That’s perhaps the best way to describe what Tom Epple, president of Only Alpha® Pool Products, has been through with his business journey.
“I worked at Fort Wayne Pools for 20 years, starting out in entry level sales and finishing as the acting president,” says Epple. “It was an amazing experience for me, but the owners eventually decided to sell the company and I left soon after that.”
It was January of 2005 and Epple considered retiring. That didn’t happen.
“Thing is, all of our customers from Fort Wayne Pools called me and said they needed us and wanted to keep doing business with me. When you have that kind of loyalty from customers, how can you say no?”
By the following summer, Epple started building a new business. It was originally Alpha 3 Manufacturing Co., Inc., but the company did not work out.
“We had to get new investors and formed Trivector Manufacturing, Inc. that does business as Only Alpha® Pool Products.”
Epple says the company leased what he refers to as a “very simplistic” building in the town of Garrett and he got things rolling again.
“I was starting over, but I had more than 20 years of swimming pool business experience, so I had wiped out all of the mistakes that young business people always make and that put us ahead of the game. I re-designed all of our products and we had about $2 million in the molds along with another $750,000 in the machines we needed. It was a big investment.”
He admits it was also a scary ride for the first few years. Times were tough, especially when the recession hit in 2008. Epple went for years without getting a paycheck and he often struggled to generate enough cash to pay his employees.
It was the employees and the customers that kept Epple motivated and determined to forge ahead despite a bleak outlook.
“This story really has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the employees and the customers. With just one exception, every employee who made Fort Wayne Pools the success it had been, came to work for me and are still with me today. They were willing to take a leap of faith with me. I’ll never forget the first employee who did that. It was Steve Fisher, a production line guy. He knocked on my door and said he was disheartened at Fort Wayne Pools and quit his job and he wanted me to hire him. I told him I didn’t even know how I was going to pay anyone at that point, but he said, ‘That’s okay. You’ve always treated me well in the past and I trust you.’”
Epple says that kind of faith and loyalty from the customers and employees was and still is the driving force behind the success of Only Alpha® Pool Products.
Another person to add to that list is a colleague and close friend of Epple’s, Tim Saxer, who is the executive vice president at Only Alpha® Pool Products.
Saxer joined Epple’s company in 2005.
“Tom had been my boss at Fort Wayne Pools and we always had a great working relationship,” says Saxer. “Tom is good with the financial and business side of the operation and I’m better at the technical and sales part. It’s a nice fit.”
In 2014, Epple and Saxer were encouraged by their banker to buy a 130,000 square foot building off Engle Ridge Drive on Fort Wayne’s near southwest side. They were reluctant, but decided to go with the advice of Tom Mills from First Federal Savings Bank of Huntington.
“Mills said buying this building would change our business dramatically, and boy, was he right. We moved into this building in 2015 and it really breathed new life into our operation,” says Epple.
Only Alpha® Pool Products may be based in Fort Wayne, but its reach is global. The company focuses on the manufacture of high quality building materials for in-ground swimming pools, both commercial and residential.
Some of its biggest markets include the Czech Republic, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Israel and the United States.
There’s a second office based in Traverse City, Michigan, where Epple’s two daughters and his son-in-law work. Epple has a son running the company’s new Evolution line, which is state-of-the-art modular fiberglass swimming pools.
Saxer’s son also recently started working for the business.
“This is a family company and we treat all of our customers and employees like family. It’s always been that way. After all of the challenges and uncertainties we faced over the years, it feels good to be in a position where we can give back. We’re launching an advocacy program for nonprofits that supports people with Down syndrome, in honor of my 2-year-old grandson, who has the genetic condition. It’s just another example of the good people I’ve been blessed to work with in this industry.”
Address: 4404 Engle Ridge Drive Fort Wayne, Indiana 46804
Phone: (260) 637-0141
Years in Business: 14
Number of Employees: 60
Products & Services: High performance building materials for swimming pools