After more than five decades, owners of Lavoie Pools say it’s time to dive into retirement 

  • Rick Lavoie waves as he walks back into the family pool business on Sheep Davis Road in Pembroke on Tuesday. Lavoie and his two sisters are retiring after running the company for 51 years. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Jackie Pratt (left), sister Sue Sargent and brother Rick Lavoie are getting ready to retire after running the family swimming pool business for the last 51 years. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Jackie Pratt (left), sister Sue Sargent and brother Rick Lavoie are getting ready to retire after running the family swimming pool business for the last 51 years. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 9/17/2019 2:30:26 PM

Three siblings – born and raised in Allenstown, committed business owners in Pembroke – are confident that their father, the late Roger Lavoie, would agree with their plan.

He’d tell them to enjoy retirement, relax in Florida during the winter, get some sun. But Lavoie would also think that his children’s choice to drain the pools for good after 51 years in business makes sense as well.

Why not go out on a good note, respected by the community, reputation intact? Why not sell the building and property on Sheep Davis Road in Pembroke, the home of Lavoie Pools and Supplies since 1983, and close the book on this family-run business?

“We wanted to close it down in good standing,” Jackie Pratt told me. “No one in our family wants to take it, and all our kids have their own lives. If you sell or you let someone else take it and it goes under, what do you hear? You hear it’s Lavoie Pools. You hear the name being bashed.”

Instead, Pratt, Susan Sargent and Rick Lavoie are making sure the business their father started – first by selling pool installation products like vinyl and concrete from his garage, next by opening a shop on Manchester Street in Concord and combining installation with retail, then finally moving the company to its more spacious Pembroke location – will bask in a positive light, forever. They’ll miss one aspect of the business and one aspect only.

“I’m anxious to go, but I am going to miss my customers,” Sargent said. “They say, ‘Oh, no, Sue, you can’t leave,’ but I can’t wait. I’m counting the days.”

 It’s 23 days and counting until the Oct. 11 closing of this well-known local business. Meanwhile, the two sisters and their brother sat in the company kitchen, tucked in the back of the building, wearing Lavoie’s identifying ocean-like blue color, and discussed their futures. Everything must go, in the kitchen and everywhere else, before the official closing.

That means the refrigerator, the microwave, the blender, the tables, the chairs, the stock, the shelves, the tools, the stuff stored here and there collecting dust, all must go, sold at the going rate or, beginning next month, at a giant discount.

“We have a lot to clean out,” Pratt said. “You collect a lot of stuff after 51 years in business.”

Yes, you do. This was Roger Lavoie’s life, his new career after working as a plumber and owning a hardware business in Suncook. He installed his very first pool in the family’s backyard in Allenstown, before actually opening for business. That’s when he figured out his path in life.

“He looked at us and said, ‘You know what? That wasn’t that bad. I can put pools in our neighborhood, for friends and for relatives,’ ” Lavoie said. “That year we put in 12 pools and he said, ‘That’s it. I’m all done with plumbing; I’m moving into pools.’ ”

From their Allenstown garage to Manchester Street to the current location on Sheep Davis, the Lavoie family has always been associated with pools. They’ve dug the holes, combined ingredients with stone dust and, later, vermiculite to produce concrete, laid down the vinyl covering and helped customers maintain their newly-purchased slice of relief.

That doesn’t mean Roger’s kids were all in once dad and their mother Gloria looked to them to carry on this tradition.

Rick was the exception. He always knew he’d end up working with his father, but first he served three years in the Air Force during the mid-1970s, enlisting just days after graduating from Pembroke Academy. He’s now the company president.

“I was in high school and during the summer I’d work for him,” Lavoie told me. “The biggest thing I learned from him as far customers were concerned was being honest. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t lie. Just tell it like it is.”

Pratt and Sargent weren’t as sure about their futures. Sargent was working at an electronics store. Pratt was a carefree high school student during those early years, then she moved into accounting.

Slowly, though, they each joined the team, Sargent, the office manager, in 1982, the year her father bought the Sheep Davis property and moved his growing business from Manchester Street to its current spot.

“We needed more room,” Sargent said. “Manchester Street was too small, cramped.”

Pratt chose to work for her father in 1989. By then, this was a thriving business, only to lose customers during a recession in the early 1990s.

Now, Lavoie’s is back on its feet. Next month, those feet will be propped up on the recliner of retirement, ending Roger Lavoie’s business venture on a high note.

And who was Roger Lavoie? He was a slender man, a veteran who later worked seven days a week, meaning his children got to see him more once they began working for him.

Sargent said he told lots of jokes, to his family and his customers as well. She said he effortlessly communicated with clients. She also said he was tough.

“He really liked his customers,” Sargent said. “But he was hard to work for. Things had to be done a certain way.”

Pratt had more leverage over her father.

“I did the books, so I told him how things should be done,” she said. “I knew what we could spend and not spend to help things get better.”

Rick did a lot of the heavy lifting, which he continues to this day. Only this time, instead of installing and maintaining pools, he’s clearing out everything from the nooks and crannies. The place will be empty, totally empty, soon.

Looking back, things were hard at times. A brother, Ron, one of seven children, died from a heart attack at the age of 61.

Roger and Gloria both suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, with Roger passing in 2011 at the age of 81, Gloria in 2013 at 82.

Thankfully, with their children running the business, solid like concrete, the couple was able to travel in their camper.

“I’m glad they were able to enjoy life, especially given what their end was like,” Pratt said.

Now, it’s the kids’ turn. Sargent is 67, Rick 65, Pratt 63. They’re selling the building and property, but haven’t found a buyer yet. They’re not selling the business. They all have winter homes in Florida. They’ll spend summers back here. 

Pratt has a bucket list, trips with her husband to Alaska and South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore. Rick likes to hunt and fish. Sargent and her husband might drive their camper to the west coast, to see their son.

The pools will soon be drained.

“It’s going out with a good name,” Pratt said. “I think it’s good. I think he  would have preferred that.”

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