Springfield, MO

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SBJ photo by April Turner
SBJ photo by April Turner

Business Spotlight: Just Swimming Along

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When Craig Fishel founded Fishel Pools in 1976, the country was preparing for its bicentennial. Putting in a vinyl liner was a very popular addition and almost as American as apple pie.

More than three decades later, Fishel Pools has outlasted the average 25-year life span of a typical vinyl liner pool as well as outlasting many pool companies that came into the competitive market.

“I’ve counted 34 pool companies that have come and gone since I’ve been in business,” Fishel says.

Fishel has built more than 1,800 pools, and he says he quit counting a few years ago. The company also has survived several recessions and plans not just to survive the current down economy but to grow despite it. Fishel says his company doubled in size 1976–77 and most recently exceeded its 2009 goals by 22 percent. This year, the company hopes to maintain 2009 revenues, though he declined to disclose the amount.

Fishel has taken the attitude of many Springfield business owners that “flat is the new up.”

Fishel attributes weathering the current recession to diversifying into custom build and commercial pools, which generate more revenue per job. The average cost for a commercial build is $1 million, and the average homeowner spends about $75,000 to $125,000 for a pool made using sprayed concrete, or shotcrete, compared to about $45,000 for a vinyl-lined pool. Recent commercial projects – at Hickory Hills and Twin Oaks country clubs and the Pat Jones YMCA – range between $500,000 and $1.5 million, he says.

Digging deep
After graduating from Missouri State University in 1971 with a bachelor’s in industrial technology, Fishel went to work for Ozadco Pool Co. selling supplies in Springfield and eventually opening the company’s store at Lake of the Ozarks.

Fishel’s pre-engineering background in college and pool experience led him to the desire to build pools, and he began by building residential pools in the Ozarks region. “In the 1970s and 80s, we were building up to 115 pools per year, and they really had become cookie cutter,” Fishel says, who decided to start building custom residential and commercial shotcrete pools in 1990.

“That took our company in a totally opposite direction,” Fishel adds. “We never do a design two times in a row.”

Fishel Pools develops customer designs or gets creative with a computer program. “We can produce a 3-D drawing of a person’s backyard with their pool, and they can even stand at different points in the drawing and look at their pool,” Fishel says.

The company builds the pools but hires landscapers for finishing touches.

Edwin and Phoebe Rice hired Fishel Pools to design their backyard pool about a decade ago. When the Rices bought their Springfield home 23 years ago, it had a small pool. “It was installed wrong and leaked constantly,” Phoebe Rice says. “Fishel Pools came out, and they worked hard to fix it, but we finally gave up.”

The Rices hired Fishel to design and build a new pool.

“We went over several designs together, and they redid it until it was what we wanted,” she says, noting that Fishel also services the pool weekly during summer.

On the horizon
Fishel says his current business is approximately 60 percent commercial work and 40 percent custom residential. Two-thirds of business is new construction, while one third is selling supplies at Fishel’s retail store and servicing existing pools.

Fishel says the company has seven contracted projects to complete this season, but it also has an undisclosed commercial job pending financing that could boost revenue by 30 percent this year.

“The industry, as any recreational industry, is going through a tough time,” says Mike Allen, sales manager for Great Plains Pool and Spa Products in Lenexa, Kan.

Great Plains sells supplies such as pumps, filters and returns to pool contractors throughout the Midwest and has conducted business with Fishel for about 25 years. “Fishel’s orders have been down, but they are still doing a little above average compared to other companies,” Allen says. “They have a good reputation in the industry, and it’s those companies that do quality work and stand by their word that will survive.”

Fishel, at 61, is preparing the company for an eventual turnover to his son, Ryan, who is now vice president. The elder Fishel says he sees that transition happening within three years but also doesn’t plan on stepping out completely. “I won’t ever leave as far as doing sales and design. I just love it,” Fishel says. “I love to be able to create something that helps a family do something together.”[[In-content Ad]]


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