A growing player in the Southwestern retail scene is making a major push into one of the area’s largest pool markets.

Nationwide Pool Supply, a Las Vegas-based retailer with a significant online presence, has opened four stores in the Phoenix metro area over the past several months — and more expansions are in the works.

“There are a lot of pools in Phoenix, so it’s a natural outgrowth of our business,” said Keith Ainsworth, NPS co-owner. “We’re tremendously pleased with the results we’ve seen there so far.”

Talk about a potential NPS expansion into Phoenix has been heard among local retailers since before the recession. But with much of the Southwest hit hard by the economic downturn, few in the industry expected such expansion would occur any time soon.

“I wasn’t anticipating that they’d want to expand into Phoenix right now,” said Greg Griffin, store manager at B&L Pools in a Phoenix suburb. “Especially not this aggressively.”

But NPS hasn’t been the only large retailer to expand its Phoenix presence this year — in early February, retailing giant Leslie’s Poolmart Inc. purchased six retail outlets from Shasta Pools & Spas, a local construction firm.  The acquisition came less than a year after Leslie’s opened a new store in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert.

NPS’ expansion is no mere testing of the water. As of early March, the company has opened a total of four full-size retail stores in Phoenix, each with 4,000 to 6,000 square feet of display space. The stores stock a variety of pool parts and chemicals, but the emphasis is on sales of large equipment.

Ainsworth said Phoenix presented an obvious choice for an expansion, and not only because the city’s residential pools per capita rank among the nation’s highest.

“The president of our company worked that market for many years as a serviceman,” he said. “So it’s familiar territory for us.”

Indeed, NPS itself began as a service company as well as a retailer when it first opened its doors in Vegas in 1997. As the business grew from a single retail store with a service department to a chain of stores across the Vegas metro area, its founders chose to focus exclusively on the retail side.

The company now operates a total of nine full-size stores in the Vegas and Phoenix areas, and more are on the way soon.

“Our next step will be Tucson,” Ainsworth said. “Those plans have been finished up and put into place, [and] our funding’s in place. So we’ll be in full growth mode for the next few years.”