Mike Beani, owner of American Pools and Spas in Whitehall, Penn., says getting into the pool and spa business was a mistake. In 1991, he was building custom decks and in his showroom, he put a deck around a pool and a spa. And wouldn’t you know it: People started to ask if he could build their pool as well as their deck.
“I knew nothing about pools, nothing about spas,” Beani says. But he gave it a try and sold 23 pools and six spas in their first year; in their second, 300 pools and over 200 spas.
“It was insane how it took off for us,” Beani says. “We learned as we went along. Twenty-four years later, we’re still rocking and rolling.”
So what Beani calls a mistake turned out to be his best business decision. And when he looks back on those first years, it’s hard for him to think of how they could’ve done it any differently.
“It went so well, and I was so astounded by the response,” Beani says. “I can’t say I wish we would’ve done this or that because it was so great in the beginning. I definitely learned more as I went on in the next five years and we got into the business more.”
One hurdle Beani had to overcome was convincing suppliers they actually did the volume they claimed. His first year at the Atlantic City show, Beani had a hard time getting people to take him seriously. He had to give out Steve Cohen’s, the president of Sharkline Pools, phone number so other suppliers could call him and vet whether or not American was the real deal.
“All of a sudden, I get a phone call from the vendor I spoke to earlier saying, ‘Hey I want to meet up with you,’” Beani says. “You must’ve talked to Steve.”
Beani’s son, Jason, is vice president of the company, and son-in-law William Ford runs the warehouse; both persuaded him to embrace the Internet and e-commerce. Even though he was reluctant, Beani decided if he was going to do it, he needed to understand all of it.
“I have to say, it was the best thing that we have done for growth in this economy,” Beani says. While initially the intent was to be present in and serve their local market, “What I didn’t realize is that I would get people calling me from North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, New York. That’s all money I would never have got [without our website].”
Beani likes the online income, of course, but his favorite part of working in the business is face-to-face selling.
“I absolutely love to sell,” Beani says. His son and employees tease him because of his animated style. “I’m Italian, so my hands swing and flail. I get excited and my voice goes up. They’re like, ‘Pop, you gotta calm down.’ We joke around about it all day.”
Beani has passed his love of sales on to Jason, who says that besides working side by side with is dad, interacting with customers and making those sales is his favorite part of his job.
Jason started working in the parts department when he was 15 and has worked his way up to vice president. Beani says he never pushed his son to be part of the business but always hoped that would be his decision.
“There are days where we butt heads and battle back and forth, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Jason says. “We don’t have the traditional business employee/employer relationship — we are family. But even the guys who aren’t technically blood have been with us a long time, and we consider them family. I truly believe that’s one of the reasons why we have been successful. We always have each other’s back. A family business definitely has its highs and lows, but the pros outweigh the cons.”