My dad opened his own used-car dealership in Michigan when I was in 9th grade. He built the building: One side housed the dealership and the other had my mom’s hair salon.
I worked for my dad as the car detail guy. From freshman to senior year, I washed cars. Because of the cold weather, we’d pull the vehicles into an enclosed back garage and wash them. My job was to pull them around and clean them thoroughly.
When you’re younger, you don’t think there’s a certain way to wash a car. I could never seem to wash the cars to Dad’s standards. He’d say, “You missed this!” Or “Do this next time!” Or “Double check everywhere!”
My dad paid attention to every single detail, even teaching me to look down the side of the cars to check for visible dust or fingerprints.
Dad believed that if you put the work in, you should do it right. For example, don’t just vacuum the areas you see, vacuum between the seat and in the crevices.
He had high standards for doing a job and running a business. Dad’s place looked very nice for a used-car lot, and he stressed the importance of presentation: If your business is neat and organized, that shows the type of business you run.
I didn’t always see it his way back then, but I see it that way now. It took years of working under him to really understand why he was so meticulous.
Learning the industry
I was also introduced to the pool industry by my father, but he certainly didn’t hand anything to me. When I went off to college, my parents moved to Florida, where Dad started a pool-building business. I hadn’t originally planned to work for him, but after graduation I took him up on his offer to join the company.
Since I had just graduated college, I thought I’d be helping my dad run the business right away. But he put me to work in construction. He had me out in the hole, and I was doing everything in the field. Even three to four years in, there were still guys with higher-ranking titles. He said you have to put your time in before moving up.
In those days, I had an attitude about it. I thought, “Why me? I already paid my dues in college.” But Dad knew he was teaching me some very valuable skills to prepare me for my future. I can honestly say that if I didn’t start at the bottom, we wouldn’t be in business today. Because I was out in the field, I understand the construction aspects of the job and can make those difficult decisions.
Applying the lessons
These days, I can go to a seemingly perfect pool job and pick out 10 things that nobody else sees. Every night, I have each crew send me pictures of what they’ve done for the day. I look at the pictures to find details that don’t look right and tell them what needs to be fixed. It’s time-consuming, but making sure the job is done right is important to me.
Dad also taught me that nobody will ever be me and see things with the same eye, so I can’t be mad at employees for not noticing something. But if they can see half of the things I do, we’ll be in better shape as a company.
One example that comes to mind is a tile job on an $80,000 pool/spa project. The customer didn’t like their spa tile after it was installed. Typically, I have them sign off on a sheet explaining that their choice is final, but this was a newer tile and different from ones we’d used in the past. I agreed that it just didn’t look good, so I ripped it off, and they picked a new tile.
The new tile they selected didn’t have a backing, so you could see the thinset on the other side. The tile on the job didn’t match the look of the sample. When I saw it, I immediately said, “This isn’t right.” We ripped it off again and I personally went out and picked another tile with them. They were happy with the final result.
To me, at the end of the day it’s about making the customer happy — and making myself happy, because I treat every pool as if it’s my own.
My dad treated every single car, whether it cost $2,000 or $50,000, as if it was the best car out there. Just because a car is worth $2,000, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to cut corners and not wax it.
That’s the lesson he instilled in me.