December Fiberglass Pool Dealer Spotlight: Raft to Rafters Pool and Spa, Columbus, Indiana

Every month, we chat with Thursday Pools dealers to learn more about their business and what’s trending in their area. This month, we talked to Matt Miller, owner of Raft to Rafters in Columbus, Indiana.

Tell us a little about yourself and your business.

raft to rafters
                   Founder, Lorin Johnson

Our business goes back a very long way! Here’s the story: In the 1960s, my grandfather, Lorin Johnson, who was a delivery man for Wonder Bread, was trying to convince my grandmother to move from town out into the country. She refused, because the kids loved to swim in the town pool, and they wouldn’t be able to get themselves to the pool if they moved to the country. He made her a deal by saying, “If I build us a house with a pool in the country, will you go?” She said “yes”.

And so my grandfather built the house and set about the task of finding a kit to build a pool. But everyone he talked to would only sell to him if he bought more than one kit. He finally found a place called Imperial Pools in New York state that agreed to sell him a single pool kit, so he bought it and built the pool, and they all moved to the country.

Pretty soon, a neighbor said, “Hey, can you build a pool for me?” So he did. And then another neighbor, and another… you get the picture. Pretty soon, he realized he was meant to be in the pool business. So he walked into work one day and said, “I quit. I’m starting my own business.” He had $50 to his name. But he worked so hard, day and night, and they scrimped for quite a while until he got his business up and running.

After a while, he actually became a distributor for Imperial Pools. He would drive out east every summer and load up a trailer full of pools. He helped set up multiple pool companies around this area.

My path wasn’t quite so direct. I started working in the business when I was 14, but I had my sights set on being a pilot. I went to Purdue, studied aviation and got my pilot’s license. But after 9/11, it was hard for pilots to find work. I had also dreamed of being a police officer, so I went to the police academy. But right about the time I was graduating, my grandfather, who was in failing health, asked me to come and talk to him about taking over the business. I was 25 at the time, and the idea of owning a business was a little overwhelming, but my grandfather believed I could do it, so I agreed to give it a shot. I bought the company in 2012. We now have about 20 full-time employees.

What geographic areas do you serve?

We serve most of southern Indiana. We install pools and spas throughout Columbus, Greensburg, Shelbyville, Seymour, Madison, Batesville and Connersville. We’ll go as far east as Cincinnati.

What do you love about being in the pool business?

You don’t have to convince people to buy a pool. They already know they want one. I never push. If folks aren’t 100 percent sure, I just say to them, “You know, I’ll be here next year too … there’s no rush.” I really enjoy guiding them to make the best decision for their family.

People know I’m going to give them my best price, so there’s no haggling. Some of these people’s families were customers of my grandfather’s! They know my family, and they trust me.

I also love the way a pool brings families together. When kids are in the pool, they’re not on their phones. They’re not playing video games. It’s so much easier for parents to connect with their kids and relax when they have a pool.

And last, but most importantly, I’m honored to carry on my grandfather’s legacy. I know how hard he worked to build this business.

What fiberglass pool designs and colors are the most popular among pool buyers in the areas you serve?

Just like all the other dealers, I have to say the Aspen. The tanning ledges are a must-have and the shape gives it so much character. Since 95 percent of our pools are installed with an auto-cover, the fact that it’s auto-cover ready is key. We also sell a fair amount of the Lil Bob LX. We do a lot of rural installations, so our customers have plenty of room, and they want a good sized pool.

What are the most popular add-on features in the fiberglass pools you’re installing right now?

In addition to the automatic pool covers, our most popular features are heaters and colored LED lighting packages. Lots of customers are interested in automation and being able to control their pool’s systems with their iPhones.

What do you think about Thursday Pools’ new beach entry designs?

We’ve had a couple of customers ask about the new beach entry designs, Grace and Sandal but I haven’t sold any yet. I’m looking forward to learning more about them at the 2019 Dealer Conference.

What particular challenges do you face with fiberglass pool installations in your part of Indiana?

We’re pretty lucky with soil–just a bit of clay here and there. And as I said, most of our customers have a good amount of acreage, so space isn’t much of a problem either.

What’s the cost of an average pool installation for you?

Our average fiberglass pool installation is around $73,000. That will include excavation, the pool itself, a heater, LED lighting, an automatic pool safety cover and a pretty substantial amount of concrete.

What trends have you seen emerge lately in the inground fiberglass pool industry?

I’m a HUGE fan of Thursday Pools’ Backfill Eliminator. I’m not typically an early adopter, but the minute I saw it, I thought, “Man, they’re on to something here. I have to try this.” I jumped right on it. My guys loved it right away. It’s really well built, and it’s a huge money, work and time saver, a God-send.

What have you noticed changing in pool buyers’ demographics over the years?

I would say our average customer is in their 50s, but I just had a pool buyer who was only 25! A few grandparents too.

What works for you in terms of marketing?

Most of our business is referrals. Like I said, we know these families, and they know us. If they decide they want a pool, they’re going to call us, and if their friends want a pool, they’re going to give their friends our number!

We’ve also recently thought about adding high-end basketball goals and playsets to our line-up of products. It’s just one more thing that might draw a family in.

What are your thoughts on Thursday Pools?

raft to raftersFirst of all, the fact that they have the ISO 9001 quality certification is awesome! They mentioned it so casually once in a meeting and I was like, “That is huge! You need to be shouting that from the rooftops!” A lot of my customers work for Cummins and Toyota, so that really means something to them.

I deal a lot with Ed and Pilar, and they are just wonderful people. Everyone there is. Thursday Pools puts relationships ahead of business. They will always do the right thing. If I needed them to jump in their truck and come here to help me, I know they would. They’re so smart, but so humble at the same time. I have 100 percent faith in them. How could you not continue to do business with a company like that?

What’s the secret to Raft to Rafters’ success?

Honestly, I strive to run my company the same way Thursday Pools does! I try to do the right thing for the right reason every time and develop relationships. I always try to help my customers see the big picture and look ahead to what they might want down the road. For example, if they don’t want a fire pit or a water feature now but think they might in a year or two, I can run the gas line or piping before we pour the concrete and save them thousands of dollars down the line. People appreciate that.

And also my people here. Everyone I know is talking about how they can’t find qualified workers. I’m blessed with an amazing staff and incredibly low turnover. One lady who works here used to work for my grandfather! She’s in her 80s! I can sell pools all day long, but without my employees, I have nothing.

About Raft to Rafters Pool and Spa

Raft to Rafters Pool and Spa sells and services inground and above-ground vinyl liner pools, inground fiberglass pools, spas, outdoor furniture and grills. They offer weekly maintenance, pool inspections, pool renovations and pool opening and closing service. They offer service throughout Bartholomew County and Jackson County, Indiana

About Thursday Pools

Thursday Pools designs and manufactures the world’s most durable and elegantly crafted fiberglass pools. We are ISO 9001 certified, which means that fiberglass pool shells are made with the highest standards and from the best quality material available. We are also ISO 14001 certified, which means we are committed to environmental stewardship.

Our one-piece, inground fiberglass swimming pool manufacturing facility is based out of Fortville, Indiana. At Thursday Pools, we aspire to be the world’s most respected fiberglass pool manufacturer and to help our customers create a lifetime of memories with their family and friends. Our innovations, commitment to quality and beautiful designs set us apart. Thursday Pools is the creator of the world’s first beach entry (or zero entry) fiberglass pool. Get a free estimate on the fiberglass pool of your dreams today. With Thursday Pools, your weekend starts early!