For some visitors to the Kansas State Fair, they may refer to the annual trip to Hutchinson as Easter-time.
That’s when Pools Plus customers from around the state stop by the company’s booth to visit with Brad and Jane Easter or other members of the family who’ve joined the business over the years.
Despite being one of their busiest times of the year, Pools Plus and the Easters have had a booth at the fair for 30 years, which is as long as the business has operated in Hutchinson, said Jake Easter, the son of company founder Brad Easter.
In that time, Easter estimated, they’ve installed upwards of 700 backyard pools around the state, as well set up hundreds of spas, saunas and outdoor cooking areas.
“The fair is pretty important for us,” Jake Easter said. “If it weren’t we would not be there. It’s a lot of work setting up and it's during our busiest time of the year… It earns us some new customers, but it also generates a lot of name recognition. People stop in to see us every year and we get customers from far away who just say hi.”
Pools Plus was recognized as the Hutchinson / Reno County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Month for September, receiving its award, appropriately enough, during the Chamber’s meeting last week at the fair.
Brad, now 65, got his start in the pool business working for another Hutchinson pool installer and service company. In 1987 he decided there was enough local business to set out on his own, opening the original Pools Plus at 20 N. Main, primarily as a pool serving company.
His wife Jane, a school teacher, would show up after school was out to staff the business while Brad went out on service calls. She also managed to company books for years. Last year, she stepped back from the business.
After a couple of years, the business expanded, moving to its current location at 21 E. First Ave. It has since expanded again, taking over 23 E. First as well. The staff also grew, from Brad and Jane to 15 today during their peak season.
Having more space allowed the business us to expand the products it offered.
Besides installing in-ground and above-ground swimming pools, it offers new and pre-owned hot tubs, two lines of outdoor patio furniture, grills, swimming pool and hot tub chemicals, supplies and accessories such as toys and floats, as well as swimming pool and hot tub maintenance and service.
Jake, now 35, joined the family business in 2005 and worked side-by-side with his dad running it.
“I’ve worked there in the summers since I was 14,” Jake said.
After high school, he went off to Emporia State University, thinking he’d be a teacher like his mother, but after three years, he opted for the family business instead.
“After going through the classes, I decided it wasn’t for me,” he said of teaching.
More recently, Jake’s sister Sarah, 39, and her husband, Bryan Rodriguez, 38, also joined the company. Sarah also initially went into teaching, earning her Master’s degree and working as a counselor and teacher at USD 308. A year ago, however, she joined her parents and sibling full-time.
“She’s running the retail side,” Jake said. “Her husband joined us last year as well and he’s mainly focusing on new construction.”
“I enjoy the interaction, on a daily basis, with all our long-standing customers we’ve gotten to know so well over the years,” he said. “Also meeting new ones every day who, hopefully, will be long-standing ones 20 years from now. As we build more pools every year, and sell more hot tubs, we keep that customer base growing and we’ve since opened a second location in Hays.”
Some of their customers have had them build multiple pools, and “two or three or four hot tubs,” Easter said.
That was in April 2017. The business there is operated by another partner, Easter said, who once worked at the Hutchinson store.
One of their biggest challenges is the seasonality of the industry, though milder winters have allowed them to extend the installation season later into the year.
“April through October is the biggest portion of our business,” Easter said, “though we still have the retail store set up and we still get a good number of hot tubs we service all winter. We have a lot of people who like the water and like to have something still available when the pool closes in the fall.”
They’ve been selling hot tubs at the fair, and from their storefront, since the business started, Easter said. Over the years, however, there has been a lot of improvement in energy efficiency and the use of spas for health.
“We appreciate the community,” Jake Easter said. “It’s a wonderful customer base that has allowed us to continue to grow over the years. We’ve also enjoyed helping out the community, with different aspects of charity and youth teams whenever possible.”
Beneficiaries over the years have included: Reno County Hospice, Cancer Council of Reno County, HOPS for Tech sponsor, various local and surrounding area high schools and sports teams, Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way Work Day, Boys and Girls Club, Family Children’s Theatre, and local area golf tournaments.