Defiance, Ohio, is a manufacturing town home to several factories, including Johns Manville and General Motors. But Bob Dawson wasn’t much for being stuck inside — and after a short stint at a factory, he started an excavating business. He built swimming pools as a subcontractor for a homebuilder, and when the builder retired Dawson saw an opportunity to not only build the pools, but also to provide service and maintenance for them.
“He thought about it for quite some time, came home one day and said to my mom, ‘I think I want to open a swimming pool and hot tub store,’ ” says Shelby Dawson, the couple’s oldest son and now the business owner.
Shelby followed in his father’s footsteps. “I love the outdoors,” Shelby Dawson says. “I just love to create and build stuff. I’m still out in the field.”
Dawson bought his parents and then his sister out of the business, becoming the sole owner at the end of 2015. His passion for the outdoors and creating spaces has become one of the company’s strengths.
“We started focusing [on building outdoor living spaces] in the last 10 to 15 years because of the demand,” Dawson says. “People see DIY shows or they see a lot of these home improvement shows, and it’s really pushed the market to create those spaces.”
Defiance Water Recreation can build a hot tub or pool for customers and everything around it as well. “Hot tubs are pretty simple,” Dawson says. “But creating the surroundings is the biggest chore.”
One of the hardest parts of that is bringing a customer’s dream Pinterest design back to reality.
“They see a pool that’s not very big, and they want to know if they can get it for $20,000,” Dawson says. “That water feature is $20,000. It’s not that you want to freak them out, but you need to bring them to where the rubber meets the road. You’ve got to do all the stuff correctly, and in order to do that it’s going to be this much.”
Dawson sees the industry going this direction, and for hot tub retailers who don’t have a construction background, he says it’s paramount for them to build a relationship with a business that does. “That’s where our strong suit comes in,” Dawson says. “ We can offer both.”