Pool builder celebrates 30 years of 'manufacturing beauty'

Published on Sunday, 4 May 2014 16:36 - Written by Casey Murphy cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

Boyce Eldridge enjoys the construction business because every day is a new day.

He has worked in the field nearly all of his life, first as a manager for Houston-based Brown & Root Inc., traveling the country to construct power plants and refineries, and for the past 30 years as franchisee of Blue Haven Pools in Tyler.

Eldridge, 72, followed his father and brothers-in-law into the construction field because, “I thought that was the cat’s meow for making money,” he said.

He served three years in the U.S. Army, attended Stephen F. Austin State University and graduated from The University of Kansas. He worked for Brown & Root before moving to Tyler in 1981. He was plant manager for Transient Mix Concrete and through that job, met the manager of Blue Haven Pools.

“Before I knew it, we were negotiating a purchase of the franchise,” he said.

Eldridge acquired the Tyler business in April 1984, not long after it opened here, and added the franchise in Bossier City, La., in 1998.

“I’ve always loved construction. It seemed like a different interest,” Eldridge said of the pool industry. “You’re manufacturing beauty.”

He is proud of the accomplishment of being in business for 30 years.

“We’ve had the same ups and downs as some of the other industries in Tyler. As the old saying goes, sometimes it’s the chicken and sometimes its feathers,” Eldridge said. “It hasn’t been easy sometimes. … We’re going to keep on trucking.”

Blue Haven Pools began in San Diego and now has about 60 offices nationwide, with 48 of those being franchises. There also are offices in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

He said the Tyler business builds up to about 100 pools a year, while the Bossier City franchise constructs about 70 pools annually. The two offices sometimes work together to serve customers as far north as Paris, south to Lufkin, west to Canton and east to Monroe, La.

When a customer comes to Blue Haven for a custom pool, the company measures the backyard to come up with a design to fit desires and budget. From design to finish, the company can construct a pool in about 45 days, he said.

A few of the most outlandish projects that have done include constructing a pool inside a 5,200-square-foot pool house in Pittsburg, and building two connecting pools — one for the adults and one for the children — with a gigantic slide and water park theme to it for about $500,000 in Athens.

“We design it like they want it,” Betty Younger, office manager, said, adding that the customers select the shape, tile, stone and deck for the custom pools.

Constructing an in-ground pool includes digging the hole; steel and plumbing; gunite, which has to cure for seven days; tile and coping the edge of the pool; deck and plaster; installing the equipment; starting and filling it up and explaining how to run it, Ms. Younger said.

Eldridge said although the company builds mostly “family pools,” they do commercial construction as well for apartments, hotels and medical therapy pools for hospitals.

They also sell 40 to 50 portable Bull Frog spas a year, as well as pool toys, chemicals and other supplies. They provide a pool maintenance service to the Tyler area, as well as repair services and free water testing.

Ms. Younger said they are not as busy in the winter, although that is the best time to build because homeowners are not outside as much.

Last year, they held their first seminar in October about building pools in the offseason. Eldridge wishes the business would be more spread out over the entire year, instead of the majority of the work having to be done in six months — from spring to fall.

“During the summer, we’re fat cats,” he said. “Cash flow is great. … But in the winter, it’s very rough.”

Throughout the year, the pool construction industry has stayed pretty standard. The same materials are used but their prices have escalated, he said.

The “oil crunch” in the 1980s was tough, he said, and through the years they have constantly monitored the economy.

“We’re in the luxury business of sorts,” he said. “You can live with it or without it.”

When he bought the franchise 30 years ago, there were three employees. Now there are 19. They include three service men experienced in repairing pools, water chemistry, automatic cleaning, pool filtration and automated systems. He also has two salespeople, without whom there would be no construction, he said.

Eldridge has 12 employees at the Bossier City franchise.

He expects Blue Haven Pools to continue growing because they’re aggressive and have a good staff. He said he feels what sets them apart from others is their longevity, size and service