Photographs by John Parris Frantz
Forty years ago, Lou Downes started his own pool building business, along with his brother Harold, as a means of earning money to get through college. Little did he know that the fledgling business would ultimately grow into one of the most respected, innovative, and highly decorated pool building companies in the country.
From the beginning, Lou and his employees at Downes Swimming Pool Company made a constant effort to educate themselves on the ever-changing aspects of the business in order to provide their customers with the most innovative and best products available. “We’ve always been a cutting-edge company,” he says. “We have never been satisfied with the status quo, and we are always looking for new materials.”
During the initial phases of the business, Lou would often spend his vacation time surveying pool building sites and speaking with landscape architects across the country. His nationwide and even international searches, combined with his now 40 years of experience, helped him develop a thorough knowledge of the pool building business, allowing him to best serve his customers. “Our customers are people who travel a lot, and they see pools around the world,” Lou says. “They often see magazines with pictures of pools, and they want what they see. Ultimately, what we do for them ends up in magazines.”
Although aesthetic appeal is a significant element of a swimming pool, perhaps the foremost reason why pools are such highly coveted supplements to the home is their ability to bring people together. “Looking at a backyard with a beautiful pool is a ‘feel-good’ experience, like looking at a lake or the ocean,” Lou explains. “People want to gather around it because it’s a natural drawing point.” In particular, swimming pool areas are the perfect spots for celebrating holidays, birthday and graduation parties, and other family occasions.
Not only are backyard swimming pools a drawing point for family members, but they also serve as the perfect hangout spot for families with teenagers. When Lou’s children were in high school, for instance, they would often invite their friends over before prom or after the football games to spend time around the pool, which eliminated any worries about their whereabouts and gave Lou and his wife more opportunities to enjoy their children’s friends at home. “It’s a very positive product, in that way,” Lou explains. “I think backyard swimming pools are one of the most positive products you can imagine.”
In fact, Lou’s professional understanding of the pool business has been enhanced over the years by his personal experience with swimming pools. “One of the things that I bring to the table more so than any of my competitors is that my wife and I have raised five children with swimming pools in the backyard,” Lou says. “I know how pools are used by families, and I understand the important elements of the pool area design because of my own family. My competitors understand the professional aspect of pool building, but they don’t understand it from the view of owning a pool. There is a very big difference.”
Lou’s expertise in the pool building industry is further improved by his capable staff, which now includes his son Mike. With the benefit of experienced and knowledgeable employees, Lou and Mike’s clients have an entire network of professionals within the company on which they can rely. The combination of a trustworthy staff and a dedicated customer base has yielded remarkable results for the business, despite the wavering economy. “We had a good year last year,” Lou says. “There are not many companies in any industry that can say that. We had a good year because we have very loyal customers, and we have very loyal customers because we have very good employees.”
Forty years after Downes Swimming Pool Company opened its doors, it remains an exemplary and leading company in its field. In part, this can be attributed to several of its core values which have remained unchanged. “From the beginning, we were more focused on providing a quality service than we were on making a profit,” Lou explains. “In fact, profit was the last thing we considered, because the job was the most important thing. And it was recognized by the clients, which propelled us forward. We’ve had the reputation over all these years of being a company that pays attention to detail, puts the customer first, and puts the job first.”
As a result of its commendable work, the company has received more awards than any other pool builder in Illinois; last December, it was presented with its 20th International Design Award, a highly selective and sought-after honor. Despite receiving many noteworthy awards, Lou considers his greatest reward to be the satisfaction and appreciation communicated by his clients. “It’s a lot of fun when you see your customers’ names year after year,” he says. “We’ll have customers for 20 or 30 years until they sell their home, and they will sometimes send us thank-you notes when they move.” With a sterling reputation and a passion for working with their clients, Lou and his employees look forward to a future of many projects to come.
Downes Swimming Pool Company is located at 725 W. University Drive in Arlington Heights. For more information, call 847-398-7665, or visit www.downespool.com.