Mike Giovanone feels old.
The president and CEO of Concord Pools & Spas knows all the clichés of saying his company “functions like a family.” But it just so happens some of those platitudes are simply true at Concord, where many of his employees share bloodlines and last names.
“My corporate attorney used to work for me when he was in high school,” the 58-year-old Giovanone says. “He worked for me through college and law school. We have probably a dozen of our main employees’ children who now work for us. And they’ve worked for us from the time they were 14 with working papers straight through college and now into the real world.”
Just like a family, getting in with Concord Pools seems a lot easier than getting out. The average manager stays for more than three decades. For “the new guy” — the company’s newest installer, Giovanone says — his first day on the job was 18 years ago.
In the summer of 1972, Giovanone was the new guy himself, having accepted a part-time job with a company named Imperial Pools — the same year Munich held the 20th Summer Olympiad and Roberta Flack recorded the No. 1 song in America.
Seven years later, by then a college graduate, Giovanone purchased a small service business in Latham, N.Y., named Concord Pools.
“And along with a group of fine men and women,” he says, “we grew this company into one of the top three pool companies in the United States. We grew up in this business together as kids.”
When Giovanone speaks to how exactly how he built Concord Pools into the third-largest pool company in America, he talks in themes of rearing, fostering and creating. “Our culture and our belief is fairly basic,” Giovanone says. “It’s the foundation. It’s the experience.”
Giovanone says he’s found that when he gives customers an experience that exceeds expectations — from the point of sale to service after the sale — “the price and the product become secondary.”
Concord employees are paid well and held to very high standards, Giovanone says.
“We are very demanding,” he says. “Our bar is set extremely high. You must do the right thing when no one’s watching. We attract people who fit that mold. If they don’t fit that mold, believe me when I tell you, it’s like dragging a tin can behind a car with a string: It makes a ton of noise and eventually you have to let it go.”
“You recognize value,” Giovanone continues. “The last thing I want is an excavator-operator who’s worried about how he’s going to make his car payment when he’s on the job. We pay our people well…. A lot of guys in this industry, like me, are traditionalists.”
Now just two years from his 60th birthday, with a lifetime in the business on his resume and a bunch of adults he first met as newborns and toddlers on his payroll, the patriarch at Concord Pools looks not back on the accomplishments of the past but forward.
Giovanone speaks fluently in social media, smartphone apps and the burgeoning millennial demographic. He’ll tell you at length about the new boutique fiberglass pool center he’s opening in Glens Falls, N.Y.
“It’s gonna be hot,” he says. (When he got into the business, he recalls, “there were three sizes. And you could pick any shape you wanted as long as it was a rectangle.”)
Giovanone not only expects but also wants his industry
to change, and he’s prepared for his products and prices to change along with it. What won’t ever change, he says, is the familial culture he’s instilled in his company.
“Our biggest asset is our family,” he says. “We have to embrace change or we’re going to lose the industry. You have to stay abreast of the consumer. You’ll never get in front of them.”
“If you can’t have fun and really, truly enjoy what you do when you wake up in the morning, it’ll lead to a shortened life,” Giovanone says. “I’m heading into my 42nd year on the job and still when that alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m., I can’t wait to get to work. Not to talk about pools, but to talk about families, sports, whatever.”