Teaching has always been in his blood
Steve White of Underwater Pool Masters Inc. in West Boylston, Massachusetts has appeared in numerous industry publications and has always dreamed of appearing on the front page of Service Industry News, his first exposure to service-based news.
“Since I first got my start more than 40 years ago, this publication has remained my favorite,” he said.
Our team could not be more honored by such kind words but it must be said that White’s studious background extends well beyond this newspaper.
His educational career began in Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English. He went on to earn his master’s degree, also in English, from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Upon graduating in 1968, he taught English for his hometown’s public high school.
After 33 years of dedicated teaching as well as directing the school’s theater program, White retired in 2001.
“I probably did a thousand plays in those years and that’s kind of why I ended up in the pool business. In those days my salary was minimal at best.”
Teacher’s salaries in Massachusetts really didn’t pay much. In fact, his first salary was less than $5,000 per year before taxes. Even obtaining a masters only added an extra $500.
White’s pool business was a matter of supplemental income. Plus, he added, “I had to have something to occupy myself in the summer.”
White got his start in the pool industry by accident. In 1970, he and his wife purchased their first home in West Boylston and had a pool put in. Construction began in June while White was out of school and he had plenty of time to hang around with the pool builders in his backyard. When the builders learned that White enjoyed scuba diving in his spare time, they put him to work looking for underwater leaks in some of the local pools. White was 25 years old at the time.
“My first employee was one of my students. Years later, another college grad who had worked summers, ran the business for 10 years while I was still teaching. When it came time for him to move on and make his own way in the world, I looked at the $50,000 I was making at school and compared it to what my business was bringing in just during the summer, and that was that.
I was 55 years old and was going to run my own pool operation full time.”
Today, White occupies himself as the owner/operator of Underwater Pool Masters Inc., a 2000-square-foot pool and spa retail, repair and maintenance corporation, employing no fewer than 15 employees during the peak summer swim season. And even during the winter months, when it is sometimes below 0°, White still needs at least five people to keep his operation running smoothly.
Most of the company’s service work is outdoors. Many indoor commercial pools utilize White’s services throughout the winter.
The store stays busy with customers, there to buy pool products, test water, and get a great deal of advice. In fact, White provides homeowners with lessons in his retail store during the spring. This education is mostly for those who have just had a new pool built and don’t know how to maintain it.
“I have found that many builders don’t teach customers about their pools. There is big money in selling pools, but to be successful doing what I do requires a lot of activity,” White said.
To be sure, White has always beenactive. Before diving into the pool industry and while still teaching English, he served as a volunteer diver, EMT and firefighter for the West Boylston Police and Fire Department. He enjoyed it because it offered him both an educational and public service angle. White considers himself a type-A personality who, at 71, still works in the field and even dives regularly, unlike most of his 17-to-73-year-old employees.
“Success comes through persistence and a variety of pool work opportunities. Every job, large or small, gets the same degree of attention,” he said.
White is a Certified Service Professional with APSP and a Certified Pool Operator Instructor for the National Swimming Pool Foundation. He is the Educational Director for Region 9 of APSP, where he has taught numerous tech courses. He believes that the success of his business is largely due to the education he has received in the industry and the dedication of a number of great employees throughout the years.
When the Virginia Graeme Baker Act was passed, White installed 186 required lids over a two-year period in commercial pools and spas.
There was a demand for his services because he knew what needed to be done to bring all main drain lids into compliance with the law, and he could install most of them underwater, saving thousands of gallons of water.
“I had every credential that made it sensible for us to do the jobs and I had a staff that could keep up with the paperwork,” White said.
White believes the success of his company is earned through accepting all types of pool work. Educating his employees helps all of them achieve personal success in the business. The business thrives on the 4,000 pools the company services, including seasonal openings and closings. What sets his business apart from the others is providing the total package: retail, education, service, maintenance and leak detection.
His expert knowledge in the leak detection business has created many business and teaching opportunities. Take the Northeast Spa & Pool Association’s show in Atlantic City. There, White has taken part in forums with other experts such as Anderson Manufacturing, a leading leak detection company and equipment manufacturer.
After more than 40 years in the industry, White has made his share of mistakes. His advice to novice service professionals is to make sure you can stand by your word.
“One of the dangers in this business is making hasty positive statements that aren’t really always guaranteed,” he said.
With some prospective jobs, he’s been tempted to say, “With our leak detection procedures and equipment, we can pinpoint your leak. That is not always true,” White said.
Someone once complained that White couldn’t find their leak on the first trip. Eventually he found it, but it wasn’t easy. After digging up a 4-foot piece of flexible PVC pipe that had 30 tiny holes, he discovered that ants had chewed through the pipe. White still shows this pipe in his CPO and APSP tech classes.
It is this humility that White believes all service techs can benefit from as long as they try to become educated in their profession. He’s an advocate for professionalism, which includes licensing and certification.
“Pool work should be for professionals,” he said. “I have always felt this and I enjoy training people because I am an educator.”
For White, the future of the industry rests on education and industry training. He believes service technicians should take their role as professionals seriously, and take advantage of the numerous associations and educational opportunities within the pool industry.
“But in Massachusetts, well over half of the service techs are not members of any professional association,” he said. “Maybe they have not yet seen the benefit of membership.”
As White reflects upon any future retirement, he sees the possibility due to an excellent asset he acquired years ago. That asset is one Erik Johnson, his service manager.
“He is the best guy I have ever had, and when I retire I’m going to sit in my office, help people, teach classes, blog, and occasionally dive and repair a leaking swimming pool,” he said. “I plan to end the way I began.”
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