Melissa H Bullard, owner of Hinman Pool Supply, is the third generation to helm the family-owned business. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY —When Hinman Pool and Patio closed it’s doors a little more than a year ago, it looked like the venerable business had run it’s course after 60 years of serving Albany and the surrounding area.
However, Melissa H. Bullard, granddaughter of founder Louie Hinman, had worked in the family business long enough to know exactly what to do—purchase the inventory, find a new location and carry on as Hinman Pool Supply.
“It’s a legacy,” said Bullard. “I just didn’t want to see the Hinman name die.”
With the business in it’s usual winter lull, Bullard took a few minutes to sit down with Herald reporter Brad McEwen to share some insight into her life and her time in the family business.
Q. What was your first job?
A. Right here when I was 14 years old. I’ve had a couple of other jobs like when I was in college at Valdosta State and I worked in a pool store.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?
A. I’m sure it was something very highly important like a CD or something. Actually at that point it was probably a tape.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you’ve found over the years for keeping employees motivated?
A. I think mainly just trying to keep them happy. We’ve always treated our employees like family. If they need something, we help them out. I’ve found that if you’re nice to them and treat them like you want to be treated, they’re going to be a lot more productive.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate you own business?
A. My grandfather, Louie Hinman, started the business in 1951 as Hinman Awning and Carport. In the mid 70s they started out by building him a pool, then built one or two a year for a few more years. Over time they gained the pool and patio part. Eventually his three sons took over and I worked at the store most of my life. Last November we shut everything down and I bought the inventory and started the pool store over here. I’ve always said that one day this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to own the business one day. I just didn’t know it would be this day.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. Just my family mainly—my grandparents, my dad and my uncles. Outside of that, I haven’t ever really had any certain person. Just them.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. Do not overextend yourself. Right now I owe very little. If I can’t buy it, I don’t do it. Unfortunately I’m not as much like that at my house, but here, I’ve got a lot more to lose.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology—examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc.—what you most like to see go away?
A. Automated phone systems. They are the most annoying thing on the face of the planet. I cannot stand to talk to a computer. They so impersonal. We started out with one when we started over on Fussell and we took it off because you couldn’t get through to anybody.
Q. What is you favorite work-related gadget?
A. It would probably be my testing lab. It’s what we test the water with. It has now become a great system.
Q. What is you favorite tradition?
A. Personally, every Sunday we have supper at my parents’. It started when my mom’s mom passed away and grew.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. This is going to be kind of an odd one, “The 21 Day Sugar Detox.” Before that it was “The Athletes Guide to Paleo.” I read a lot about nutrition. We also get a kayaking and hiking magazine that I love to look through.
Q. I’m up and going by?
A. I’m up and going by about 7:30 on average. I get up, fix Turner’s lunch, my 10 year old, then get his breakfast ready, my breakfast ready. Then I get him in the shower and then I take him to school. Then I come back home, get ready and come to work. I have the same breakfast everyday, bacon and eggs. Everyday.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet and why?
A. Somebody like Steve Jobs, who had that creative mind that never ends.
Q. What are favorite hobbies or activities outside of work?
A. The gym. We like anything outdoors. I love outdoor activities. Wintertime I’m not so keen on it because I get cold very easily, but when summer hits I like to be outside. Turner and I, right before school started went to a place called Fanning Mills. It’s right between Carrollton and Newnan, just back in the back woods and they’ve got zip lining and we went on a kayaking tour. It was the first time Turner had ever been in his own kayak. He had a blast.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I’m not sure because I love where I’m at. I do regret that we couldn’t stay where we were. I would have liked to have stayed where we were because it was an optimal location. That would probably be the one thing.
Q. What is the best thing about your job?
A. Being able to see new people and talk to new people every day.
Q. What is the worst thing about your job?
A. I am by no means a paper person, so having to be a paper person, doing the book work and things like that, is not fun.
Q. What was the most beneficial course you took in school?
A. Family Business. At the time it didn’t seem like it would be beneficial whatsoever. Looking back now as the third generation of business owners, it’s helped me in making changes from old to new and being able to keep going, but make it my own.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside of your current career path?
A. A fitness coach. I’ve gotten to the point where I just love that. I’ve got Turner enjoying and doing Crossfit with me sometimes. And he does the Athletic Republic with me sometimes.
Q. Finish this though; “on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself…”
A. On a beach somewhere. At that point I don’t want to see another pool again. You don’t have to take care of the ocean.
Q. Do you, in fact, own a pool of your own?
A. Yes I do! And it is green! Even those in the pool business, their pools turn green. I don’t have to see it though because it’s dark when I get home.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. Honesty. If people can’t trust you to tell them the truth, they’re not going to come back. We don’t tell them what they want to hear, we tell them what they need. And I don’t sell them anything they don’t need.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. Probably 90s alternative, all the Seattle bands and a little 70s rock thrown in there. And of course Shawn Mullins, he’s my favorite musician. He’s one of those you can always listen to him and it never gets old.
Q. How about movies, seen anything good lately?
A. The funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time was “Turbo.” We sat and watched it as a family and I laughed through the whole thing. Other than that I don’t know that I’ve seen too many recent movies. My favorite movie of all time is “Empire Records.” It’s got the best one-liners ever.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. I really think with the amount of new businesses opening up this year that we’re going to see more of trend toward a Macon-like shopping. People go to Macon to shop and I really think people are going to be coming here to shop as we get more retail. I think we’re going to get away from Albany having a stigma that “I’m going to go to Albany.” I think people are going to start coming to Albany. I think more retail driven. I think that’s the only thing that’s going to do it.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?
A. My most memorable vacation I was probably about 10 or 11. My mom and dad and my sister and I went up to North Georgia and did the mountain areas and Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain and all that kind of stuff that’s up there. And that’s probably my most memorable family vacation. For some reason that really sticks out over all of them.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. People are waiting until things are really bad with their pool before they take care of it. We used to see a lot of preventive maintenance. I think the car business would say the same thing. The motor might start whining and people would do something about it. Now it’s going to out before they do anything. It ends up they spend more money but because everybody’s pinching pennies, they wait until it gets bad.
Q. Do you feel that since you are not only running a business, but running a family business with a long history, that you’ve got extra pressure to succeed?
A. Oh yeah, definitely. It’s a legacy so I think sometimes, “what would papa think about that? What would he think if he knew x?” I am lucky, I’ve still got the support of my dad and my uncles. Anytime I need anything they’re right there to help me. They’ve been a huge support system for me.