From the Navy to the pools: After his time in the service, this vet’s focus is customer service
By Butch Maier
Bill Schlemmer’s customer pool is filling up quickly.
Schlemmer, a Virginia Beach resident and retired Navy officer, is managing partner, majority shareholder, general manager and in charge of marketing, branding and outreach for the Hampton Roads region of America’s Swimming Pool Co. of Coastal Virginia.
It opens March 2, thanks to Schlemmer’s hard work and the help of some prominent financial backers who became his partners.
“Since September, I’ve been setting things into place to give us the best launch possible,” said Schlemmer, 45. “I have already reached out to country clubs, swim teams, rec centers, civic leagues.”
The company provides service to residential and commercial pools.
Schlemmer has 28 clients in the Great Neck corridor so far without advertising. He found them through word of mouth, research and reaching out to the community with a poll.
“When we did the market analysis, the number-one thread we got was about 99 percent of those we polled hated the pool service they had to endure,” Schlemmer said.
Their three main complaints, he said, were unanswered phones, unreturned phone messages and inconsistent billing.
“If they don’t get a phone call answered, they are going to call the next company on their list and call until someone answers the phone,” Schlemmer said. “And I had consumers come to me and say, ‘Just promise me you will bill us on the same day of the month every month.’”
From his time in the military, Schlemmer is used to routines, so he said he will make sure the bills are sent out like clockwork and the phones are answered.
David Kaufman, one of his business partners, will help make sure calls are picked up via office personnel at his company, Envest Ventures. Kaufman is a senior managing director of the private equity firm based in Virginia Beach.
“His team is my team,” Schlemmer said.
Schlemmer retired from the Navy in 2013.
“I wanted to go out in that business realm,” he said. “Amazon targets people who were in the military.”
He took the position of operations manager of inbound operations at the Richmond fulfillment center. But work weeks of 90 to 110 hours and the commute took him away from his family too much, so he resigned from Amazon in June.
Then Kaufman pitched him the pool idea, and others have helped in the transition process.
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of support from a lot of people in the community,” Schlemmer said. “It was surprising to me how many people want to help out a veteran who doesn’t want to stay inside the DoD [Department of Defense] career field – who wants to venture into the business realm.”
There are 70 America’s Swimming Pool Co. franchises, and this is the second in Virginia, after one established in Springfield.
The Coastal Virginia franchise – headed by partners Schlemmer, Kaufman and John Garel, the other senior managing director of Envest Ventures – will start in the Great Neck corridor. The plan is to expand to Chesapeake in 2016, southern Virginia Beach in 2017 and western Chesapeake in 2018.
Envest has an equity investment in America’s Swimming Pool, the parent company, in addition to an investment in the Coastal Virginia franchise, according to a statement from Envest.
The venture capital firm, which has invested more than $117 million in 32 private companies, has a history of investing in franchise concepts including an investment in Liberty Tax Service, which has tax preparation franchises.
Envest also plays a role in helping lead the companies in which it invests with members of its management team giving advice and serving on its portfolio company’s boards.
It invested in America’s Swimming Pool Co. last year, according to its website.
Schlemmer has been busy, preparing to launch. He was in Macon, Ga., where the parent company is based, last week for a three-week training course.
“We don’t build pools, but everything from that end, south, we provide,” he said.
The Macon “Pool School” features two full-size swimming pools that can be simulated for any malfunction, replacement, closing pools, opening pools, recovering a green pool or reviving a pool that was left unattended. There also are smaller pools and partial pools so trainees can practice troubleshooting malfunctions.
America’s Swimming Pool Co. does not mess around when it comes to training, Schlemmer said he and his employees will not mess around when it comes to service:
• The company is launching with two brand-new vehicles. “No oil spots on a customer’s driveway,” Schlemmer said.
• Schlemmer and his fellow technician, Billy Pesesky, will dress identically – khaki pants in the fall and winter, khaki shorts in the spring and summer, collared golf shirts.
• No employee is to talk on a cellphone or smoke cigarettes when at a customer’s house.
• A follow-up email will be sent to the consumer to explain everything the technician did, along with a picture of the pool once the job is complete.
“We strive to be the most professional, most customer-centric company,” Schlemmer said.
Two major selling points for his company’s service is that no contracts will be required.
“Contracts are for mortgages,” Schlemmer said. “If you like our service, that’s great. If you don’t, tell us how we can make it better.”
The other selling point is that he’ll offer only flat-rate programs.
The company provides a customizable maintenance program for the homeowner – the day, time and how often service is wanted. Schlemmer will take into account the size of the pool and its surroundings – overhanging trees, etc. – to come up with a flat-rate fee for that program.
Schlemmer’s office is at 2101 Parks Ave. The pool operations center is at 2228 W. Great Neck Road.
“What also separates this company is we have a sitting board,” Schlemmer said. The three partners are joined on the board by Lisa Parks, the chief financial officer, who is a University of Virginia business grad with an MBA from William & Mary. She is also vice president of Envest.
Some pools have a diving board.
This pool company has a driving board.
Full Story located at Inside Business