Photography by Gedeon T. Kele
For several years, Anita Minervino attempted to manage the water chemistry in her North Myrtle Beach backyard pool on her own. “I often got it wrong,” she recalls. “My pool would turn and look like split-pea soup, and it would always happen right before I was supposed to have a party or my daughter’s birthday.”
About 15 years ago, Minervino came across a copper-silver ionization technology developed 50 years ago by NASA engineers to keep drinking water safe on the early Apollo space missions. She paid for a unit to be installed on her swimming pool and the water stayed perfectly clear with reduced chemical usage. “All summer long, I sat there with my mouth wide open saying ‘I can’t believe this, I can’t believe this,’ ” she recalls.
Minervino started telling everyone she knew about the technology and the results she experienced in her own pool. She realized the technology was compliant with the Department of Health and Environmental Control regulations for commercial swimming pools. With more than 20 years’ experience in sales and marketing, Minervino saw an opportunity and started Coastal Pure, Inc., in 2008. She hired Charlie Nill as her operations manager — he still holds the position and the two are now engaged — and they began selling and installing ionization units to commercial pools in the area.
It didn’t come easily in the beginning, however. “People thought it was snake oil,” she says. “I got a lot of resistance from the pool industry itself, and it slowly dawned on me that it was because people profit from the resale of chemicals. I get it, but this gives people a second layer of sanitation protection in their pool. So I went out there with all gusto and talked to a lot of great people, and we got hired [to install the units].”
The transition to an ionization system is relatively easy. “We can put an ionization system in while there’s a water aerobics class in the pool,” Minervino says of the aftermarket product. “You cut through the PVC and put an electrode of copper and silver right into the waterline, you mount the transformer box on a wall and you plug it into a 110 GFI and it’s done. It’s a plumbing fixture. We don’t change the way the pool works, we change the way the water is sanitized.”
Ironically, Minervino had no intention of being in the pool service business. Selling and installing the ionization units as Coastal Pure was initially her side gig, while she also worked as the international sales manager for Luxury Hotel Publications.
“It soon dawned on me, however, that the pool operators — the people actually on the ground taking care of these big, giant beautiful community swimming pools — were not on board with this technology,” she says.
When Minervino would follow up with some of the HOAs Coastal Pure sold an ionization unit to, they were reporting that the results she promised weren’t happening. Upon inspection, she discovered some of the service providers were intentionally working against her.
“I found that they had crisscrossed wires so it would look like the unit was working, but it wasn’t,” she recalls. “One guy sabotaged the pool by putting eight times the normal amount of metal into the pool and then sat back while I got very anxious over the course of a month, thinking I was going to have to refund money because I couldn’t get the pool to ionize.”
In 2010, Coastal Pure became a commercial pool service company, and soon HOAs who purchased ionization units from the company also hired Coastal Pure for their pool service needs. Minervino and Nill became certified pool operators and hit the pavement. “I got a great tan and was really tired,” Minervino recalls. “It was a total switch from what I’d been doing my whole life, but I loved it.”
Minervino continued to work during the winter months for Luxury Hotel Publications, traveling all over the world. By 2018, Coastal Pure had grown to the point that she could no longer manage both jobs, and Minervino officially resigned from sales that year. The company now has seven trucks on the road and 12 technicians that take on service routes in pairs over a 60-mile radius.
While she’s out of that industry now, Minervino’s sales experience still comes in handy, not only for finding new clients but also for recruiting service technicians. She’s found a niche market for employees within the retired community. “I write these silly jingle commercials that are played on talk radio,” she says. “It’s hysterical: ‘Got some spare time in the morning? Need a little jingle in your pocket?’ The phone rings off the hook, and I have to tell the radio station to take [the ad] off the air.”
While some of them don’t hear as well as they used to, Minervino says they are reliable employees. “These men show up, they’re clean,” she says. “They’re never late and they do the job like nobody else.” Minervino has two women on her crew, one of whom is part of a husband-and-wife service team. “I have a mermaid, too,” she says. “Her only job for the company is to clean the waterline tiles and she gets in the pool to do that, so we call her a mermaid.”
While about 50% of Minervino’s time is spent doing administrative tasks for the company (the office is out of her home), she also works four days a week in the field with her crew, picking a team and running the route with them.
The company provides service, including repairs, for HOA communities only (though several ionization systems have been installed on local hotel pools). Several of the pools are large resort-style facilities; Coastal Pure recently signed one that is 345,000 gallons. And with South Carolina health code for commercial pools requiring service to be done seven days a week in season (April to October) and two days a week in the winter for a total of 225 days a year, Minervino says it’s plenty of work to keep up with the 24 pools currently contracted. She can now be choosy about the clients she takes on and rein in the service radius to make things easier moving forward. “I see us bringing our service within maybe a 20-minute radius,” she says, so her crew doesn’t have to drive over an hour one way to get to a client pool. “We’re in a resort market. I can throw a stone and hit 400 pools. We’ve paid our dues. I can pick and choose [our clients], so I feel like I’ve arrived.”