Our SR columnist Dave Riley reported in a recent column that 28 percent of hot tub business sales are to employees. At Mermaid Pools & Hot Tubs in Ontario, Canada, an employee has purchased an ownership stake in the company to help ensure its longevity.
“Once you start at Mermaid, you just don’t leave,” says Dave McNaughton, managing partner at the company. McNaughton bought into the company about three years ago. “It’s a tremendous place to work, and that’s why I took the ownership plunge. If I didn’t do it, who was going to? I wanted all these great people who are in this company to keep working together.”
Art Methot founded Mermaid in 1965. His sons Don and Paul eventually took over the business, and now that Paul has retired, Don Methot and McNaughton run the company.
“[McNaughton] had been here 10 years before he became a partner, so by then it’s abundantly obvious who you have,” Don Methot says. “When you work with someone and see their body of work, it’s easier to predict what might happen in the future.”
McNaughton was first introduced to Mermaid as a customer. His wife thought that if he was going to have such a crazy work schedule, the family should have a pool. McNaughton, who has a background in construction, recalls thinking that while Mermaid wasn’t the cheapest pool company he’d checked out, they seemed to do things right. The process of putting in his pool went smoothly and five months later he found himself working on the sales floor.
Now that he’s worked his way up to a partner, McNaughton says he sees the business in a dramatically different way than when he was an employee — such as at the beginning of the season when new product comes in. “Our season is so short, so we’ve got all this product in but we’ve got nothing going out except for checks,” McNaughton says.
While Methot says it was strange bringing a non-family member into the fold, he says it took the right person to get them to do it. “Otherwise the likely scenario would’ve been an outright sale,” Methot says.
Like many industry kids, Methot grew up around the business and has worked at pretty much every level — from riding shotgun in a service truck to working on an installation crew. In 1974, he joined the business full-time and was already well-acquainted with the ins and outs of selling and installing hot tubs and pools.
“I vividly remember walking the trade show floor in San Francisco when wooden hot tubs were all the rage,” Methot says. “There was a tremendous amount of interest at the dealer level. Nobody knew for sure if any of that would translate to the consumer. Eventually it did, but it took a long time. It was a very different industry back then.”
During the time they worked together, his father took a hands-off approach to the brother’s indoctrination in running the business. “His approach for Paul and me was pretty simple: You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. As long as 51 percent of your decisions are good ones, you’re probably doing OK,” Methot says. “It wasn’t in his nature to try and manage us to the umpteenth degree. He was more comfortable with setting very broad objectives and then letting me go with it. And he was there for counsel and advice along the way.”
Methot believes that method is one of the reasons why the family has been successful in and out of the business.
“Apart from making a living at it, I’m most proud that we’ve been able to stay together as a unit and get along as well as we do,” he says. And a happy family has led to a happy workplace, where Methot has assembled what he calls an “all-star team.” Surrounding himself with those people keeps him motivated and energized.
“I feed off them just as much as they feed off me,” Methot says, being sure to give McNaughton credit for the energy as well. “When we work together we try to keep it interesting and fun, not just laborious all the time. We’ve developed a pretty good culture here as a result.”
McNaughton says that’s one of the main things that prompted him to buy into the business. It’s also one of the things he enjoys the most about being in that partner position. He says the high points of his first year of ownership were being able to work with and support key personnel and being involved on product developments “that don’t factor in when you’re just in a sales capacity.”
When he became a partner, McNaughton says some of his customers sent presents to congratulate him. “Customers were so happy for me,” McNaughton says. “The pool and hot tub industries are like no other.”