California’s largest pool builder is expanding its business model into new areas.

West Covina-based California Pools, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder, has partnered with new licensees to open a location in San Luis Obispo. CEO Ryder Steimle hopes this expansion will spearhead further growth throughout Northern California.

“We’re feeling more confident in the direction of the economy now,” Steimle said. “We want to be on the front end of it.”

This move represents the latest step in a success story spanning more than 55 years. Founder Wayne Steimle built the company’s first pool by hand in his family’s San Gabriel, Calif., backyard in 1951. Now, with over 20 licensed offices throughout California and Arizona, and more than 60,000 projects to its name, California Pools is poised to branch out again.

“This isn’t a business model change at all for us,” Steimle said. “We’ve always used this model. It’s been very successful for us in Southern California, where you have [operational] differences even from county to county. The only change is that we’ve primarily focused on California, whereas now we’re opening up the horizon to other states.”

Those other states eventually could include Nevada, where California Pools had to close a Las Vegas location due to the economic downturn. Texas also may be a prospect, but Steimle isn’t planning to expand too quickly because it can be tricky to find partner companies with the right ideals.

When choosing a licensee, Steimle explained, he makes it a priority to look for licensed builders with standards similar to those that have made California Pools successful: a track record of quality projects, a list of positive referrals and a responsible financial history.

But it’s shared values that matter most of all, Steimle said.

“We’re interested in their ability to abide by the standards and procedures that we’ve used for years,” he said. “Most of those are founded on principles of customer satisfaction. There are a lot of people who are interested in partnering with California Pools, but not necessarily people who share the same values.”

Still, some question the wisdom of expanding to new cities in an economy that has many in the industry hunkering down.

“I’d say it’s not necessarily a good idea,” said J. R. Richard, owner of Richard’s Total Backyard Solutions in Houston. “I don’t discount trying to gain market share in a down market … but I think if you expand and create a bunch of extra overhead on yourself at this point, you might be making a mistake.”

Richard suggests that companies looking to grow should focus their attention elsewhere. “If you’re going to spend money,” he said, “spend it on your Website, and on making sure you’re at the top of the search engines. Make sure that people who are out there … are finding you first.”

Steimle, however, feels no hesitation about his company’s plan. “We’ve been doing this since 1952,” he said. “This is a model that we’re very comfortable with, that we’ve been successful with for a long time. You’re either growing or you’re dying.”