5 questions with Rita Rowlen

04/30/2014 4:48 PM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

Rita Rowlen said that when her father, Cecil Schniepp, returned to Ness County after World War II, his brothers were already at work on the family farm, so he decided to go to work in the excavation business.

Then a friend suggested that perhaps Schniepp could build him a pool.

“And my dad goes, ‘Well, I think I probably could,’ ” Rowlen said. “Well, then he just kept building pools.”

Schniepp started Ultra Modern Pools in 1954 and moved the business to Wichita in 1957 to have a better base for building more pools. The company has two Wichita stores and one in Derby and today is known as Ultra Modern Pool & Patio.

Each of Schniepp’s seven children worked at the business, which their house sat behind on West Kellogg. Eventually, Rowlen and her sister Linda Wallace purchased shares from the rest of the family, and now they’re the sole owners of the stores.

Ultra Modern services pools and sells above-ground and semi-in-ground pools, hot tubs, saunas, patio furniture, pool tables and everything related to keeping a pool.

Rowlen says a lot has changed since her father started the business.

“You were rich if you owned a pool” back then, she says. “My, how things have changed, huh?”

Q What did your father teach you about business?

A Whatever somebody needed, whatever part they needed … we went through great lengths to find it for them even if it was a dollar part and it cost us $2 to make the phone call. We did whatever it took to serve the customer. … Our mission statement is “Great service, great products, great fun,” and I guess that kind of sums it up … what I learned from my dad. My dad always had a vision. He was always 10 years ahead in about everything he did.

Q Wellness is now a big part of your business. Why?

A Part of what we’re doing today is the wellness business because aquatic activities promote better health. It promotes balance and flexibility without the impact of gravity. I’ve watched people recover from all kinds of injuries from aquatic activity.

Q How has the business changed in the time you’ve owned it?

A You know, the change is just unbelievable. Take patio furniture, for instance. It used to be we sold a five-piece set of dining wrought iron furniture for $159. … Well, today that business is a fashion industry. There’s so many choices available and colors and color coordinating and pillows and poofs. … That’s really a fun business. Your backyard is a room today. It’s no longer that thing you have to mow every week.

Q Anything keep you up at night?

A Like all businesses in Wichita, we went through tightening of the belt after 9/11. … We usually know when there’s a recession way before the media starts talking about it, because we have so many leisure products that we usually can feel the impact before it’s ever said, “Hey, we’re in a recession.”

Q What’s one thing few people know about you?

A I’m a licensed real estate broker. … I missed the family business and went back.

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