Pool and spa maintenance and repair services; 90 accounts per week in commercial, Airbnb and residential properties
Michelle Watson stands out in male-dominated pool industry
Her grandmother broke the mold as a real-life “Rosie the Riveter,” repairing airplanes during World War II. Following in her footsteps, Michelle Watson is blazing a trail for women in the male-dominated pool industry.
As the owner of Shell’s Pool & Spa Service, Watson specializes in pool and spa maintenance as well as repairs for commercial, Airbnb and residential properties in the Ventura, California, area. Named the nation’s Best Female Pool Technician at the 2022 Pool Nation awards in Las Vegas, her hard work has made her a strong force in the industry.
“I take it as my duty to see that everything is running efficiently,” Watson says. “I am not there just to service the pool. I am there to maintain all of the equipment and water chemistry levels so that everything is working at top notch.”
Watson has always had a “love for water and fixing things.”
Before joining the professional pool industry, Watson spent much of her life in the ocean. She worked as a chef on scuba dive boats, where she lived ocean adventures every day. During the off seasons, she helped with maintenance, repairs and other types of assistance on sport fishing boats. She even served as a deckhand on her husband’s professional crab fishing boat while surfing and scuba diving in her free time.
“I’m just an ocean-lover, period,” she says. When her son was born 16 years ago, she pursued a more land-dwelling career to be closer to him. Watson worked on the maintenance staff of a 90-unit apartment complex. There she learned plumbing and electrical basics, skills she still uses in servicing pools today.
‘A weird calling’
Watson was surprised by her interest in pool maintenance. She says she talked to every pool technician she met until she found one that hired her for part-time work on her off days. Soon, she began working for him full-time.
“It was a weird calling that literally came out of nowhere,” she says.
After a year, she felt confident in her knowledge and abilities. Then, a commercial property contacted her personally for pool service. With her bosses’ blessing, Watson quickly procured a license and all the necessary insurance to manage commercial pools. Word of her work spread, and her business grew rapidly.
“I spent years working seven days a week just to make ends meet and worked really hard to build my business to where it is now,” she says.
Watson may be a natural leader, but entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. For 15 years, Watson managed all aspects of Shell’s Pool & Spa Service, from marketing to finances and everything in between. Just last year, she hired her husband, former professional fisherman Robert Wolf, to help her service customers.
“It’s been great watching her grow,” Wolf says. “Especially in the last couple of years. During the pandemic, she took on more pools, and I tagged along with her and helped her out.” Wolf says that 25 years of fishing had taken its toll on his body, and choosing to help his wife was a welcome escape. He observes that as a boss, she is a bit of a workhorse. “She has an A++ work ethic,” he says. “I mean, she’s meticulous. She is an extremely hard worker, and not for a woman, but as far as anybody goes. She doesn’t cut corners.”
That work ethic can be a double-edged sword when the family wants her to take time off for a vacation or a holiday, but Watson feels that no one entering the industry can do so without being willing to put in a lot of work.
“The pool industry is unique,” Watson says. “You have to learn chemistry, electrical, plumbing, local health department guidelines, state requirements, accounting, insurance requirements and just managing your business well so it’s profitable. The biggest challenge is managing your time to get everything done in both the business side and on the job site efficiently to keep your customers happy and to maintain a smooth-running business.”
- Sponsor -
The work can be difficult and true off days are few and far between, but Watson says gratitude drives her to continue.
“I appreciate being my own boss and working outside,” she says. “When I have tough days, I just think of sitting inside a cubicle and then appreciate what I’m doing.”
She says the repair side is “refreshing” as well. New products and problems keep Watson learning every day.
“It doesn’t get stagnant,” she says.
Pros helping pros
Watson is also grateful for the support and education she received from her first employer in the pool industry. Along with the pool care training, Watson learned from him valuable lessons in customer service and business management like keeping good records and always answering the phone.
“I think the most important thing with him is he had such a great personality,” she says of her former employer. “He’s just really friendly, and I think that goes a long way with your customers — always being happy, positive. You want to go in someone’s backyard and be sunshine for them.”
That supportive, helpful attitude seems to pervade the whole pool industry, in Watson’s experience. As a board member of the Independent Pool and Spa Service Association’s Ventura chapter, Watson is friends with many industry colleagues. These “brothers,” as she calls them, support her and each other in many ways, like discussing ideas or problems and even servicing each other’s customers when a member is sick or injured.
“We help each other out, teach each other and build each other up,” she says. “They have taken me on, and they treat me like a little sister.”
The future awaits
Shell’s Pool & Spa Service is at a pivotal point. While Watson has a vision for growth, she wants to maintain the family-like, personal service her customers have come to love. Whatever the future holds for her business, Watson is excited about the recent growth and future potential of the pool industry.
“It has been wonderful to see how the pool industry has been recognized the past few years,” she says. “We are more than people who come scoop leaves out of your pool. There is so much involved behind the scenes. We are skilled men and women who have spent years learning the trade.”
Watson says it is important for industry professionals to extend support and kindness to new pool professionals, just as so many have done for her.
“We are all in this together,” she says. “I want all pool professionals to succeed and be the best we can be.”