By April Bourie –
If you live in Tucson, you likely have a fond memory involving a pool, whether as adventuresome play as a child, at pool parties, or watching your own kids expend some of their energy.
In March, Patio Pools & Spas celebrated 50 years of making some of those memories. Nicole Ragel, Patio Pools & Spas VP, attributed the company’s half-century of success to staying focused on the founder’s values: provide high-quality construction, products and services; value its employees; and support its community.
Gene Ragel Sr. started building swimming pools in Tucson in 1946 with Johnny Austad, owner of Austad Steel. Austad was a steel fabricator, concrete contractor and innovator. Together, they built many poured-concrete pools, as well as water tanks and fallout shelters, with a steel-forming system. In 1958, Gene and Jack Wilson, who also worked at Austad Steel, left the company to found Ragel Wilson Pools. With the introduction of Shotcrete, customer pools became the focus of their company.
From 1959 to 1963, Ragel built approximately 75 pools a year until he moved to Phoenix, where he designed and sold pools for Paddock Pools. In 1969 Shasta Pools hired Ragel to manage a new company in Tucson named Patio Pools.
In March 1970, he had the opportunity to move back to the booming Phoenix market or purchase Patio Pools. He opted to purchase the company and, with partner Jon Evans, they changed the company’s direction to customer pools built to extremely high-quality standards offered at affordable prices.
The philosophy was a hit with pool buyers in Tucson; within only one year Patio Pools & Spas became Southern Arizona’s largest customer pool and spa builder. Soon thereafter, they opened the first full-service retail pool supply store carrying pool chemicals, accessories and toys as well as patio furniture. The store also carried a new product to the Tucson market – above-ground acrylic hot tubs.
In 1978, Patio Pools went on to a record 817 projects and, by the end of the decade, Patio Pools & Spas had opened a total of five retail stores.
With the dawning of the 1980s, Ragel bought out his partner. Within six months, the nation was plunged into a deep economic recession that caused many businesses to fail, but Patio Pools & Spas soldiered on.
In 1982, Ragel suffered a fatal heart attack. His wife, Dorothy, took over the company’s reins, and with the support of her children in the business and an experienced management team, the business grew steadily throughout the 1980s.
Today, Gene Ragel Jr. is Patio’s president. Nicole Ragel, his wife, serves as VP, while their son, Eugene III – known as ER – is the company’s production manager.
“I’m proud that I am not only following in my father’s footsteps. I get to work side by side with my son and wife,” Gene Jr. said. “My dad wanted people to have an affordable pool that was built with above-standard construction practices and high-quality materials. Exceeding customer satisfaction was his goal, just as it is ours today.”
Over the years, Patio Pools & Spas has built an exceptional reputation for high-quality, affordable swimming pools and outstanding service. The company continues that today in each of its retail stores, its pool renovation department and its service department.
Patio Pools & Spas is equally dedicated to its employees. It’s an approach that permeates each of Patio’s storefronts and it’s one the family feels contributes to its high customer service ratings.
“Our corporate culture has a family environment,” explained Nicole. “The Ragel family works side by side with our employees to make the company successful. We have several people that have worked here for over 40 years, and 50% of our retail staff have been with us for over 20 years.”
Training is central to the company’s investment in its employees and it was one of the reasons the Ragels recently purchased a Poolwerx franchise. Poolwerx is one of the world’s largest pool and hot tub/spa maintenance providers. It provides exhaustive training in all aspects of pool service, maintenance and retail services.
Patio Pools & Spas has contributed to the community by giving its employees a say in which organizations and causes the company supports. “We are proud members of the community,” said Nicole. “We live here, and we want to invest in our community. That goes a long way with our customers because you don’t see as many pool builders get as involved as we do.”
Staying true to these core values is paying off. Diana Delgado has used Patio Pools & Spas to build two pools, one in the 1980s and another in 2018 at her new home. “I was really happy with them the first time, and I figured that they had to be good to survive the recent economy fall,” Delgado said. “I didn’t even check around when I was ready to build my new pool. I just went with Patio Pools.”
Delgado wasn’t disappointed. The company designed and built her a beautiful pool, built a custom grotto and assisted with the plumbing, gas and electrical on her outdoor shower. “The first time I worked with them was great,” said Delgado. “The second time was even better. I am a very happy customer.”
Patio Pools & Spas handles the maintenance of Delgado’s pool. “The weekly maintenance service is excellent. They let me know immediately about any issues that need to be resolved and are on the repairs the next day,” she said.
Nina and Brian Larabee, who live in Vail, also sing Patio Pools & Spas’ praises. “We called several pool companies before we found Patio Pools,” Nina said. “They either didn’t return our calls or they wouldn’t come to our area to build our pool. When we met with Patio Pools, they clicked with us from the beginning. They made the design and building process easy.”
“ER Ragel was our production manager, and he was always spot-on,” said Brian. “He knows so much about the process and gave us advice throughout the entire build. It was a great experience, and it was completed when they said it would be.”
The Larabees maintain their own pool and have been impressed with Patio Pools & Spas/Poolwerx retail locations. “Their employees are well-educated about their products and extremely helpful,” said Nina. “They do an absolutely fabulous job!”