1 Concord Pools and Spas Storage
2 Riverbend Sandler Pols Concrete & Gunite
3 Aegean Pools Online Retail
4 Swan Pools Photovoltaic Panels
5 J. Tortorella Swimming Pools Photovoltaic Panels

With sales from new construction taking a dive, many builders turned their attentions to the commercial and remodeling sectors. However, some firms are also stretching their business to encompass new vistas and fresh clientele.

Side ventures in the pool industry run the gamut from construction subcontracting to work in entirely different markets. By diversifying business, these companies have stayed solvent and poised for new growth opportunities.

Concord Pools and Spas

Two years ago, Mike Giovanone had planned a development of 32 townhomes on a 10-acre parcel of land he owned next to Saratoga Lake. When local authorities prohibited running new sewer lines by the lake, the New York builder switched gears and launched a new side business.

“It’s a custom storage facility for antique cars, boats and motor homes,” explains Giovanone, president of Concord Pools and Spas in Latham, N.Y. “It definitely helps take a few off-season guys and keep them busy.”

In the winter, the firm’s administrative staff helps out the facility with computer updates. Even during the building season, machine operators and construction workers from Concord provide maintenance and upkeep.

So far, the venture has been a resounding success, with 100 percent occupancy during its first year. Wealthy clients with lakeside property have plenty of expensive toys — whether they be speed boats or classic cars — that they’d prefer to keep out of the sun. Furthermore, the success has reflected back to Concord.

“I’ve sold probably three or four pools in the first year because of my new relationships with tenants,” Giovanone explains.

The venture into high-end storage has gone so well, Giovanone is building an addition to the current facility and developing a nearby site for a second location.

Riverbend Sandler Pools

Three years ago, Riverbend Sandler Pools took its concrete and gunite services and started shopping it out to select builders, landscapers and decking contractors. With a slowdown in new construction, the side venture has proved especially valuable.

“We can sell our excess supplies, you could say, instead of letting the guys sit at home,” notes Charles Barnes, president of the Plano, Texas-based firm. “The objective was to give our guys a good job and be able to pay them well.”

Since working for a competitor can be dicey, Barnes doesn’t advertise the service, and only does business with a few other pool builders that he knows. In fact, the trucks only bear the name of the company’s corporate entity to avoid advertising on a competitor’s site.

Riverbend Sandler’s concrete service, however, has a greater reach with renovation jobs. The company can work with deck builders who they will in-turn hire for a pool project.

“We’ll supply them with concrete and then we’ll do business with them and take the concrete off our bill,” Barnes says. “We both help each other because I give them a fair price.”

Aegean Pools

For Michael Shammas, CEO of Aegean Pools in Chesapeake Bay, Va., a venture into cyberspace proved to be a boon during the slowdown. Three years ago, he to compete with a growing sector of Internet retailers.

“The margins have to be very thin online because people can visit another site with no effort at all,” Shammas notes.

Aegean still has a brick-and-mortar retail store, which was recently renovated to triple in size, and uses its personnel to process orders and ship merchandise through the Website.

While anyone building a pool with the company must pay retail prices, the online store brings in clients from all over the country. And they’re not all do-it-yourself homeowners.

“We’ve actually gotten some orders from pool pros — service guys in areas where distribution is hard to find,” Shammas says. “Once they fulfill an order and everything goes smoothly, you’ll usually get repeat business from them.”

The Website truly is a side business, something the company is still experimenting with, he adds. But as of now, the online component comprises 10 percent of Aegean’s retail business — a considerable chunk in a down economy.

Swan Pools / J. Tortorella Swimming Pools

For both of these firms, providing solar photovoltaic installations has proven to be a promising venture. Although the base cost can be upwards of $40,000, the prospect of free electricity is an enticing one for higher-end homeowners. Furthermore, a number of tax rebates and incentives have made installations much more financially feasible.

“With all this help between governments and power companies, why don’t we take advantage of it?” says John Tortorella, CEO of J. Tortorella Swimming Pools in Southampton, N.Y. “I think this technology will grow, mostly because of energy prices going higher and higher.”

Given the electrical requirements of running a pool and spa, photovoltaic panels are an intuitive fit. Talking to a homeowner about a panel installation may even present additional sales opportunities.

“Being able to provide the power opens up a bunch of possibilities,” says Cecil Fraser, CEO ofSwan Pools in Lake Forrest, Calif. “It’s such a nice, new clean industry at a time when it’s politically correct.”