Features

Pool industry pioneer Don Bullock calls time on his long career

October 16, 2017
Don Bullock with a healthy haul of mud crabs
Don Bullock with a healthy haul of mud crabs

Swimming pool and spa industry pioneer Don Bullock started in the industry way back in 1972.

Bullock was a rugby league player and an electrician, starting out in business as an electrical contractor in 1964. In 1972 he formed BOS Electrics in partnership with Mick O’Shea, servicing mining towns throughout Queensland. The business expanded to employing in excess of 50 electricians, and even had a company-owned twin engine aeroplane to service the remote areas, piloted by himself.

“About that time, I purchased a salt chlorinator called Watermaid, from Ted Romer, an industrial chemist from Sydney, for my own swimming pool,” say Bullock.

“The process was new and unproven for swimming pools. Being an electrician, I was attracted to the electrical side of this new product and developed an association with Ted. Soon BOS Electrics were distributing and servicing the Watermaid to the industry in Queensland. We manufactured the power supplies locally, and purchased the electrolytic cells under license from Ted.”

Bullock says the first few years were quite hectic, as salt chlorinators were being falsely blamed by concrete pool builders as the cause of rust formations and blemishes on internal finishes. Legal actions were common, and BOS Electrics were caught in the fray in Queensland.

However, consumers liked salt chlorinators and fibreglass pool builders homed in on the increasing consumer demand, finding it successful in expanding their sales against concrete builders. The two sectors became very competitive, and the concrete builders were eventually forced to upgrade their product to be compatible with salt chlorinators.

Bullock's partner David Lovelock
Bullock’s partner David Lovelock

The rise of salt

By 1980, while demand for services to the mining industry was slowing, salt chlorinator sales were booming.

“This was despite experiencing some mishaps due in part to ineffective installation instructions that could cause a build-up of explosive gas in the electrolytic cells,” says Bullock.

“To improve the safety and the installation procedure, we started manufacturing a venturi operated electrolytic cell called Salty. The Watermaid and Salty sales and service increased dramatically, and were becoming a significant part of the BOS Electrics business. This incited us to increase our participation in the swimming pool industry, and we purchased a large pool shop on Chevron Island, called Gold Coast Swimming Pool Service, from Barry Vercoe, a popular and recognised industry figure at the time.”

Due diligence revealed there was no trade outlet or warranty service available for pool products on the Gold Coast, so they decided to set one up. They significantly widened and increased the stock, engaged service techs and opened the front door to the consumer and the back door to the trade.

“We used our retail service techs for immediate warrant service, and the turnover was doubled in the first two years,” he says.

“While Ted Roma with his technical background as an industrial chemist was invaluable to me in the early Watermaid, I needed a fast learning track in water treatment and all other pool products including chemicals.

“Guys like Ben Smith, Bob Stanley, Doug Fulham, Roy Halle, Barry Hayes, Des Berry and many more were extremely helpful in providing this ‘new industry recruit’ with product knowledge and introductions to manufacturers. Bob Stanley was instrumental in organising the distributorship of Purex pool filters from the USA, who were then producing the best DE filter available.”

When Mick O’Shea retired, Bullock closed BOS Electrics and traded as Pool Stop for a while, opening trade/retail outlets in Tweed Heads and Salisbury, Brisbane.

“Then I met David Lovelock who owned a large and established pool shop in Brisbane. By 1984 we had merged our companies and commenced operating as Swimworld Queensland.”

Growing up

One of the many industry fishing cruises of the Whitsundays, this one with Peter Moore, Paul Bradshaw, Norm Harvey and Terry Ellis
One of the many industry fishing cruises of the Barrier Reef, this one with Peter Moore, Paul Bradshaw, Norm Harvey and Terry Ellis

Bullock says that back then, the industry was still in short pants.

“There was no training facility, and employers and employees had to cope with whatever was in front of them, mostly by trial and error, and by input from others who had already made their mistakes. Our expansion as Swimworld was so fast, it was difficult to find staff, let alone experienced staff. Guys like Ben Smith, owner of the original Pool & Spa Review, and Bob Stanley, and others, offered what experiences they had, and gave their time to address Swimworld’s staff on many occasions.”

They had 14 trade/retail branches from Tweed Heads to Cairns, with annual turnover of around $11 million, when they sold Swimworld to a public company in 1988.

“In 1989, I moved to San Diego to provide some venture capital and guidance to a small company doing R&D on automatic micro filtration. While Merilyn and I enjoyed our time living in America, I remember taking the R&D prototype to the local dump on our return to the Gold Coast.

“In about 1993, back in Australia, I was approached to do some R&D on Questa, a New Zealand pool cleaner. I became a shareholder and executive officer in Questa Pool Products for a few years, before resigning as an executive officer. My association with the company ended after I had a serious vehicle accident in 2003.”

Bullock says that in early 2004, he and Gordon Clarke were wandering around looking for golfing and fishing partners.

“We had been friends since about 1986, playing golf after national CASPA (forerunner to SPASA) meetings. Gordon had recently retired as joint managing director of Mutual Pools Sydney, responsible for the construction of approximately 15,000 concrete pools annually. With Gordon’s structural experience and my hydraulics and water treatment experience, we decided on forming a consultancy business, and registered the name Aadvance Swimming Pool Consultants in May 2004.

“That business has been very successful, keeping both of us off the streets and involved in the industry. Gordon is continuing to operate it (until who knows when), but I retired on May 17 this year, my 81st birthday!”

Bullock says the swimming pool industry has provided him with friendships and employment in his own business for most of his adult life.

“I’ve learned that your work becomes your hobby, and your hobby becomes your life. Most of my free time in the industry has centred on playing golf, fishing and having fun with industry personnel.

Many Barrier Reef journeys consolidated lasting friendships.

“My beautiful wife Merilyn has contributed greatly to my working career. She always accompanied me on my frequent drives between the branches from Tweed Heads to Cairns, and even to customers in every state of Australia, international conventions and the like. She has gracefully accepted the hardships of coping with my busy position, and has never complained about my golf, fishing and having fun. For that I am very grateful, and intend prioritising her in the good times we have left.”

He says that over the past couple of months he had been having heart trouble and stopped playing golf.

“After several hospital visits to a cardiac surgeon, I now have pacemaker and defibrillator implants. All has gone well and I’ll be back enjoying more time with Merilyn and golfing by August… but not working.”

Don Bullock explaining some important issues around hydraulics and suctions at SPLASH!
Don Bullock explaining some important issues around hydraulics and suctions at SPLASH!

Industry roles

“I was and am, passionate about the councillors who give of their time to improve the integrity of the industry and the welfare of the members,” says Bullock. His volunteering timeline includes:

1965: Foundation Councillor of the Housing Industry Association Queensland

1986-87: President of the Queensland Swimming Pool Association that converted an existing builder-only association to an association that included manufacturers, retailers and service companies, and represented the entire industry.

1986-87: Inaugural Director of the National Swimming Pool Association (NSPA), which became the Council of Australian Swimming Pools Association (CASPA), and finally the Swimming Pool and Spa Association (SPASA). Committee members during some of the period included Mike Petttigrew, Gordon Clarke, Rob Portbury, Des Berry, Gary Adams, Don Chisholm, Frank Morden, Ben Smith, and secretary Colin Munro.

2010: Honoured with Life Membership of SPASA Queensland.

SPLASH! wishes Don and Merilyn all the best in  retirement.

 



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