Meet Your Merchant: Pool business a right fit for young entrepreneurs
All Seasons Pools & Spas
Grass Valley retail store: 135A W. McKnight Way, Grass Valley.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mon. through Sat.; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays.
The year was 2002 and Adam Litke was failing biology at NU. His dad was furious. At the rate things were going, a “D” would be a gift. Litke’s father offered an ultimatum.
“Either you get a C or better or you’re getting a full-time summer job,” he said, realizing that his 17-year-old may not be an immediate candidate for a four year university.
Alas, the “C” was a distant dream, so when Litke’s father spotted a “help wanted” sign in the window of All Seasons Pools & Spas in Grass Valley, he didn’t hesitate to inquire on behalf of his son. Little did Litke know that this would change the course of his life.
“The owner liked me — I worked really hard,” he said. “Once school started they wanted me to stay on. I started coming in after school every day to work.”
After graduating from high school (yes, he graduated), Litke began to take on more responsibility within the company, which at the time boasted pool maintenance services, five retail stores and pool construction. Eventually, Litke worked his way up to running the service division of the company.
When All Seasons bought Forest Pools and Spas in 2006, the former general manager, Loren Cohodes — who had spent more than eight years in the pool business — joined the company. He teamed up with Litke to oversee day-to-day operations at All Seasons.
“One day we got to talking,” said Litke. “What if we bought All Seasons together? The idea started as a joke.”
But soon it wasn’t a joke anymore, and the duo approached then-owner, Kevin Kline, with their idea.
“You two should either go out on your own or buy me out,” said Kline.
“Give us a number,” said Litke.
Having never owned businesses before, Cohodes and Litke faced an uphill battle when it came to securing a small business loan. They spent 18 months approaching banks with their plan. Eight said no. Then, at long last, one said yes. In addition to putting 25 percent down, they both put their houses up for collateral. A lot was at stake.
In February of 2015, Litke and Cohodes got their loan. They acquired all five All Seasons retail stores (Grass Valley, Roseville, Granite Bay and two in Auburn) and Kline’s customer list. They opted out of in-ground pool construction, but continue to sell above ground pools, such as Doughboy.
“We do everything: maintenance, new pumps, filters, lights, pool sweeps, heaters and hot tubs,” said Litke. “But no concrete — Kevin Kline still does pool installation — we have a good working relationship with him.”
Business is booming, said Litke, as they now have nearly 700 weekly accounts (private and public), 40 employees and a service area ranging from North San Juan to Fair Oaks. Three weeks ago, they opened their sixth retail store in Shingle Springs.
Litke, now 32, and Cohodes, 38, say they are always the youngest business owners at pool trade shows. Splitting the company 60/40, Cohodes is president, and Litke vice president.
“They aren’t quite sure what to make of this young guy with a flat bill hat and punk-ass tattoos,” said Litke, with a laugh. “They can’t believe we’ve both been working in this business for more than 15 years.”
To say the duo is committed to their company would be an understatement. Litke often puts in 14 hour days and says he’s currently in his fourth month without a day off. Holding his crew to a high standard, Litke has an employee-inspired tattoo on his forearm stating, “NOBODY CARES; WORK HARDER.”
“I’m not married — well, except to this company,” said Litke, with a laugh. And apparently Cohodes is too, as he found himself unable to make the interview for this story due to a last-minute call.
“If our service prices are higher than other pool companies — and they probably are — it’s because we hold our employees to extremely high standards,” said Litke. “We have a solid crew. I don’t want to be helicopter boss, but I want to make sure they’re doing the job right. I think a boss should be hands on and feet in — not just show up at the Christmas party.”
Litke says it sounds cliché, but the most rewarding part of his job is having a customer call and say, “My pool has never looked so good.”
“I love it when people send us pictures of their grand kids in their sparkling pool — a pool that looked like a pond the week before,” he said. “This company is my baby — we loving seeing it grow and being able to pay our employees well. To say it’s really ours, well that’s pretty cool.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
For more “Meet Your Merchant” stories go here!
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