A tightened operational strategy, sustainable building practices, and innovative maintenance capabilities give this pool and spa retailer a leg up in a shrinking industry. Bruce Bagin is the first to admit that pools are an unnecessary luxury. That doesn’t mean he or his brothers, all of whom founded B&B Pool and Spa Center in 1972, approach their business with a frivolous mindset. So in late 2007 and early 2008 when the bottom started to drop out of the economy, the brothers tightened their belts, made adjustments, and successfully guided their business through the murky waters of the retail world. 

“When people were using their homes like ATMs, cashing out and spending their money like fools, they were buying frivolous things like swimming pools, cars, and vacations, and we benefited,” said Bagin, president. “But we started to notice a change in all of that in late 2007 and beginning of 2008. We made adjustments, recognizing the gravy train ride was over.”

In addition to re-examining the company’s inventory levels and keeping them at a just-in-time standard as much as possible, B&B examined its staffing requirements to keep them in line with the immediate needs of each season. When things were running well, said Bagin, having spare people hanging around until they were needed was easy to justify. When business started slowing down, it was time to trim the fat. 

In the summer months, B&B ramps up its staff to be able to handle construction, service, and maintenance. Over the winter months, the company reduces staffing to what’s necessary to maintain the business and the year-round showroom. 

“My 3,000-square-foot showroom is open all year, and we provide service year-round,” said Bagin. “But once winter sets in and a hard freeze has taken place, construction pretty much comes to a halt.”

As a result of timely operational changes and a clear picture of what the future holds, B&B continues to maintain a steady pace of work. Bagin said he has no doubts that his company will survive the current economic downturn or the slow pace at which it seems to be improving, but he understands the heyday of the pool and spa industry may never return. 

“We feel that we’ve positioned ourselves to take advantage of the recovery when it comes, slow as that might be, because our key people are in place and are ready,” Bagin said. “We would like to continue to grow, but at the same time, we’re cognizant of the fact that the industry will never be what it once was.”

Ring the bell

Bagin and his brothers got their start in the pool and spa industry when their company became a warranty service center for Sylvan Pools. With its foot in the door of the service sector of the pool industry, the brothers decided to open a small 600-square-foot showroom. Since then, the showroom and the company have expanded to include sales, service, and construction of gunite and vinyl-lined pools. 

B&B has also innovated the industry with its IntelliPool and IntelliSpa components, which it trademarked in 2007. Pentair Pool Products, one of the company’s vendors, developed 

a line of energy efficient components, including IntelliTouch Controls, IntelliClor chlorine generators, and IntelliFlo Computerized Pumps. 

As a Pentair warranty center and builder/dealer, B&B uses those products on all of its pools. Bagin liked the sustainable direction his business partner was going and felt B&B needed to contribute. The company redesigned its plumbing systems to incorporate larger pipe and uses Pentair’s IntelliFlo pumps, which are computerized variable speed pumps that enable 

customers to adjust the amount of water flow necessary to maintain quality and cleanliness without wasting energy.

“By rethinking the way we build our pools, we have created more energy efficient systems that also reduce maintenance—two items that ring a bell with consumers,” said Bagin. “We can save you money, and you won’t have to work as hard.”

In addition, rather than placing two or three pumps at a pool, one pump serves all purposes. By using IntelliSpa and IntelliPool, customers will see a reduction in their initial installation costs and their energy costs because electricians aren’t wiring up as many components. “Bottom line, we need to rethink how we approach our industry, especially as consumers become more environmentally aware,” said Bagin. 

Industry evolution

Chlorine has traditionally been the chemical of choice for pools. It’s been around for more than 100 years, it disinfects, and it keeps water looking clean and inviting. 

In recent years, innovations in the storage and transportation of chlorine have come about, as pool users have grown frustrated with the complications from handling such a volatile chemical. One thing many consumers don’t realize is that chlorine is produced from a brine solution and that electrodes generate a chlorine gas by breaking the salt down to its atomic components: sodium and chlorine. 

In the past five to six years, homeowners have grown fond of what many call salt systems, which use a device that’s placed in the plumbing system. As the water passes through the device, an electrical charge runs across internal plates, and chlorine is created in its purest form. 

“We’re still using and creating chlorine, but it’s smoother and softer against the skin, you don’t come out all dried out, and there is less eye burn,” said Bagin. “It’s noticeable enough that I’ve had 16-year-old kids in my showrooms asking about their friends’ pool water and why it feels different.”

Compounded with the IntelliSpa and IntelliPool technologies, B&B differentiates itself in its market by providing alternatives for its customers, letting them know the old way of building and maintaining a pool isn’t the only way. “The only way our industry will survive is for it to evolve,” Bagin said. “We understand that for our business as well, and our customers notice the difference.”