Bruce Bagin, a 40-plus year industry veteran and president of Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.-based builder/retailer B&B Pool and Spa Center, has retired.
While he had been spending more and more time at his Punta Gorda, Fla. home for the past two years, he officially retired Jan. 1.
Bagin partnered with his two brothers to start B&B in 1972. Now, former Vice President Craig Bagin assumes the helm as president, while Drew Bagin serves as vice president. Bruce Bagin’s nephews, Derek and Drew Henry Bagin, have taken more prominent positions and assumed Bruce Bagin’s shares in the firm.
“[The company’s] moving right along,” Bruce Bagin said. “In fact, they had a very good season this year. But I reached a point where it became obvious that I needed to step away. Someone had to be the first to leave the organization.”
The Bagins started their firm at the behest of their father, who wanted nothing more than to see his sons work together. The elder Bagin was retail manager at a Sylvan Pools showroom in Rochelle Park, N.J. Craig Bagin also had pool experience.
But coming after two tours in Vietnam, Bruce Bagin was set to move in with relatives in Germany, so he could train to become a Porsche mechanic and build on his Air Force specialized electronics training. At that point, he had virtually no industry experience — he’d helped Craig open one or two pools.
After hearing of an opportunity to start a service company that would work with a local Sylvan branch, the Bagin patriarch volunteered all three sons. One would think that a young man who’d paid his dues, such as Bruce Bagin, would want to decide his own future, but his service affected his perspective in a different way.
“I was so thankful to God that I was alive, that I didn’t care what happened to me,” he said. “Everything that was presented to me — absolutely everything — was viewed as an opportunity.”
Being the oldest sibling, Bruce Bagin took the position of president, though the brothers have always been equal partners. Through the years, the company benefitted from Bruce’s electronics experience. For instance, when it was still far from common practice, B&B trademarked circulation systems called IntelliPool and IntelliSpa, which combined larger pipe, computerized pumps and high-efficiency filters.
It seems Bruce Bagin’s post-business career is on its way to becoming just as distinguished. His volunteer work melds his two passions: fishing and helping veterans. Consider his choice to live in Punta Gorda — “a drinking village with a fishing problem; it’s a boating community.”
This phase began well before his time with B&B ended. The trajectory started with a scary incident — an armed invasion of his home while he and wife Mary Lou were there. The thieves left, and the Bagins were OK. But the incident opened a conversation between Bagin and several peers with the buying group Carecraft. They launched an event, “A Celebration of Our Second Amendment with a Special Thank You to Our Troops,” at a firearms training facility in Pahrump, Nev. Featuring lessons to safely use firearms, the event often took place a few days before or after the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo when in Las Vegas.
As part of the deal with these outings, attendees were to contribute to a group that helps veterans. Bagin came across Wounded Warrior Anglers of America (woundedwarrioranglers.org), a national organization based in Cape Coral, Fla.
He now devotes a significant amount of time to the all-volunteer group, which is run by veterans. It teaches fishing to warriors suffering from emotional problems such as post traumatic stress disorder, so as to provide a therapeutic environment among peers.
“Fishing is very calming,” he said. “We’re out there relaxing. If you need somebody to talk to, the guy at the helm has been there. He understands. You don’t want to talk about that garbage? Let’s talk about fishing.”
Participants are provided a rod, reel and tackle free of charge. “Those are the warrior’s tools to use in their battle, in working on their PTSD and anger management,” Bagin said. “In my perspective, it’s better to beat the water than yourself, your kids or your wife.”
Veterans also learn to build fishing rods. Some are investing in their new skill and plan to sell their handiwork. Others have obtained captain’s licenses and now work as guides.
Chapters are opening up around the country. Last year, the organization provided more than 200 packages to wounded warrior anglers, and Veterans Administration offices in Florida have begun referring patients to WWAA, Bagin said.
He has just finished a stint as treasurer of his local chapter in Punta Gorda. He has helped shop for supplies, convincing vendors to give them the lowest rate possible for the cause. And he takes his fund-raising duties very seriously. Any dealings with the public present an opportunity to raise a few dollars.
That includes taking advantage of a very distinct physical characteristic. Those who know Bagin have seen his eye-catching mustache — long at the sides, sometimes waxed into a handlebar. Weirdly enough, Bagin often is approached by complete strangers who ask to take a picture with him because of his whiskers.
“I get comments on it almost on a daily basis,” he said. “I have so many bizarre incidents where people try to take my picture.” Now they can — for a price.
He also goes into fund-raising mode when seating becomes tight at a drinking establishment he might visit. If somebody is scouting Bagin’s place, he’ll offer to vacate. “I get $5 for my bar stools; I get $10 for pictures of my mustache,” he said.
This all leaves Bagin in a somewhat enviable position for any family-business owner. He is confident in the company and its staffers, including many who’ve been with the firm for decades.
“All I can do is sit back and smile, knowing my brothers and I have created a successful business that will pass on to the next generation,” he said.