Joe Schmerler, an inventor and key executive at Major Pool Equipment Corp., one of the manufacturers that helped create the vinyl-liner pool industry, passed away on July 5. He was 88.
Schmerler is credited as one of the first to envision the potential for package pools and its industry, inventing and developing multiple products to serve what was then an emerging market.
“Nobody knew what [steel-walled vinyl-liner pools] were and nobody trusted them,” said Martin Metz, retired president of Central Jersey Pool & Supply Co. Inc. in Freehold, N.J. “He did a good job promoting them and building the industry.”
Joseph Schmerler was born in Los Angeles on March 24, 1925 and grew up in New York after his family moved there when he was young. He received engineering and law degrees from New York University.
Not long after law school, in 1961, Schmerler joined Major Pool Equipment, a Clifton, N.J.-based company still in its infancy. He served as engineering vice president and executive vice president before becoming president/CEO in 1971.
In the 1960s, vinyl-liner pool installers had to purchase the various components from different companies, some even from other industries. Schmerler, along with co-founder Dave Greene, decided to become a one-stop provider for steel-wall pools. Schmerler’s engineering background primed him to invent many of the needed products.
“You have to consider that in the 1960s, it was really the creative part of the vinyl-liner pool [industry],” said Al Silverman, president of Silpro Inc. in Brooklyn. “And every innovation that came out, it seemed as though [Schmerler] had a hand in it, whether it was walls, steps, even filter systems. He always was thinking, thinking, thinking.”
One of Schmerler’s goals was to make the pools as easy to install as possible. To that end, he devised coping that greatly simplified installation. “There was a track that you could mount on top of a wall, so I integrated the track into a prefabricated or extruded aluminum coping, which we patented,” he told Pool & Spa News in 1999. “This was at the beginnings of that industry. It just meant sitting down and trying to think of products that would make things better and easier for both installation and appearance.”
He also found ways to adapt equipment made for concrete pools or other industries altogether, to vinyl-lined applications. “It was a joint effort among several manufacturers,” Schmerler said in 1999. “We absolutely created a market from scratch.”
He also taught many classes, instructing members of the nascent industry how to sell the pools, install them and even how to run a business.
“He was a natural born teacher,” said Schmerler’s son, Charles. “He was very good at explaining concepts to people. ... He had a real feel for it, and people listened. He was able to simplify concepts that might otherwise have been complicated.”
Schmerler left the company in 1972 and began a consulting firm in Cliffside Park, N.J., called J.S. Associates.
While he was well-known as a manufacturer, Schmerler also was highly active in serving the industry.
He chaired the National Spa & Pool Institute’s Technical Standards Committee when many of these standards were being written for the first time.
Through the Northeast Spa & Pool Association, he also helped begin one of the industry’s first hands-on training programs, alongside Al Rizzo, president of Rizzo Construction Pool Co. in Newtown, Conn.
Schmerler served on NESPA’s Board of Directors from 1973 to 1984, with one term as president. He had a tempering effect at meetings, and was quick to back up his opinions with science. “He was slow and methodical in whatever he did,” Rizzo said. “He was my mentor and kind of kept me calm when the important parts of the meetings came up.”
In the early ’90s, Schmerler played a key role in increasing the legitimacy of NSPI’s standards by helping to gain approval from the American National Standards Institute. NSPI sought ANSI approval in part because many plaintiff’s attorneys would call the standards into question during litigation, said Carvin DiGiovanni, senior director of technical and standards at the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, formerly known as NSPI. The first standard to go through the third-party consensus process was ANSI/NSPI-1 Public Pool Standard. According to DiGiovanni, some critics tried to prevent it from receiving ANSI approval because it would then hold up better in court.
Here, Schmerler’s ability to articulate the science and technology behind the industry’s position got the association over the hurdle, DiGiovanni said. “I would say that the success of the NSPI program owes a debt of gratitude to Joe for getting us that one standard over the goal line,” he recalled.
Schmerler continued his work as a consultant and remained at least partially involved in standards development until 10 or so years ago, the younger Schmerler said. In his semi-retirement, he continued to invent products that could be applied inside and outside the industry.
“He was constantly building and creating and designing, ” Charles Schmerler said. “He was a very, very creative engineer and artist. That’s really what kept him occupied and engaged much of his life.”
Joe Schmerler was predeceased by his wife, Sybil, in 2001. Besides Charles, he is survived by a daughter, Julie Harrison, and four grandchildren.