Mari Lange, owner of Algae Eaters Pool Service, finds happiness on the go
Photography by Rodrigo mendez
What is Mari Lange’s worst nightmare? Being strapped to a desk at a nine to five.
“I’m just not one of those people who can sit and do nothing,” Lange, owner of Algae Eaters Pool Service, says. “I’m not a clock-watcher, I have to move all the time.”
And she certainly does move. At just barely over five feet tall and 60 years old, you wouldn’t guess that her job requires hours of physical labor, but Lange services around 50 pools a week by herself.
In 1978, when Lange first started working on pools, it was pretty unusual to see a woman in the business. At her first job interview, Gary Crayton from the large Bay Area Pool Service company asked her, “Why should I hire you when there’s a guy out there waiting for an interview who’s six feet tall and 200 pounds?”
“I said because I can do the job,” Lange recalls. Crayton believed her and she set out to prove herself.
“Tell me that I can’t do something and I’ll make sure that I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it better,” Lange says.
Lange worked in Tampa Bay for Crayton’s company until she could find someone to hire her in Bradenton, where she lives. Over the years, she worked for several local companies until she saved enough money to buy
a truck and start out on her own. “I’m good friends with a lot of the big pool guys in this area, because I’ve worked for all of them at one time or another,” Lange says.
Lange’s company took off quickly. “I started with 14 pools and a truck that I had to drive with a gallon of water in the back because it overheated,” Lange says. “But in two months time I had myself a new truck. My business went so fast by word of mouth, it was amazing.”
Lange loves the freedom of running her own company. She can pick and choose the customers and yards she’s willing to work with. And she no longer has to fix someone else’s mistakes.
“I always tell people who start in this business, it’s not a race to get done,” Lange says. “Take your time. Look like you’re working a little harder. Some pools are really clean, so do something extra — splash the deck, spray it off.”
Lange’s customers endear her attention to detail and customer service. Recently, she had a customer turn 100 years old, and Lange received an invitation to the swanky Ritz Carlton celebration. Her work ethic also resulted in recognition as Pleatco’s Perfect PoolGal for 2012. Lange, along with other honorees, received the award at a special dinner in New Orleans during the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo.
“It felt like somebody finally recognized all this work that I’ve been doing — all the summers, sweat, hard work and starting in the early morning hours and coming home at dark,” Lange says. “To be rewarded for that was a really good feeling.”
For now, Lange is perfectly content to still be out on her route. And when she’s finally ready to hang up her pole, maybe a desk job wouldn’t be so bad.
“I‘d like to have my sons take over, but if that doesn’t happen, I’m going to sell my business and offer to run one of the businesses for the biggest pool service company in the area,” Lange says. “That’s a dream of mine. But usually when I have a goal, I get there.”
For any women, or men for that matter, who are interested in getting into the pool service business, Lange has this advice: “Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. It is hard work but the rewards are awesome. It’s better than sitting in an office cubicle. Don’t get into it thinking it’s going to be a fun job. Get into it knowing you’re going to be working hard. Learn a lot and keep your head together. And don’t burn any bridges. It’s very important in this business — we’re all tied together.”