Art had Rembrandt. Music had Mozart. The high-end pool industry has Mark Werner, a 35-year-old entrepreneur from New Jersey, who builds million-dollar swimming holes for the rich and sometimes famous.
Even in a stagnant U.S. economy, Werner is earning a comfortable living creating designer pools for the wealthy. From waterfalls to elaborate tile selections, no detail is too small. In time, Werner—who credits his training as a Marine for his drive and success—hopes to rank among the top, master pool designers in the world.
For his rich clients, a couple hundred thousand for a pool is pocket change. "This is like 'screw you' money," Werner said. "Instead of putting it (the extra money) in the stock market, let's put it in the backyard" is their thinking, he said. (Read more: More Americans Embrace Entrepreneurship)
No Pool Party for the Industry
Thirteen years ago, Werner started what was a two-man moonlighting operation. The upstart has since flourished into a $5-million enterprise with 26 full-time employees. Caribbean Blue Pools & Spas builds roughly 20 pools a year—enough building to keep Werner working 15-hour days, seven days a week, from March through November.
Despite the sluggish economy, Werner is so busy he doesn't have time for a holiday. "Some days I don't sleep," he said. "I don't have million-dollar vacations; I take a few days in winter, when there's snow on the ground."
While Werner is lucky enough to cater to rich clients who are seemingly immune to the weak economy, the pool industry overall—comprised almost entirely of independent, family-owned companies—has been decimated by the recession and slow recovery. New U.S. pool construction has plunged 70 percent during the last seven years to roughly 50,000 pools annually from about 170,000 pools a year, said analyst Josh Darling, pool practice manager at PK Data, a market research firm.
"The recession has hammered all segments of the market, but it's the middle- and small in-ground pools that are really feeling it," Darling said. "High-income people are still making money, and can afford a pool." (Read more: Crowdfunding Site Gives Startups and Small Businesses a Boost)
Elite Pool Customers
Werner said his customers in the greater New Jersey and New York City metropolitan area include bankers, business owners and a smattering of celebrities. whose names he said he can't disclose.
A basic pool starts at $200,000, ballpark. More lavish options can run up to $2.5 million. Waterfalls and infinity edges are practically standard issue at this high end of the pool market.