There’s something deeply satisfying about starting a business and growing it into something that fills a need — for the community and the entrepreneur. The 2021 Pleatco Perfect Pool Guy and Gal know exactly how that feels.
Michael Baker of Ambiance Pool Service and Kristen Melo of Preserve Pools received the honors in the 14th annual contest sponsored by Pleatco, manufacturer of pool and spa filtration products. The pair and others were honored during a ceremony held at the 2021 International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in Dallas, Texas, and co-sponsored by GENESIS and the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance.
Pleatco Perfect Pool Guy
Michael Baker started out more than 15 years ago as a one-man business treating nearly 100 pools a week.
Reflecting on his career and business, Baker he’s proudest of having built something from the ground up. “I grew up poor in Michigan,” he says. “I worked 20-plus hours a day and had several jobs [at once]. I got tired of doing all of that.”
In that period, he held a wide variety of jobs, including as a bartender, pouring foundations, and working for a pool builder.
Even as a young man, he always admired small-business owners, especially their work ethic and determination. He wanted to emulate that and worked toward that goal. It didn’t take long before the company began to grow … and grow. Now his service firm tends to hundreds of pools in Northwest Tucson, Oro Valley and Marana, Ariz.
Ambiance Pool Service handles 325 to 350 residential pools, taking on everything from cleaning, repairs and equipment upgrades to water recycling.
Joining Baker is an 18-person staff that includes his brother and his wife, Jennifer, who has taken over as bookkeeper.
Baker and his team have received a number of outside honors. His firm was voted an Arizona Daily Star Readers’ Choice Favorite four years in a row — from 2017 to 2020. It also received an Angie’s List Super Service Award in 2013 and 2017. His company has an “A+” accreditation from the Better Business Bureau. He also was named in the Pool and Spa News and Jandy Top 50 Service program in 2019 and 2020.
In experiencing the many facets of company ownership, Baker has found that he likes marketing and researching.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected Ambiance Pool Service. Until recently, the company operated a retail store, but he had to close the location following the lockdowns. The office staff then worked from their homes.
Baker had to adapt to meet the challenges. But it paid off. “We’ve had our best year ever and got a 90% approval ratings [from customers] on our quality,” says Baker, who was a runner-up in last year’s Pleatco Perfect Pool Guy award program.
Thinking back to his time spent in the construction trade, Baker adds, “It doesn’t bother me to work long, 12-hour days.”
As busy as he is, Baker does take time to relax and unwind. The father of three likes to attend concerts and play with the kids in the backyard and in the desert.
Pleatco Perfect Pool Gal
For Kristen Melo, business has been booming and she traces it to the coronavirus pandemic. With the restrictions on trips and gatherings that went into effect in so many areas, folks found that having fun close to home was more vital than ever. “People are staring at the pools in their backyards, and they’re putting money into those backyards,” Melo says.
She and husband Michael have more than 25 years’ experience in residential and commercial pools. Their current company, Preserve Pools in Summerville, S.C., serves 250 customers weekly. The nearly 4-year-old firm has a staff of 12 and specializes in residential and commercial pool maintenance, service and repairs.
But Melo’s training and background almost led her in a different direction. She obtained a college degree in mass media communication, then was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years.
Michael entered the pool business first, then she followed, taking classes, joining industry organizations, asking questions. “Everything’s new and fresh to me,” she says.
She makes it a top priority to provide her customers with good instruction on taking care of their pools. “If we were to part ways, they’ve learned things from me and won’t make mistakes,” Melo says. “I want to help them preserve their investment and enjoy their pools for years without a lot of issues. That’s why the name of this company is Preserve.”
It isn’t all serious business, of course. Like most service technicians, Melo and her staff have had the unusual citing here and encounter there. For her, a run-in with a ring-tailed lemur was most memorable. A customer had his pet lemur on his shoulder one day, and it decided to jump on Melo. Unfortunately, one of its claws caught on her eyelid. “We’re friends now,” she says.
As for industry involvement, Kristen and Michael Melo are nationally certified pool chemists, members of PHTA and NPC certified; have top accreditation from the Better Business Bureau, and are fully licensed and insured.
When she isn’t working at poolside, Melo enjoys fossil hunting. “I found a million-year-old rib bone, which is now in the Charleston Museum of Natural History,” she notes.
It’s hard to top that.