S.R. Smith

Making a splash in commercial and residential pool systems in North America and beyond
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
John Carioti

For S.R. Smith, a residential and commercial pool product manufacturer, business over the last decade has been going swimmingly. Through a series of national and global acquisitions, coupled with organic growth through new product development, Oregon-based S.R. Smith has seen record growth.

S.R. Smith has been in the pool equipment manufacturing business since 1932, when Sam R. Smith established the company in Portland, Oregon. “Sam originally made diving boards out of Douglas Fir timber, found in plenty in the region,” says Michael DeDona, CFO and vice president of S.R. Smith. “The company eventually relocated to Canby, Oregon, not far from Portland. The move was to position the company not only closer to Douglas Fir supplies, but also to rail lines for shipping.”

Growth by way of acquisition

Over the years, S.R. Smith has changed hands and added various entities. “In the ‘90s we were owned by Aqua-Fab Industries Inc., a big player in the swimming pool industry at the time,” says DeDona. In 1998, the company was acquired by its current ownership and has since grown to become the world leader in residential and commercial deck equipment.

“In 2009 we acquired ReHamed International, a manufacturer of aquatic access lifts,” adds DeDona. “It was a great move for both parties.”

The acquisition enabled significant growth driven by S.R. Smith’s sales and marketing resources and established S.R. Smith as the leader in the access segment. “In 2012, the heyday of the ADA compliance drive, our lift business grew exponentially,” says DeDona. “Subsequent to the ADA compliance bubble the access business remains strong and is a truly global platform with strong demand in many continents.”

The fourth quarter of 2013 was busy with two acquisitions. The first was the purchase of Anti Wave Australia, a manufacturer of commercial and competitive pool products in Brisbane, Australia.

“This acquisition expanded our product line with competitive lane lines, water polo and an additional line of competitive starting blocks,” details DeDona “In addition to the new product lines this provides us with a business platform to expand our existing products into the sizable Australian swimming pool market. The second was the purchase of Fiberstars, a manufacturer of LED and fiber optic pool lighting based in Pleasanton, California.”

Global gains

S.R. Smith is a well-known North American brand with a growing global footprint. “We have three locations in the U.S., including our home base in Canby with a 106,000-square-foot facility that includes administrative offices and manufacturing space,” notes DeDona. “This facility is where our diving board and rail goods, commercial equipment and lighting products are manufactured and assembled. In addition, this location houses our pre and post-sales support and product design and development teams.”

In Portland, Tennessee, S.R. Smith has 60,000 square feet of distribution and manufacturing space which is used to stock and distribute products in-season. The location is ideal for distribution to the North American pool market. “This facility also houses our access lift and rail manufacturing,” details DeDona. “We also have a core team of operations, and engineering staff in Pleasanton, California to support our lighting business.”

In other corners of the globe S.R. Smith utilizes a distribution site in Brussels, Belgium and a 25,000-square-foot distribution and assembly space in Brisbane, Australia. “S.R. Smith has approximately 160 employees worldwide,” says DeDona.

DeDona, who’s now been with the company for more than 16 years, has seen S.R. Smith grow by leaps and bounds. “My background is in public accounting and in 1998 when the opportunity to come to S.R. Smith presented, I was puzzled at first – I thought, ‘a diving board manufacturer in Oregon, seems out of place,’ but I assumed the business began in the Northwest relative to the Douglas fir used in the early diving boards.”

“I also thought it looked like a fun industry and a nice business, so I spoke with the president and the rest is history. I’ve been here for 16 years,” adds DeDona

DeDona says it’s an exciting ride every day working for S.R. Smith. “Our current CEO, Rich Laitta, started with the company in 2005,” he says. “Mr. Laitta formerly ran a security products division of General Electric. Since taking the lead in the company he has successfully managed the team in driving organic and inorganic growth.”

A passion for swimming

Swimming isn’t just business at S.R. Smith, for many employees it is their passion. “Finding people with a passion for the industry has come easily,” says Rich Laitta, CEO and president of S.R. Smith. “In fact these people often find us and stand out due to their passion. S.R. Smith employs competitive swimmers past and present and even a swim coach. Dan Jorgensen, our vice president of sales is a past Olympic champion, competing in two Olympics. Karen-Andrus Hughes, our marketing manager, is an active master’s swimmer and current and former holder of numerous American and world records.”

“We design products from the perspective of the people that use the products – the swimmers, the coaches, the life guards,” adds Laitta. “It gives us a real advantage by incorporating unique features into our products that are highly valued by our customers.”

The complete pool experience

Though the company has grown significantly, S.R. Smith’s singular focus over the course of 83 years has been to create products that make the pool experience better for both swimmers and owners. From the backyard swimming pool to the commercial arena, S.R. Smith has set the industry standard.

“If it involves a pool, chances are we’ve seen it and if there’s a way to improve it, we’ll find it,” ensures DeDona. “We were the first to manufacture diving boards on a commercial scale and the first to focus on salt-friendly products. Our biggest selling point today is the full-basket scope of our products. Residential to commercial, lighting to lifts we have it all, whereas our competitors are generally focused on one market.”

S.R. Smith runs the gamut of high-quality pool deck equipment, including ladders, rails, diving boards, starting blocks, lanes, lifeguard chairs, storage reels and slides, in addition to pool games, lighting and access products, parts and accessories. “There are always new products in the pipeline,” says DeDona. “The goal is to launch five or six new developments every year.”

“On both the recreation and commercial side we have game-changing products under development,” says Margret McGrath, vice president of marketing for S.R. Smith. “We are always looking for ways we can enhance the pool experience for swimmer and pool owners.”

Functional elegance

No pool is complete without ladders and rails, but S.R. Smith is taking these products a step further, creating the eye-catching, designer-inspired Meridian and Artisan series handrails, stairs and ladders.

“What’s unique about these product lines is the ability to retrofit a traditional pool railing, creating an immediate but dramatic update,” says McGrath. “This area is one that, for most manufacturers, hasn’t changed much over the years, but our design team has patented designs and they have been exceptionally well received in the marketplace. Our plan is to continue expanding these product lines so pool owners have more options to create unique, custom looks for their pool.”

From the small diving board shop in Portland, Oregon, to its standing today as multi-national global leader, S.R. Smith continues to make a splash in all things pool related.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
North American Composites
Oregon Bolt, Inc.
Total Plastics Inc.