’ He figured out how to do it.”
The couple relocated to Atlanta in 1973 and started a pool business called Swim Dixie, which built pools and sold chemicals and patio furniture. In 1989, he launched his liner manufacturing business. Shanni handled sales and hired someone familiar with production. But the relationship faltered, and Shanni eventually fired him. Without any formal training, Jim taught himself to do the exacting designs for liners. Even after the company began using a computer to design the liners, he stayed involved.
“He designed up until we sold the business,” Evelyn said. “We had other people who designed also, but he would do all of the difficult liners — liners that looked like clouds, or kidney-shaped liners, or peanut-shaped liners. He did them all.”
In addition to running his own business, Shanni was deeply involved with the pool industry and served in a variety of volunteer positions, including president of the Georgia Swimming Pool Association.
He had been in semi-retirement for the past five years, working at his Atlanta office in the morning, but turning his attention to writing in the afternoons. Shanni published two books, Coup D’etat and Four More Years, works of fiction based on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was just finishing a third book, about the persecution of Christians, at the time of his death.
Shanni had three children, who spoke at his funeral.
“He made Georgia his home and enjoyed a successful business career, built the church we are sitting in and made friends everywhere he went,” they wrote. “He liked his ‘Jersey City tough guy’ persona, but underneath was a big heart — layers of love and compassion. His character had a huge impact on us kids and his grandchildren.”
They cited his love of reading and writing, his hard work and perseverance, his passion for religion, politics and life, his generosity and love of family, and love of good food and wine.
“I can honestly say I never had a dull moment in my life married to him,” Evelyn Shanni said. “He was very inventive and always wanted to try new things. There was nothing that Jim couldn’t do. He’d figure out how to do it.”