Package-pool pioneer Merrill Laven died at his Florida home on April 19. He was 79.
Laven founded Pacific Pools in 1956, and over the following decades watched his company become manufacturing giant Latham International.
He later went on to invent several products now used in pool construction.
“He was fortunate enough to join the industry in its earliest days,” when post-war construction was booming, said son Mark Laven, who serves as CEO and president of Latham. “He was constantly looking for the next opportunity, for what the future would hold.”
Born in Albany, N.Y., on June 28, 1929, Laven began his foray in the home-improvement industry with ventures in siding, garages and more. He then established Pacific Pools as a builder, buying a few vinyl- liner pools to install for his clients.
“There weren’t any competitors locally, and essentially he introduced that kind of pool to the area,” his son, Mark, said. “He found there was a market and began to expand his business. Each wave of improvement in [vinyl-liner pool] products was intentionally designed to bridge the gap between those and gunite pools, and he kept gaining market share and converting those customers.”
After establishing himself in the vinyl liner segment, Laven designed a number of innovations and began to market them. In the early 1960s, he patented the first steel-wall inground vinyl-liner pool after discovering the shortcomings of the wood-wall products he originally used. In 1971, the Seven Seas PVC-wall pool followed.
“I watched Merrill grow the business from a local retail business to a global swimming pool manufacturer,” said Latham’s senior product director, Bill Wiley, who began working with Laven in 1970.
In 1976, Laven invented the polymer-wall pool, investing everything the business had into its development process.
“He took some risks that defied conventional wisdom. He knew if he didn’t have that kind of conviction in the product and demonstrate it to his builders, they would take the course of least resistance and continue with the old products,” son Mark recalled.
Laven also invented one-piece thermoplastic pool steps.
He retired in 1982, moved to Sarasota and sold the business to his sons, Mark and Robert, as well as a few other partners.
“He decided to retire because [the company] was bigger than the time he was willing to spend on it,” Mark said. “He had been successful, had good health, and wanted to enjoy that at an age when he still could.”
After retirement, Laven focused on his favorite hobbies, including fishing, astronomy and cooking.
“Whatever his latest interest was, he poured himself into it,” said his son. “But his real love in life was the game of golf. He used to tell me he was going to ‘the office’ five days a week.”
Laven played golf the way he ran his business, always aiming to be better, said those who knew him. The month of his death, he was still taking golf lessons, despite already being very accomplished at the sport.
“He was a natural leader and very unassuming,” Mark said. “He was never ‘Mr. Laven’ — it was always ‘Merrill.’”
Laven is survived by sons Mark and Robert, and three grandchildren. He was also able to meet his first great-grandchild shortly before he passed away.