Reflecting Lives and Living

Southernwind Pools Inc.
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Looking back on his legacy, John Versfelt has a lot to be proud of.

Cleaning pools in the late 1970s gave the aspiring young man plenty of firsthand experience and a taste for the industry, which led him to create his own company, Southernwind Pools. Decades later, after 5,000 pool projects and dozens of awards, Versfelt’s hard work and dedication have put Southernwind into the top five percent of all pool builders and helped him outlast the competition.

Where pool companies invariably go out of business in 10 to 20 years, Southernwind is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2023. Plans for suitable celebrations are still in the works, but there will be internal acknowledgments and festivities with the company’s dedicated staff.

CEO Versfelt worked part-time for a couple of years, while still going to school. In 1983, he went all-in. He quit his other job, wrote himself a business check and deposited it in his personal account, and said to himself, ‘This is how I’m going to live, and I’m going to run this business.’

Ambition meets vision
Back in the day, an inspiration for Versfelt was a friend who worked for a plumbing company but was also moonlighting at another job. As soon as he got enough business, he left that other job and ventured out on his own. “That resonated with me because that usually doesn’t happen,” says Versfelt, who gave 100 percent to his new enterprise.

“It’s kind of like the Vikings. When they invaded a country, they would burn their boats when they arrived to make sure they had no alternatives. ‘We’re here, we’re going to dominate, we’re going to take over, and we’re going to burn our boats because we are not going home.’ When I quit my job, I went all in. And I knew that if I had a sense that I had to make it, I’d go all in, and I did.”

At the time, he was doing a lot of apartment complex cleaning and repair work. To get more business, he went to the complex offices, offering his services. At first, just one out of 20 apartment managers showed interest. Soon word got around, and his cleaning and repair schedule filled up. Advertising in the Yellow Pages at the time soon earned Versfelt renovation work and occasional opportunities to build pools, which took Southernwind to the next level.

Diversity and survival
Headquartered in McKinney, Texas, Southernwind Pools serves clients in the Greater Dallas / North Texas area, providing new pools, renovation, and maintenance / repair services. Versfelt says diversity is a key reason for the company’s longevity. About 99 percent of all pool builders in Dallas haven’t been in business for 40 years: Southernwind is in the one percent category.

As he says, anyone can jump in and become a pool builder in the short term, yet 80 to 90 percent of those companies fail. The real challenge comes with making the right decisions for the business in the months and years ahead.

“My opinion is that when times get tough, a lot of people bail,” says Versfelt. “Companies choose to close their doors because of the challenges. The industry has always been on a roller-coaster, just like the economy,” he says.

“We see interest rates up in the high single digits. I’ve been around when they were in double digits, and I’ve been around when they were in the low singles. I was around before they had equity loans in Texas, allowing you to borrow against your home for home improvements,” he shares.

“I’ve seen companies go really big and go really small. So I think if I were to contribute as to why I’m around longer than others, I just never quit.”

Dreams become reality
From a one-man business, Southernwind Pools has grown to a team of 37 today. And the company has a stellar reputation with homeowners and home builders—although not surprisingly, given the intensity of Versfelt’s decades-long dedication to every facet of the industry, and to providing clients with knockout pools.

Knowing that an important part of every pool’s appeal is the way it reflects the owner’s personality and taste, Southernwind commits to creating a total backyard experience.

“Outdoor living is not an afterthought,” says the company’s website. “It’s part of the total package from the start.” With pools the sparkling heart of many a backyard, and a way of life, Southernwind brings other elements into the design, such as custom-designed outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, fire pits, pergolas and cabanas, and even putting greens and sports courts.

At its spacious showroom, clients can see and touch hundreds of samples, including over 500 different tiles, stones, pavers, coping, and water features to realize their backyard visions. “People design their homes, they don’t build their homes,” says Versfelt. “We design their backyards, and then we build their backyards.”

Pool paradise
With an extensive portfolio of new pools (see www.southernwindpools.com/new-pools) over the years, one of the most ambitious was part of the Luxe Home and pool project for the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and the Junior League of Dallas charity event.

The pool was designed and built together with a high-end, $10 million, 20,000 square foot home. “With more than 5,000 square feet of covered outdoor living areas, we worked closely with both the interior and the exterior architects to come up with a separate pool and spa combination that would be appropriate for this high-visibility project,” says the company, adding that “views from the third floor are spectacular.”

Featured in Luxe Magazine, the new, fully furnished home was sold for charity and realized about $12 million.

Among the pool’s many outstanding features (a special six-inch raised coping, 20-foot (6.096 m) radius vanishing edge “with five laminar jets with fiber optics shooting back toward the home,” eight additional laminar jets on pool sides, tumbled Travertine deck and grass seating area) was its Persian rug-style glass tile mosaic on the pool floor.

In the industry, glass tile is a luxury item and selling feature, and can add $50,000 or more to the cost of a pool.

Award-winning work
The proud recipient of over 50 design awards—including some from their peers—Southernwind Pools is ranked among the Top 50 Builders in the pool and spa industry nationwide by Pool & Spa News magazine. Some considerations include years in service, quality ratings, awards, and customer satisfaction.

Unlike most pool companies, Southernwind prefers hiring designers fresh to this particular industry. “No experience required, just be artistic and have motivation, which is the key,” says Versfelt.

What he really likes are motivated people who are trainable and understand software and concepts, and how to build relationships with customers. “My personal experience is, there are a lot of people out in the industry that have been doing it, and the common response I get from these people when they interview is that they’ve ‘done it all,’ which is actually a handicap when they say that.”

So instead of hiring people who have been in the pool industry for years, Versfelt prefers to take on those who understand there is a road ahead of them, which is apparent from the initial interview.

“Bring in somebody who’s got all the talent to do it? My question is, why weren’t they doing it where they were before?” he says. “And there’s usually an obvious reason. They’re moving around, want to work less and make more money. Can’t blame anybody for that, but they can’t do it here.”

Reflections on a pool
Looking back on his many years in the industry with pride, John Versfelt speaks candidly about how the sector, and the public’s perception of pools, has grown.

“When I first started selling pools, they were $20,000. Now they are $150,000. They didn’t go up in price, they just went up in expectations, and backyards have turned into environments,” he says. “The bonus is, you get to swim in the pool. It’s not just about cement ponds, but about taking 10,000 square feet of a backyard and turning it into an environment where you’re enjoying the game on the TV, cooking, and entertaining,” he says.

“I often refer to the backyard as a scrapbook of your life. Your prom photos, your graduations, your birthday parties, your snow photos—everything’s going to be taking place in your backyard; in fact, your house is going to be volunteered for the booster club football party and the cheerleader party, because everybody wants to spend time in your backyard. Who doesn’t love to entertain? Everybody does.”

During the pandemic, many clients were forced to stay at home, which saw them invest in their properties, says Versfelt. Compounded over three years, the company’s business actually increased by about 15 percent.

At 63 years old, Versfelt says he can see himself working until he is 70, continuing to manage people who in turn are managing others. “I’ve got a lot of dashboards that I look at with regard to sales, deposits, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and I kind of manage the teams,” he says. “So my focus is not micromanaging the process, but managing the folks who are doing the work, so that we can go to the next step and create opportunities.”

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