in 1947 When a drunk driver killed Luther Stem Jr.’s father, the 16-year-old 10th grader dropped out of school and took over his father’s dump truck and hauling business. Junior, he was called, ran Luther Stem Trucking to support his mom and sisters, and later his own wife and children. In 1962 at the request of his children, he built a swimming pool in his backyard. When a neighbor asked if Junior could put one in his yard, Luther Stem Pools & Spas was born. Junior was involved in the company until the end of his life.
“He was such a hard-working man,” says Brenda Harmon, retail store manager for the company. “Even his last years in the company, when he couldn’t dig the swimming pools anymore, he would come out here and get on the riding lawn mower and mow the grass between the interstate and the glass windows on our building. He’d put on an orange vest and pick up trash. He was about pride and work ethics, always. Those have been instilled in his children.”
Junior’s children, Luther III, Wendell and Deborah Stem (who is now retired), have owned and operated Luther Stem Pools for the last 30 years. Harmon joined the company in 1994 and is one of several employees who has been there more than 20 years. Building in-ground pools was the foundation of Luther Stem Pools & Spas, and for the first 30 years the company did not advertise.
“The retail business didn’t start getting really busy and expanding until the 1990s,” Harmon says. “We started advertising and bringing people in, and decided to start doing above-ground pools and getting aggressive with portable spas.”
This year, the company’s spa sales are up 100 percent over last year. Harmon has a knack for sales — she sold the first model of Marquis’ new swim spa by hand-drawing it at the dealer meeting where it was unveiled. She attributes the rise in sales in part to the economy settling down, but to staffing as well. “There is so much to learn to sell pools and hot tubs,” she says. “I’ve had a tough time over the last four year keeping people in here. Hot tubs are hard. If you want to be good at it, you have to know your stuff — but you have to know the competition, too. It’s being informative and trying not tell that customer everything you know but having all the things in the back of your head to use as needed on each customer.”
As the fourth generation of Stems becomes more involved in the business, they have a legacy to look up to in both their family and longtime employees.
“There is somebody who has been with this business in every key department for over 20 years,” Harmon says. “You don’t see that in a lot of companies. These key employees aren’t family, but they are treated like family and feel like family. When I talk about Luther Stem, I call this store mine because I’ve invested 20 years in it, and it’s important to me. Everyone who’s in these other departments feels the same. It’s not a place we work. It’s our business, even though our name is not on the building.”
Harmon says it’s important to give credit to Luther Stem Jr. “Junior set the precedent for what we all should do,”
service technician, 43 years
Vicky Stem Cooper
office manager/accounts payable, 25 years
Brian Scott Brown
in-ground pool construction, 21 years
manager Luther Stem Concrete Pumping, 13 years
Brenda Smith Harmon
retail store manager, 21 years
construction crew supervisor, 12 years