One way to cool off in the summer? Immerse yourself into an inviting body of water. The easiest and most convenient way to do that? When you've got a pool in your own backyard! For the professional swimmer and “water treader" alike, there’s nothin' like a bit of cold water to stave off the heat.
Evansville’s Kelley family understands this pool fever more than anyone. For 65 years, F.T. Kelley & Sons has been building and installing pools in the area. We spoke to Jake Kelley, grandson of the founder (who also happens to be the current sales manager of the biz), to learn more. Ahoy, matey!
Where did founder Floyd T. Kelley get the idea to start this business?
“It was born out of necessity. My great-grandfather was a contractor and worked with concrete, so my grandfather picked that up from him. There was a local pool place that was subcontracting our family to do most of the work. When they closed, my grandfather took advantage. He got his sons, Wayne and Chris Kelley, and nephews to help work. By the late 70s they were pretty well known for their work, and then in 1983 they opened up the first location.”
Did you always know you’d be part of the family business?
“Of course I helped out with the business when I was younger, but my dad allowed me to take a little break. I went off to college without feeling pressure to get a degree relevant to the pool industry. However, the more I spent time in academia, I realized the skills I was learning could be brought back to the pool industry. After I graduated, I knew that this is where I wanted to be.”
Do you have any favorite memories?
“I’ve been doing this my whole life. During my childhood, my dad was really growing the business. Back in those days, he would drive up in Indiana to get a pool kit. Now, we can warehouse steel here, but as a kid I would go with him in his truck on these long trips. We had a lot of father-son time. It’s one of my favorite memories because it was good, quality time and also because it is a pinpoint of when things were small and how, with hard work and a lot of luck, things can grow. And here we are today.”
Speaking of growth, how do you see the business continuing to grow?
“We’ve enjoyed branching out into customization. Back in my grandfather’s day, the only customization would be to make things bigger. Everything was cookie cutter. Now, we’ve had a lot of growth in being able to customize. And in another 10 years, if we keep on top of technologies and styles, we’ll be able to do even more.”
“Evansville’s taste is evolving and people want feature-rich pools. As a way forward, I say we’ll hang our hat on customization. We’re in a pretty good position for long-term growth.”
Has Evansville been a good community for your business?
“It took being away from Evansville in college for me to understand how special this town is. It’s such an Americana demographic. It’s a small town, but it’s got culture and things to do. There’s a lot of history. But because Evansville is small, it doesn't go faceless. This allows us to really know our neighbors. It allows us not only to have business relationships, but also neighbor relationships.”
Is there anything Evansville folks should know about F.T. Kelley & Sons that they may not already know?
“Well, it’s kind of funny, but also frustrating at times. People don’t realize how small we actually are as far as the day-to-day operations go. The biggest compliment we get is “are you a franchise?” We’ve got an awesome staff. Tara runs the service department, my sister Lauren does the books, and I do all sales, design, and permitting to allow the artisans (my dad and uncle) to focus on doing the absolute best work possible.”
“Even though we have such a small staff, the business feels bigger to people than what it actually is. Some people think we have 15 service trucks and a call center, but it’s literally two ladies in an office and two service trucks and myself.”
you do such great work with such a small team!
“We do try to make sure our staff feels appreciated. My dad always says that all he expects is for people to bring as much to the business as they take away. Obviously they can bring more, but as long as it’s an even give and take.”
Is that something your grandfather instilled in the business?
“Floyd passed away in 2012, but his vision still lives on. My grandfather really had a way he wanted to run the business and we still keep that today. He would get in the shop at 7am and be the last one out the door. He would be the one to personally return calls. We have so much of Floyd in us, that – we want to always keep things hands on. We always want to be the people you talk to and the faces you see. We want you to recognize us when you work with us over the years. This is something my grandfather really wanted and thought was important.”
It’s an upper to see family-owned and operated business doing so well in Evansville. There’s just a special level of care and genuineness that you won’t always get from a chain. Check out F.T. Kelley & Sons online if you like. To stay up-to-date and local, don't forget to download Towny. It's free :)