Spa developer builds a ‘beautiful place’

Spa developer builds a ‘beautiful place’

Stableford, Joan

John Romano has a boast that he wrote the book on building a pool, and it is no idle boast – because he did.

Romano, owner of All American Custom Pools & Spas Inc. in Norwalk, Conn., has spent nearly 30 years building pools in the backyards of Westchester County and Connecticut’s Fairfield County.

Along the way, he wrote a book about building them, using the knowledge he gained from when he started in the business restoring older pools.

What he learned from that original niche business motivated him to build better quality pools, especially ones that would withstand the Northeast’s harsh climate.

“We have a promise here – a lifetime warranty on the shell of the pool. It is not an empty promise. We offer a failure-proof product, because we use better products with heavier steel than normally used, higher-strength concrete products and the proper underlay, much greater than the industry standards,” he said.

Many other companies may give threeyear, five-year and 10year guarantees on the shells, but his company stands behind that promise, Romano said.

In addition to offering better materials, he said he can deliver on that promise because unlike other firms, everyone involved in his pool business is on staff and under his control. His company also offers a three-year parts-and-labor guarantee on all equipment, including the pumps, heaters, chlorinators and filters.

ACCIDENTAL ENTREPRENEUR

Romano became a pool builder by accident. Ile was working in construction with his dad in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he built a pool for his father after a contractor failed to deliver on his promise.

“I really liked the creative aspect of it, so I started building pools – maybe three to five a year. At the time, I was not in the service or pool-maintenance business,” he said.

But then he discovered a real burgeoning market of replastering, resurfacing and restoring older pools. So, he left his father’s company and started his own business in 1977. The following year, he bought a poolmaintenance company. By 1980, his business was building pools from scratch.

Romano saw an immediate need for standards and expertise in his industry, after restoring so many older pools. So he took his passion for creating beautiful pools to a higher level with lots of research. In 1979, he joined the board of the National Spas and Pool Institute and then the Connecticut Spa and Pool Association, which he served as president for three terms. In 1983, he got involved with the Northeast Spa and Pool Association and joined its board. By 1995, he was a director, and in 2003, became its chairman. Romano stills sits on its board.

During this time of affiliating with other industry professionals, Romano helped raise the standards for pool building by creating a pool builder certification program and writing the book, the NSPI Residential Pool & Spa Reference Manual.

CERTIFIED POOL BUILDERS

Today, he is among 250 certified pool builders nationwide. Certification requires completing a lengthy course and passing mandatory tests. Certified pool builders keep up with the latest industry trends by taking continuing education courses, he said.

Romano’s dedication to quality has paid off. For the seventh year in a row, he has been named to one of the top 50 pool builders in America. His successful business now employs 60 people and generates about $7 million in yearly revenue.

One of his repeat customers is Carol Haber of Weston, Conn. Romano built her first pool more than 10 years ago at a house she owned in Westport, Conn. When she and her husband recently moved to Weston, she called him again to install a new pool.

“I didn’t even have to think about it because John is a man of vision – he can see the pool and the yard before the first shovel of dirt is unturned. He goes the extra yard, really believes in quality and is even a more detailed person than I am,” she said.

Romano’s company installed a rectangular pool with a waterfall, a half-circle spa on a different level and a stone deck.

“The result is that my pool is like putting artwork in my yard. It is really beautiful and enjoyable. We just love it,” Haber said.

Haber also noted that other workers doing renovation on her house have all stopped, admired and commented on the quality construction of the pool and the masonry work of the deck and pool.

REFERRAL GENERATES BUSINESS

Most of Ali American Custom Pools & Spas’ new business almost 85 percent of it – comes from referral, and not just from homeowners who have chosen him to install their pools.

“In the last five years, I would say that 50 percent of my referral business came from someone who hired another contractor to build their pool after rejecting my bid. In the end, they wished they had chosen us because they had a less desirable experience or end product. So, they started referring friends to me,” he said.

The problem, Romano said, is that many prospective pool owners would not hesitate to buy a high-end car without much forethought and that vehicle typically depreciates in three years. In contrast, building a pool, which costs almost the same amount of money, will add to their property appreciation and can be enjoyed for years.

Today, his company builds as many as 50 pools yearly, with each costing $75,000 on average. Less expensive ones cost about $40,000 apiece, and more expensive ones exceed $100,000, Romano said.

His company offers customers a landscape designer who will custom design their pool and make sure it fits in with die landscape of their back yard. In addition, the company often builds added features – waterfalls, spa whirlpools, decks and stone or tile walls as part of the backyard design.

“The pools can be standard plain vanilla, which can be done in a short time (30 days), or a custom-designed pool, with decks or waterfalls, in a typical six weeks,” he said.

BEYOND FAIRFIELD COUNTY

While 70 percent of his business is primarily residential, the balance comes from commercial work in the tri-state area at such places as the Equinox, the New York Sports Clubs, and in partnership with developers Hawthorne-based Ginsburg Development Corp. Bonita Springs, Fla, based WCI Communities Inc. and New York City-based Davis & Partners.

In fact, his company is completing a pool at the City Center in White Plains.

According to the Connecticut chapter of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, more than 300 businesses are involved in the industry statewide and 146 of them belong to the organization, about half of them in Fairfield County.

According to the latest study in 2002 by the Northeastern Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, 61,000 in-ground pools existed in Connecticut, 69,000 aboveground pools and 25,000 hot tubs or spas.

Lawrence Caniglia, the group’s executive director, said his organization does not track the industry by dollars, but that the numbers of pools being built is growing 2 to 3 percent every year.

Romano also is a consultant to contractors in other states, such as California and Florida. On those jobs, he chooses the pool builder and oversees the work.

“What’s amazing to me is that when I started out, I thought I was just building pools. Now, I realize I am building something that is more lasting for families – a beautiful place to enjoy many family memories in their own backyards,” he said.

Copyright Westfair Communications Sep 05, 2005

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