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Top 100 Family Business: A family – and business – bound together

🕐 3 min read

Claffey Pools

1625 Brumlow Ave.

Southlake 76092

817-488-5795

www.claffeypools.com

It started, appropriately enough, with a phone call from a family member.

Paul Claffey, a stonemason, was finding it tough going in Wisconsin in 1982. Winters were hard and more important, they slowed down construction.

At the same time, Claffey’s brother-in-law, Bobby Brzozowski, also a stonemason, headed south to Texas, lookin’, as the song says, for love. That he didn’t find, but the brokenhearted mason dried his tears long enough to see a land of opportunity – and more moderate weather. He phoned Claffey and said he needed to check out Texas. Claffey saw that same opportunity.

Five years later, with his family firmly ensconced in the state, he began his new pool company, Pools by Paul Claffey, with the motto, “Quality is our commitment to you.” But motto’s don’t mean much if you don’t have customers. Claffey called on 25 prospective clients and got 25 rejections. Finally, one family made a commitment. From the beginning, it was a family business. Daughter Shelly became the secretary, permit runner and accounts receivable collector, and she and her husband even opened a small pool cleaning business on the side to learn more about the pool industry.

Business was growing to the point that, in 1989, Claffey hired his first non-family employee, Jim Reynolds, to form a three-man construction team along with his younger son, Brian.

By 1993, Claffey’s vision for the company had expanded and he offered his three children – Charlie, Brian and Shelly – an interest in the company.

Along the way, the company was setting the stage for a new round of growth. While many of the company’s early designs were sketched out on a napkin at a Denny’s restaurant, changes were in store. The company, eventually known as Claffey Pools, upgraded its communications systems, accounting procedures and scheduling process. In 2008, Charlie Claffey developed a proprietary computer-based pricing model that guarantees accuracy and timely pricing within 10 minutes.

The company has also been involved in the community in a variety of ways. It has adopted Wounded Warriors as an ongoing charity, while Paul Claffey and his wife, Barb, have served on the board of GRACE (Grapevine Relief And Community Exchange) for several years

Charlie Claffey, now president, served on the Better Business Bureau’s board of directors for four years, with one year on the executive committee.

In 2004, the Claffeys triggered the succession plan by selling the company to their three children.

As of 2016, the company has built over 7,500 pools and will likely approach the 8,000 mark this year. The company now has 76 year-round employees and a location in Weatherford. Pool and Spa News ranks it as the largest pool builder in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, the second-largest in Texas, and the fifth-largest in the United States, determined by residential pool construction.

But the company has not just built pools, it has moved the industry forward with innovations. Paul Claffey patented the Home Saver System, a fire support system that allows a swimming pool to provide up to 30,000 gallons of water to suppress the early stages of a home fire. The system is now licensed to other pool builders. Brian Claffey has patented a pool structure system.

“We pride ourselves on building the best product in the industry,” says Charlie Claffey.

While Claffey notes that nearly 20 family members now work at the 80-employee firm, they all work as a team, he said. “Our average tenure here is over a decade and that means a lot,” he says.

During the 2008 recession, the company went into debt to keep those employees and the decision paid off in the long run, Claffey says. “Coming out of that we didn’t have to retrain people,” he says. “Developing culture is real hard. You can’t just have slogans hanging on the wall, you’ve got to see it in how [that employee] handles a situation.”

That focus on corporate culture has apparently worked. This year the company expects to do about $30 million in business. And that first family that took a chance on Paul Claffey when he was starting out? During the company’s 25th anniversary celebration, they chose Claffey Pools to build a second pool.

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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