Paradise Pool & Spa

A catastrophe helped New Jersey company get its start

Starting a new business because your old one burnt to the ground is not what you’d call an auspicious start. But Judy Zangrilli says the fire was a blessing in disguise. At that point in 1996, they owned the business with a partner — and that relationship was turning south. The fire provided a somewhat graceful exit for everyone.

“Both of us agree going out on our own was definitely the best move we’ve ever made,” says Zangrilli, who owns Paradise Pool & Spa with her husband Steve in Hamburg, N.J. “I’m now convinced that partnerships just don’t work. I would tell anybody if you can’t do it on your own, don’t do it.”

They rebuilt in the same location, a shopping center. In the beginning, they occupied a 900-square-foot space upstairs; now, after a recent expansion, the business takes up the entire lower level: over 6,000 square feet.

“We were energized because we were opening up as ourselves, without a partner, and all of our customers came back,” Zangrilli says. “Because we were in the same shopping center, they were really glad to see us and have supported us for 18 years.”

Zangrilli often plucks her employees from those loyal supporters. “Customers come in and I see their kids who are in grammar school, and by the time they get to high school I’ve already told them to come on in as soon as they’re 17,” Zangrilli says, adding that they’ve gone through families of siblings for summer help over the years, and they have become like their own family.

“People think all the girls who work in the store are my daughters,” Zangrilli says. “I’m Old Mother Hubbard, and these are all my kids. But the girls are like my daughters and they’re wonderful. They take care of my customers like they’re important, and they are.”

In a job that requires you to know more than how to ring up a cash register, Zangrilli says they’ve been fortunate to have a great staff that sticks with them throughout the years. And having recognizable faces gives their customers confidence.

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“People are confident that we aren’t trying to take advantage of them and we’re fair,” Zangrilli says. “We have a good rapport with our customers, and in turn they spread the word.”

Zangrilli says each time they expanded was a gut check: “The increase in everything was scary,” she says. Also scary for them, and many other retailers, was the drop in the market in 2009. They diversified and began offering snowplowing services. So while most bemoaned the brutal winter this year, Paradise was still turning a profit.

“Because we had such a horrible winter, it was good for us,” Zangrilli says. “I didn’t have the stress of trying to figure out where I was going to get the money to pay the winter bills, which keep coming even though there was no business.”

Overall business is also recovering from the countrywide recession; people are just spending differently now, Zangrilli says: “Before we put in a lot of in-ground pools. Now we’re doing a lot of above-ground pools, which is fine. I’ll take whatever business we can get.”

After adding a new spa brand, they’ve seen that business increase as well.

But for some reason they just can’t get away from fire. “The other day my son [Doug, who is in charge of service and installations] and the guys were on the way to a service call when they happened to see a house on fire,” Zangrilli says. “They stopped, went next door and grabbed the hose and put the fire out. It was just good karma.”