For Dean Bowling, the path to pool builder has taken him on a journey of discovery. For starters, he was an “Army brat,” moving every year until high school, when his father was stationed in Texas. Over the years, Bowling also lived in Germany, Kentucky, Alabama and Florida.
It’s only fitting, then, that he met his future wife, Melinda, also from a military family, at a base in Alabama when he was 15. “We had a long-distance romance for a while,” he noted.
As a high school senior, Bowling discovered a passion for hand-thrown pottery. He got a pottery apprenticeship in Austin, Texas, and studied business administration at a local college at night. “I loved the creativity of pottery and worked with some of the best,” he recalled. “But I saw that every month, they sat down with their checkbooks and thought about how to pay the bills.”
That eye-opener led him to consider pool building. He knew a couple of builders at Gary Pools, owned by Leif Zars, whose son was running a branch in Austin in 1981. Bowling began working there in construction, still attending college at night. By 1985, he’d become service manager, then went into construction management.
After a few years, he knew he wanted his own pool business. “I changed my medium from clay to concrete,” Bowling said. “I wanted to go in and transform what was just a backyard into a backyard paradise, a retreat.”
To prepare, he relocated to Florida and went into sales working for several builders. Bowling also got his contractor’s license, but decided to leave the state because he didn’t like the weather.
He accepted a position at Teledyne Laars in California because he thought it would give him “a chance to step back, take a breath and decide where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.” After the company merged with Jandy, he met another of his mentors, Vance Gillette. For 11 years, Bowling was a Jandy district sales manager, covering Florida and the Carolinas. In his early 40s by then, he thought, “I’d better grab my dream now!”
Bowling then began to search for a business to buy, and purchased Aloha Pools in Charlotte, N.C., in 2003. The prior owners’ sons, Bruce and Keith Cogburn, still work for him, and wife Melinda serves as CFO.
In the years since, Bowling has had the satisfaction of growing the business and bringing happiness to many homeowners. For example, he remembers watching “a grown man dance around his new pool as we turned on the waterfall and deck jets. This guy who had worked hard all his life and never thought he would have a pool was acting like a kid under a Christmas tree. That’s rewarding!”
Bowling believes it truly is “not about the destination, but the journey,” and said his story cannot be told without him acknowledging the many industry people who have supported him, such as Leif Zars, John Clarkson and Vance Gillette. Ultimately, he said, “I do not want my life’s work to be about vanishing edges, grottoes and waterfalls. I want it to be about making people happy.”