After 29 years in the swimming pool and spa industry, well known and even better liked industry stalwart Trevor Coakley is hanging up his sales book and moving into retirement.
SPLASH! caught him sorting through his vast technical library in preparation for his departure from the industry.
“I’ve been cleaning out some books,” he says. “It’s amazing how many manuals and catalogues you collect over the years. Someone will always come up with a question like ‘Do you know the old Poolrite multi-port valve?’ and I’ll I go, ‘Hang on, I’ve got a book on it!’. I’m handing them on, so I don’t feel bad about throwing them out.”
Colleagues and customers contacted SPLASH! to sing Coakley’s praises as a dedicated, engaging workmate and a knowledgeable, helpful representative. Coakley returns the favour, saying he absolutely loved his time in the industry and made some great friends, some of whom he’s known for 29 years.
A long journey
Before he joined the pool and spa industry, Coakley worked in the travel industry – first for 18 years with Ansett as a sales rep before shifting to Avis Rent-a-Car. Then his brother Geoff put him in contact with Wayne Marshall, a sale rep at BioGuard, who introduced him to Canadian Doug Starr who was the national manager at the time. Surprisingly, they were looking for someone with no industry experience.
“They wanted someone without any experience in the industry,” says Coakley. “Someone they could train without any preconceived ideas. And they taught me a lot – it wasn’t long before they taught me how to get up in front of 50 or 60 people to talk about looking after your pool.”
After four or five years at BioGuard, Coakley got an offer to work in Peter and Sylvia Fishburne’s pool shop, TPR Pool and Spa Centre in East Roseville in Sydney.
“John Harding was the service manager and I was employed as the retail shop manager,” he says. “John was a mentor of sorts and taught me to how to fix equipment and service it. ‘Give it a try Trev, give it a go,’ he used to say. John has moved onto Lo-Chlor now.”
Coakley credits working in a pool shop for giving him a sense of what customers need.
“I learnt what the shops were faced with in terms of the customers and their questions,” he says. “And that gave me an insight and an empathy with what the pool shops had to deal with. It was like an apprenticeship in knowing and understanding what happens in the industry.”
But after about another five years, he felt the urge to get back on the road and he picked up a sales job with Onga, owned at the time by Sta-rite, just before its purchase by Pentair.
Niagara and beyond
He moved onto Niagara Pool Supplies – who had become a major distributor for Onga – and Coakley developed a strong business relationship as well as a lasting friendship with Nelleke Gilhuys and Dennis Baxter.
“Nelleke and Denis are two absolutely outstanding people,” says Coakley. “Nelleke was very good at what she did and had great knowledge. Together they took a little company and made it into a big company. They are great people.”
He was their northern area manager, which encompassed everywhere north of Parramatta Road all the way up to Coffs Harbour, while David Patterson handled everything south of Parramatta Road.
After several years at Niagara, Coakley took a “sabbatical” for 12 months with Premium Quality before returning to Niagara – where he stayed for another nine years, including two years under Pool Systems ownership.
“I was there for about two years after Pool Systems took over when I got picked up by Nathan and Tony from Newline. I’d known Tony for many years, working alongside each other at the PoolWerx conferences, so he asked me to work with them and I jumped at it. I was there until Pool Systems bought Newline. A funny thing. It was a Saturday when Tony called and said: ‘I just sold the business’. And I asked, ‘Who to?’. He said Pool Systems, then ‘Trevor, are you still there??’ So they got me back.”
Coakley is the only person to have worked with the three now linked companies, Niagara, Newline and Pool Systems – twice with Pool Systems, where he stayed until his retirement.
“The pool industry gets in your blood,” he says. “You just want to stay in it. I’m sure you’ve found other people in the industry feeling the same.
“And it’s been a bit like being a doctor – you go to a function and people say ahh my pool is going green – what do you think that is? And before you know it, you’re helping fix their pool!”
The next generation
Coakley is married with two children and a three-year old grandchild.
“I work in the pool industry, my son-in-law works in the pool industry as a technician, and my daughter works in Crystal Clear Pool Shop in Woy Woy,” he says.
“I think we’ve come a long way in the pool industry from pumps/filters/chlorinators – there’s more technology in terms of automation for looking after your pool. Even testing pool water has become remote now – you can have something floating in the pool and check it on your Apple Watch or iPhone.”
Another change in the industry is the rise of replacement over repairing.
“Now with the cost of repairs it’s better to replace than repair,” he says. “Back with John at the pool shop you’d get your pumps rewound – but nowadays you get them replaced and get a new one with the new technology, because it’s changing at such a fast rate.”
He says he’d absolutely recommend the industry to people looking at a career, saying it’s an interesting occupation that keeps you on your toes.
“You’re always faced with different challenges,” he says.
Putting out fires
Coakley has long been a volunteer with the Rural Fire Service, which he enjoys immensely, and is likely to spend more time helping with the service and ensuring his Berowra neighbourhood says safe from the ravages of a hot summer.
“I’ve been here at Berowra for 35 years, and I love it up here and we’re going to stay here. The freeway’s five minutes up the road so you can go up the coast without having to go through Sydney and just head off if you feel like it.
“I’d like to say thank you to all the people I’ve come to know in the industry and the many friends I’ve made. Everyone’s been fantastic and I’ve enjoyed working with them over the years. There’s some great people out there and I appreciate the support they’ve given me – I wouldn’t have been doing the jobs for so long if I hadn’t received the support they gave me over the years.”