The year is 1973. A fresh-faced 21-year-old Rob Bateman has just finished his electrical apprenticeship at R.A. Lister Company in Dursley. Armed with ambition, ideas and a desire to learn, he tells his young wife Sue the words that would shape the course of their lives in a way that neither could have imagined at the time: ‘I know how I’m going to make my money – building swimming pools.’
Fast forward 45 years and you’ll find Rio Pools – one of the UK’s leading swimming pool builders, with a reputation and reviews as gleaming as their crystal water filled bespoke creations. However, this 45-year period should be anything but skipped through, and what better way to celebrate Rob’s 45th anniversary of building pools than to look back at the 45 years of 11-hour labour intensive days, working weekends, and sheer grit and determination that turned a passing comment into a West Country success story. In 2018, Rio Pools is a thriving family business whose strong bonds and dedication attract a varied clientele of the rich and famous, or even just customers who are keen to add a little Costa del Sol to their homes.
After their marriage in 1971, Rob and Sue were living at Rose Cottage in leafy Huntingford, unbeknown to them just down the road from where their main premises would launch some 35 years later. After completing his apprenticeship, Rob started on the road that helped him gain the valuable pool construction skills he needed, albeit slightly by default. Whilst working as a self-employed ground worker for a company called Markons in Yate, he was asked to help with the installation of a liner pool for the managing director of Markons. In charge of building the pool was John Brooks, who had recently started his own pool building company, Penguin Pools. As Rob lay the foundation in 1973 for his bosses swimming pool, little did he know that he was also laying the foundations for his own business. This would be the first pool project that he was involved in. Whilst chlorine is renowned for killing bugs, it certainly didn’t kill the bug for pool building that Rob had well and truly caught at this stage. As the contracts came in for Penguin Pools, Rob’s unquenchable desire for knowledge and experience led to him also taking on work with Young Leisure, a swimming pool company based in Bridgewater. Of course, the need to feed two additional mouths at home may have had something to do with the extra working hours. The birth of Rob and Sue’s first child and only son Wayne in 1973 followed by daughter Shelley in 1974 marked not just a momentous occasion in their lives, but the arrival of Rio Pool’s future Service Manager and Contracts Manager respectively.
By 1978, the scene was set: Rob had five years of experience and was ready to take the plunge and start his own pool building company. Four years after the birth of Shelley, Rob and Sue’s third child was born – Rio Pools. Where did the name come from? Perhaps an exotic connection to the Brazilian coastal city of Rio de Janeiro? Not quite – it just had a bit more of a tropical feel than the alternative, Bateman Pools.
With a catchy company name sorted, Rob and Sue became company directors. Along with a helping hand from Sue’s brother, Uncle Rob, who had previously been working with Rob Bateman as Bateman and Lane for Penguin Pools, the trio established the company that we know today. The company were operating from home which at this stage was Bunsell Cottage in Kingswood, as well as selling pool chemicals and installing continental swimming pools in their spare time. But Rio Pools was destined for bigger things.
The eighties marked an eventful decade for Rio. The family moved to Orchard Walk in Kingswood, the house which would be the setting for a rather memorable music video, but before then it was time for the business to have a home of its own. Rob and Sue moved the premises to Wyevale Garden Centre at Milbury Heath (see image below), a move that would expand the business.
It wasn’t just the business that was expanding in the eighties, Rob and Sue recognised at this stage that they were going to have a few more company positions to fill, and made the executive decision that any business owners would make – time to have another two children. Candie was born in 1981 and later chose the birthing pool over swimming pools as she became a midwife. Last but by no means least came Gemma in 1982, the future of spa sales and marketing at Rio.
Most families have a few bikes in their garage, perhaps an artificial Christmas tree, a lot of boxes full of items they may or may not need in the future, but few could claim to have a garage filled with 3,500 gallons of water. In 1985, the Bateman family could do exactly that. With four children and a wife desperate for their own pool instead of hearing about the construction of everybody else’s, Rob succumbed and started a garage conversion with a difference. With an underwater lounge window, Rob and Sue could easily watch the television whilst keeping an eye on their children floating around in the garage – not many people could say that in Kingswood. It’s little wonder that the pool caught the eye of the media, and an altogether bigger client – ITV. The Golden Oldie Picture Show, hosted by Dave Lee Travis, asked if they could film hit pop/rock group The Hollies’ music video to chart topper ‘The Air That I Breathe’ in the family’s home and pool. And so, Rock and Roll came to Orchard Walk where the Bateman’s house and infamous garage pool featured for the entirety of the The Hollie’s world famous music video. Despite the narrative of the video, The Bateman’s thankfully enjoyed all together happier times in Kingswood with their unusual pool.
1985 also marked the year that Rio Pools became ltd, a major step for any business. Previous to this, Rob had been introduced to the Easy Pool System by Patrick Delahunty, and after a trip to the USA to meet the MD named Buzz Miller (perhaps a name that set the glitzy tone of the next decade for Rio) Rob completed his first pool in Alderly using this system, a pool still standing to this day. As well as the SPATA Millennium award (see image right), Rio won the Peter Geekie award for Best Swimming Pool Company, an award that came after 8-9 months of careful monitoring. Receiving major recognition for their achievements meant attracting a new level of clients, and while Rio wouldn’t want to name drop, there was certainly one client who didn’t tell Rob that he was The Weakest Link when she saw her new swimming pool.
Rio Pools has gone from strength to strength. With over 1500 pools built and coverage in major publications such as The Financial Times and The Telegraph, the business you see today has blossomed from humble beginnings. As the business expanded, Rob and Sue decided that having more children wasn’t the answer to their employment demands, and Rio Pools now employs 19 people. Today, Rio is a close-knit, smoothly operating team, providing a service that people love, bringing the best of family, skills, and knowledge together in one final gleaming product. But behind it all lies one man’s ambition. Rob’s determination, dedication and most importantly, passion for great quality pools is what makes Rio the company we see today. Of course, behind every successful man is a strong woman, and Sue’s unwavering support and dedication to Rio as well as their family has been of paramount importance over the past 45 years. Not to forget her work with the company’s finances, her valuable advice is still constantly sought. A dynamic duo, they produced four equally caring and committed children. A family affair, a success story, years of hard work – whatever you want to call it, Rio Pools stands proud of its 45-year history, here’s to the next 45+ years more!