It’s January, and it’s 18 degrees outside the Waller Pools and Spas building on Eoff Street.
And Waller’s was open as it is each day from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., but not for a clearance sale on artificial Christmas trees. The owners got out of that business this year after more than two decades, so on this day and every frigid one to follow until the weather warms in April or May, owners Jeff and Lauren Craig, and full-timer Nathan Martin will, well, sell pools, hot tubs, and Jacuzzis to anyone daring the elements.
The above-ground versions begin at 12-feet wide and extend all the way to 33, and the hot tubs and Jacuzzis can fit from two to eight bathers depending upon what the customer wants the price tag to read. The walk inside the store, though, brings quickly one of those smells of summer, that “chlorine-clean” odor usually sniffed only, well, at poolside.
“There isn’t much of a pool business in January, but because people do take advantage of our layaway plans, we do still have people coming in to see us to make those payments during the winter months because when it warms up in a few months, they want that pool in their yards,” Lauren said. “At this time of year, though, it’s mainly the three of us here at the store getting everything ready to go for those warmer months.
“In the pool business we find that we do have do a lot of what we do pretty far in advance,” she continued. “For example, all of our pools, spas, and chemicals that are necessary are already ordered even though it is so cold outside. But now we are just waiting it out hoping that our winter isn’t that bad. We really do need this break each year because life moves pretty quickly once the temperatures get to a certain level.”
Preparing for the warmer months has been a smoother process during fall and winter because of the decision not to offer the usual selection of artificial trees.
“This is the first year in the past 25 years that we decided not to have the trees,” Lauren explained. “It just got harder and harder because it seems so many other companies are selling those kinds of trees these days, and that’s not to mention what’s available these days online.
“Plus, it was a huge transition for us to take the whole store down and replace everything with the tree displays,” she said. “What we found is that it was so much work that it really wasn’t worth it, and it made what we do at this time each year as far as preparing for the warm months a lot easier for all of us.”
Also this winter Lauren decided to offer classes on producing natural products such as soaps and detergents, so while Waller’s second floor showroom still features a few pool options and several hot tub and jacuzzi choices, her winter-time project is based in the space, too.
“My WallerMade classes are offered throughout the winter months every other Thursday,” she said. “We focus on learning how to make those natural products, and that includes household cleaners, too, and we also intermix cool crafts in there too. Our participants can bring their own wine and sip while they create, too, and it’s been pretty successful so far, but I would love to get the word out there even more.”
But when the ground thaws, Jeff and Nathan barely speak with each other because of how busy their workdays become. Last year’s “season” began in April, and through September the Waller crew had sold and installed more than 50 new pools, and the company currently is collecting on several layaway plans this winter.
“The store normally starts to get pretty busy in early April, and when the warmth is here to stay, that’s when Jeff and Nate really start working hard, and we also add a few people, too, each year to help them,” Lauren said. “And we really don’t stop working at that pace until the end of September. That’s when people are closing their pools and when they are planning for the next year.
“There are times when we will set one up for customers in the fall and then close it immediately so it’s ready for them the next spring. After that period we start preparing for the next year, and that’s when people start taking advantage of our layaway program,” she said. “They just put a small amount down in the beginning and make the monthly payments, and that also gets them an early installation date in the spring, and that also means they are getting last year’s price for the pool that they choose instead of risking an increase in price for pretty much the same pool when the new models come out this year.”
While Lauren manages office operations on a 12-month basis, Jeff and Nathan pound the pavement to perform site inspections, necessary excavation, and pool and spa installations until the final unit is delivered and fully operational.
“When the weather does finally warm up, the three of us barely have the time to talk to each other,” Jeff said with a laugh. “We work as hard as we can and as fast as we can, and we work as many hours as we can so our customers can jump into that pool as soon as possible. It really does feel as if we are playing catch-up the entire summer.
“And we do sometimes get a little slap-happy from the heat, so we do tend to laugh a lot,” he continued. “But once the season is over and all of that work is behind us, we do need the break, and that’s a pretty satisfying time because all of us know that we did the best work we could have possibly done.”
The consumers in the Upper Ohio Valley have a lot of options when it comes to purchasing pools, hot tubs, and Jacuzzis, but the folks running this business, one soon to celebrate its 50th anniversary since starting as a janitorial supplier in 1967, are content with the volume of clients other outfits seem to send in their direction.
“We take what we do very seriously, and I think people have learned that through the years. We seriously will not stop working on the job until everything is the way the customer expected it to be,” said Jeff, who has been with the company for seven years. “And we’re here after the installation, too, to answer all of their questions and to continue to offer them the guidance they need each spring when it’s time to set it up again, and again in the fall when it’s time to close it.
“That’s what brings a lot of our customers to us, and that is thanks to word-of-mouth,” he continued. “We don’t go away.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)