Layers of Knowledge

Willingness to learn leads to industry success for CPB of the Year

Photos by: Timor Raz

Robert Blanda knows he is in good company. As the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals’ Certified Pool Builder of the Year for 2014, Blanda joins an elite group of eight previous winners. “I feel very honored,” Blanda says.

Blanda, who owns Mill Bergen Pools in Brooklyn, N.Y., began his career in the pool industry, helping install above-ground pools for Brooklyn-based Poseidon Pools, which his friend’s father owned. Blanda spent the summer prepping the ground, usually by hand, and building above-ground pools.

“By the time that day is over, you’re so tired you go straight to bed because the next day is another installation,” Blanda says. “I did that for a whole season. I made good money and had no time to spend it, so I got to save it, which was a good thing.”

When the season was over, Blanda went back to college and over the next several years worked various jobs. Then he ran into that same friend, who was interested in resurrecting their old business — and making it official. The two opened an office at the Poseidon factory, and started hiring and training a crew with hopes of doing all the installations for the above-ground pool manufacturer and retailer. “We installed 15 to 17 above-grounds a day and it was a crazy, crazy year,” Blanda says.

At the end of the season, his friend decided to move on, but Blanda was hooked. He started investigating opening his own store. “That’s how it started,” Blanda says. “Obviously there was a lot of calamity, a lot of drama and a lot of learning in this process.” He had some help, though. By introducing himself to the people building an in-ground pool for a neighbor, Blanda met Richard Sidell from Heldor Industries, who became a longtime friend and mentor, helping him to transition from above-ground to in-ground pools. Then he got involved with the Northeast Spa & Pool Association.

“My philosophy has always been: If you’re not going forward, you’re going backward,” Blanda says. “Standing still is going backwards. From concrete, I got into commercial. I also got into fiberglass, and at this point I can build anything, from one extreme to the other. That happened over a 10-year period.”

The type of projects Blanda’s company does has changed over the years. At first, the majority of pools it installed were vinyl, but now concrete has taken over, and it is doing more commercial work. And because of its proximity to New York City, more opportunities for rooftop, terrace and penthouse projects have arisen. “That’s a little more interesting to me,” Blanda says.

Blanda, a member of the board and chairman of the builders’ education committee with the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, has been working tirelessly for the last three years to make the fourth revision of the builder’s manual. This earned him the opportunity to be recognized as the CPB of the year. But Blanda also credits his membership and participation in the association with helping him to gain the knowledge to move his business forward. “There are meetings, seminars and volunteering,” Blanda says, “but along with that you also get to meet people who are driven to build this industry. Those people, and the knowledge and the friendships you make can’t be replaced.”

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Josh DeRoche