Industry pioneer Larry Gelhaus died Nov. 18.
He was 79.
Gelhaus was known as a dedicated, passionate and driven businessman
who played a significant role in the early development of the pool
industry in Northern California.
“Larry was very willing to share information and knowledge,
and that was part of his success,” recalled Don Aston, former
owner of Sacramento-based Chem Quip and founder/board member of the Foundation for Pool &
Spa Industry Education.
Born in Oakland, Calif., in 1933, Gelhaus worked at his
family’s laundry business and was introduced at an early age
to chemistry and the use of bleach, knowledge that would serve him
well later in his career. After high school, he worked as an auto
mechanic, and then as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service
In 1954, Gelhaus took on his first service route for nearby Landon
Pools, but the genesis of his work in the industry dates back to
1946, when his father built one of the first residential pools in
Contra Costa County. It was there that Gelhaus would learn the
basics of building and maintaining a pool. This exposure would
poise him for a future as an expert in service and distribution,
and pave the way for more than 10 of his relatives —
including his siblings, cousins and son — to lead successful
careers in the industry.
“I owe gratitude to my father for bringing me into the pool
business at the perfect time and training me,” said son Phil
Gelhaus, former president of Rancho Cordova-based General Pool
& Spa Supply. (He’s currently president of Gelhaus
Bluewaters Inc.) “Without that, I never would have had
the knowledge and confidence to run [my business]. I built a legacy
from the way my dad taught me how to do business.”
After handling service routes for other companies, Gelhaus and his
brother, Clayton, started Catalina Pool Service in 1955. Five years
later, he moved on to open Gelhaus Pool Supply and quickly became a
well-known distributor in the region, cultivating long-lasting
business relationships that would solidify his position as a
leading wholesale supplier. For nearly two decades, the store also
served as the primary source for service technicians to purchase
supplies and obtain expert advice from Gelhaus, who often was
referred to as a “guru” on the subject. He frequently
hosted informal evening training seminars at the store or invited
guests to his home for coffee, where they exchanged tips on issues
they had experienced in the field.
When not talking shop, Gelhaus often could be found challenging
sales reps to a game of pool in the back of his store, a memory
Aston recalled fondly.
“He was a real shark and ... it was quite a challenge to play
him because he was good. I think I only beat him once, and I
learned my lesson,”Aston said. “He was a neat guy and I
always enjoyed and respected him a bunch.”
Gelhaus sold his company to his employees in 1977 and retired from
the industry, but his ties to it would never be severed.
“He always kept an eye on the pool business all these
years,” Phil Gelhaus said.