Phil Leslie, the founder of Leslie’s Pool Supplies, died April 5 at his suburban Los Angeles home. The cause was Parkinson’s Disease. He was 87.
Leslie grew the company into a prominent retail outfit with multiple locations before it changed ownership, went public and became the current national juggernaut.
Born for Business
Philip Lloyd Leslie Sr. was born July 30, 1934. The son of a writer, he and his family moved to Hollywood when Leslie was 7 years old, so his father could become the head writer of the famous radio show “Fibber McGee and Molly.”
A child survivor of polio, Leslie went to college for a year before leaving to embark on his true passion, entrepreneurship, said his son, Andy Leslie. He took a few jobs, then volunteered for the military in the 1950s.
Upon his return, he began a business delivering chlorine. Over time, he figured he also could own a store. He had to close the business after a short time, but decided to try again. “It was after that, he figured he had better take managing the finances more seriously,” Andy Leslie said.
He opened Leslie’s in 1963, doing so well that he started a second store in short order. “He said it was a lot of luck, good timing and his business model was always low prices and keep people happy,” Andy Leslie said.
It helped that he opened when swimming pools were becoming more common among middle class families. But from early on, Leslie knew he had something scalable, his son said. “He realized all he had to do was copy the formula, and he saw that it worked,” Andy Leslie said.”
In 25 years’ time, the company had 63 stores around the U.S., with concentrations in Texas, Florida and California, and generated approximately $65 million per year.
In that time, he began doing some of his own manufacturing, extruding his own vacuum hose and overseeing a chemical plant. “So he really started a campaign of vertically integrating everything,” Andy Leslie said.
He also began a substantial mail order business, mailing tens thousands of catalogs around the country pre-internet.
Besides working virtually every day, Leslie’s son said he will be remembered as fair and honest. “His employees loved him, and he always credited his success to the people who worked for him,” Andy Leslie said.
Leslie was forced by court order to sell the company in 1988 when he and his partner could not agree on next steps. He tried a couple brief ventures in the pool business but chose to semi-retire shortly after.
In addition to the company that bears his name, Phil Leslie’s influence remains with those who knew him in the business, especially employees, said his son. “We know four or five couples that got married as a result of meeting at Leslie’s,” he said. “And several people left Leslie’s to go into business for themselves in the pool business with my dad’s blessing. He would even go so far as to not open a store in their city.”