Meet four Latinos bringing accessibility and ingenuity to the pool industry
For U.S. businesses to thrive in times of change, it’s essential for their message to hit home with people of all abilities, languages and colors. According to the United States Census, the Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million between 2000 and 2010, accounting for over half of the 27.3 million increase in the total population of the United States in that decade. In the same time period, the Hispanic population grew by 43% — four times the growth in the total population, which was 10%.
Pool companies are certainly not alone in realizing the importance of having native Spanish speakers in leadership positions, on the show floor, in the field and in their marketing — not only to communicate with new pool owners and industry professionals, but also to reach more potential customers. The need is present and growing to offer educational courses, websites and social media in Spanish, and encourage more native Spanish speakers to join this career-focused industry. Here are just four of the many Latino standouts who are using their stories and skills to better the pool industry.
In early 2020, Miguel Chavez was a professional swimmer in San Diego enduring twice-a-day training sessions with dreams of making it to the Olympics. It was exhausting — and it also wasn’t paying the bills. His coach, David Marsh, knew it too — so he kept his ear to the ground for employment opportunities for Chavez. In January 2020, Eric Knight of Orenda Technologies was paying an early morning visit to Marsh, with whom he’d also trained.
It turned out that Knight wanted to hire a college graduate who was a swimmer and also spoke Spanish. “David got me out of the pool in my Speedo,” Chavez recalls, “and introduced me to Eric.”
The interview process began quickly — as in, right there on the edge of the pool. “I remember he asked me how much I’d like to be paid,” Chavez says, “and I was like ‘Wait, are you offering me a job right now?’ ” Knight hired Chavez because their Spanish-speaking market was growing, and they wanted to offer free education, Chavez says. He was first hired part-time to translate web content, social media, videos and such, but soon also began conducting training classes in Spanish. He has also been teaching himself content creation, video production and video editing.
His ideal project for the future? “That everyone in Orenda is going to speak Spanish!” he says, only half joking.
Chavez, who lives and works remotely in Georgia, was born and raised in Mexico, came to the United States at 17 speaking no English, and by 2018 had graduated with a degree in engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Missouri.
Swimming is still a huge passion for Chavez, who is now a business developer and sales manager at Orenda. Though it was a longtime goal, he did not qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo last year. Since then, he has shifted toward viewing swimming as a beloved hobby that keeps him in shape. “That’s sort of where it all ended,” he says, “but at the end of the day, I’m swimming because it gives me a healthier life.”
In 2018, Jhonn Torrico heard from a relative that Summit Pools was looking to hire. At the time, he was working at the local YMCA doing maintenance and as supervisor for the facilities. As he worked on beautification, and cleaning pools and equipment, he became really interested to learn more about the industry. So, when he heard Summit was hiring, his ears perked up.
Torrico is a service technician and does equipment sales, and as of this year has also been creating 3-D pool designs. He is self-taught in this arena, but prior to moving to the United States from Bolivia nine years ago, he was working in IT on development systems, design and advertisements.
Once his boss at Summit, Kevin Barry, showed Torrico the ropes of pool design software, his interest took off; he’s already sold two of his pool designs. Torrico also puts together pool automation and panel systems.
Most challenging so far has been an infinity-edge pool design that Torrico is still working on. “We had to do terrain elevations, and I had to research how to do spillovers and stuff like that,” he says.
Someday, Torrico would like to own an independent design studio for pools and spas, especially during the offseason. “I’ve shared that with Kevin, and that’s my goal,” he says.
When he is not working, Torrico can be found enjoying any number of sports, but especially tennis and racquetball. When it gets really cold in Pennsylvania, he’d love to travel back to Bolivia and play sports all day long with his family in the warm air.
His wife, who is also from Bolivia, really wanted to move to the United States and had relatives in Pennsylvania. When the couple first arrived, she got a job as a bank teller and he worked in an office, eventually graduating from a technical institute.
- Sponsor -
Right now, Summit is short staffed but is having a “fantastic” season so far, Torrico says. “We’re hoping for more additions to the team,” he says. “We’re really busy, which is good.”
He’s especially excited to see those first pools he designed become reality next year. “It was really satisfying,” he adds, “and the homeowners were really happy.”
Emmanuel Calderon has worked at Cavanaugh Pools for four years, and currently supervises three people as the head above-ground pool installer. In the last two – incredibly busy – years, Calderon has installed more than 350 above-ground pools.
Before joining Cavanaugh, he worked for another local pool company and says he has always enjoyed the job because it lets him be outdoors. The father of four has lived in Kentucky for 22 years, having first come here at age 17 from Mexico with his father, who worked for farmers. Calderon learned English bit by bit through various jobs.
Before entering the industry, Calderon was a factory worker. When he was laid off, he and his wife, Alma, began wondering about having their own business as a subcontractor for the pool industry. She now works with him installing the pools, which he says is his favorite thing about the job.
“I enjoy that part,” he says, “driving together and going to lunch together.” Calderon says he is grateful that his team works well together, and that the pay is good since demand for pools remains strong.
When he is not working, he enjoys going to restaurants and parks with his family and playing with his kids. Most of his family now lives in Kentucky as well, and he says they are surprised and happy that he started his own business. In the early days, he remembers being particularly challenged by leaks. “We had to learn, and it was hard,” he says. “Like everything, we had complaints and we were frustrated.”
Nowadays, he sails through two above-ground installations most days, and each takes about six hours. He’s working five to six days a week, and it’s really busy this season so far, he says: “Everybody wants a pool. Sometimes we don’t have enough time, and the normal wait is about a month, at least.”
Jose RiveraGonzalez answered an online job posting for Almar/Jackson Pools in Tequesta, Florida, in 2014. He knew basic plumbing, but he was a quick study and still recalls many memorable projects from his early days in the industry. The days were long and hot, but he is particularly proud of the plumbing on one job that went on to receive several design awards.
Today, he has moved up to construction supervisor, owing to his persistence in continuing his industry education both in the field and in the classroom. Over the past few years when the company was dealing with major supply shortages, Gonzalez would often be found making his own parts to ensure Almar/Jackson could keep jobs moving and stay on schedule, owner Kim Nash says.
Because pool construction is constantly changing, Gonzalez says, conjuring new ways to be creative and innovative keeps the job interesting. One of the biggest challenges of a supervisor role is time management, he says. “It’s very interesting to learn this side of the job, managing the day-to-day tasks that have to happen,” he adds, “and seeing the bigger picture of all the moving pieces that come together to make our projects work.”
Through his professional advancement, he has not lost the spark for a deep understanding of how things work. “I like to build things and take them apart at home,” he says. “Once you know how something works, it’s simple to put it together using what we have.”
Gonzalez lives with his wife and sons in nearby Indiantown, Florida, where he grew up. The foursome enjoys doing anything outdoors together, such as going to the park, fishing and walking. “We’re fortunate to live near our families,” he says, “and spend a lot of time together.”