Anyone flying in or out of Blenheim will quickly become aware of particular features from the air. The rows of grape vines striping almost every block of land in the Wairau Valley is perhaps the most obvious, but sparkling between the rooftops of Marlborough’s major town is a dense scattering of sapphires. Or at least, that is how the town’s many swimming pools appear from above.
Still regularly topping the rest of the country in sunshine hours (an estimated average of 2243 per year), and with temperatures often exceeding 30 degrees in late summer, Blenheim was the natural birthplace of a 55-year-old family-owned swimming pool business.
Aquanort Pools has operated in Blenheim since 1964, and current owner Greg Norton continues a legacy begun by his father over half a century ago. Greg took the business over when he returned from his traditional Kiwi ‘OE’ in 1988, and has kept pace with ever-advancing pool technology since then. Computerised water analysis and robotic pool cleaners even form part of its many services.
Greg’s own son Tom grew up swimming and diving in the nearby Marlborough Sounds, so it seemed predestined that he would extend his love of the water to his parent’s business. After being actively involved for a number of years he bought into the business in 2015, ensuring that the family legacy will continue into the next generation.
Tom observes that although the company’s basic market hasn’t changed much in that time, the scale of the work has certainly expanded. “A number of our customers are on their second or third pool as they have upscaled properties, and with that, the size of their pool project has increased.”
There have certainly been advances made from the basic free-standing backyard pools, which every Marlborough child in constant search of cooling off craved in the 1970s.
“When we started, we did a lot of modest family pools and now we see a shift to more of the high-end, larger pool projects which could also include quite extensive landscaping.”
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With fencing becoming a crucial element over the decades, Aquanort’s move to providing a full landscaping service to help integrate its pools was a logical step. Fully qualified pavers and tilers are available, along with outdoor fireplace design and construction, barbecue facilities and even options for ponds and waterfalls.
Now employing 18 staff, Aquanort is well equipped to fulfil its goal of becoming an all-in-one solution for everything pool related. As well as design, construction and installation, it also offers spa pools, existing swimming pool revamps, repairs and painting, a pool valet service, and a range of covering and heating options. Aquanort’s shop also offers a full range of supplies, equipment and advice.
Compass Pools agent
Another aspect which has seen some recent development is Aquanort’s market span, which now covers several South Island regions. As well as offering its own customised concrete pools, Aquanort is the authorised dealer for a world-leading range of fibreglass pools.
“Almost six years ago we became the Marlborough/Kaikoura agent for Compass Pools,” explains Tom. “We were really impressed with the quality of these pools and the optional self-cleaning system, which has been very popular with customers. And this year we became their Nelson/West Coast agent, so we now cover the Top of the South.”
The Compass Pool Vantage self-cleaning system has been one of the most significant advances the industry has seen. Circulating a pool’s water from top to bottom, algae and bacteria are eliminated, and so is time and financial expenditure on chemicals
Pool maintenance had sometimes been an obstacle to pool owners in the past, so Tom has certainly seen the ‘set and forget’ appeal of this feature make a difference. “As an optional addition on installation, the Vantage system has been huge. It cleans the pool for you and has been very popular with customers who have busy lifestyles.”
Even chemical treatments systems have moved on, meaning swimming pools no longer ever have to carry the faint whiff of chlorine. More subtle processes such as ionisation and oxidation now can be used to sanitise pool water.
“The Naked Pools System is chlorine-free and in high demand,” Tom adds, “especially as people become more environmentally aware. The science behind pool chemicals is also continuously improving and changing. We are a long way from basic liquid chlorine.”
Aquanort even provides a complimentary computerised testing system called BioLab, where pool water can be analysed from a sample. Customers can then leave with a printout of step-by-step instructions to correct any chemical imbalances that might be detected. Also popular are automated robotic pool cleaners, which happily trundle around underwater keeping the pool floor, sides and waterline pristine.
There is no denying that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented never-imagined challenges to New Zealand businesses, but Tom found that lockdown also presented some unexpected benefits.
“Initially we had a number of projects cancelled or put on hold and it was a very uncertain time for everyone. But it gave us a good chance to reset and think about what we were doing with the business, and change focus.”
In fact, rather than allowing business to stall during this time, Aquanort instead extended its dealership of Compass Pools across Nelson Tasman and the West Coast. “Since lockdown we have actually been busier as swimming pools and spa pools seem to have been a popular choice as a replacement for cancelled overseas holidays.”
Of course, in an island nation like ours, having access to a swimming pool is more than just an enjoyable pastime or a property asset. The unfortunate trend for schools to remove their swimming pools due to maintenance costs only emphasises how important young Kiwis’ familiarity with water is.
“The feedback we get from the schools which still have pools is that the kids get a lot out of having access to them,” says Tom. “As a country surrounded by water, and with an alarmingly high drowning rate, swimming is a life skill all children should have access to. And not just the ones who can afford a pool or swimming lessons.”
As for Aquanort, Tom says the team is excited about the opportunities which have now opened up for it in Nelson Tasman.
“We want to continue to fine-tune what we are already doing, helping customers create their dream swimming pool and not only build it and install it, but help them to look after it and maintain it for years to come.”