Until a year ago, working for Kleinpeter Farms Dairy had been a major part of Jeff Kleinpeter’s life.
As a boy, Kleinpeter started out milking cows and driving tractors at the family-owned dairy before joining the Baton Rouge-based business as a full-time employee in the late 1980s. He eventually took over as president and chief executive officer in October 2004.
In January 2015, Kleinpeter took a sabbatical from the dairy, saying he needed a break. He spent much of the previous year working to overcome quality issues involving milk having a funny taste and turning sour before its expiration date. The dairy spent about $3 million on new equipment, a full-time sanitation manager and sending employees to rigorous national training programs to address the concerns. In March, Kleinpeter announced he was stepping down permanently.
“The stress in the last two or three years was just unbearable,” Kleinpeter said. “It was time for a change.” Kleinpeter said he averaged three hours of sleep a night during his final year at the dairy.
But Kleinpeter is back with a new business venture, a pool-cleaning and maintenance company. After eight months in business, Kleinpeter-Kennedy Pool Services has about 140 clients and is about to add a third employee.
“This is fun,” Kleinpeter said. He was standing in the backyard of a Bocage home on a sunny January afternoon, while his employee, Tommy Kennedy, finished cleaning a custom-built pool with crystal clear water. “Look at the stress level we’re dealing with. Tommy’s biggest worry is if he can get four leaves out of this 15-foot deep pool.”
Kleinpeter, 57, didn’t plan on getting back into business so quickly. After he retired from the dairy, he planned to take things easy and concentrate on doing work around his house. After three months, he ran out of projects. “I got bored to death. I have to stay busy,” he said, “and I wasn’t old enough to retire.”
At about that time, Kleinpeter’s father, Ben, had a problem with a leak in his swimming pool. Water was getting in under the concrete and brick decking. Greg Kleinpeter, a cousin who runs American Leak Detection, helped pinpoint the leak, and Jeff Kleinpeter fixed it.
“Greg told me, ‘I can send you about five of these a week if you want to go into business’,” Kleinpeter said. “That’s kind of how it started.”
Ironically, Kleinpeter said when he had a pool installed at his home eight years ago, he was so frustrated initially with the maintenance and cleaning, he threw his hands up and told his wife to take care of it.
“But I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to have somebody from outside coming into my home,” he said. “I took it over myself. I started learning the equipment and Googling to teach myself the pool business.”
Kleinpeter got Kennedy, a former dairy employee who is dating his daughter, to join him in the business. Not too long after Kleinpeter started the business, Pentair, a major manufacturer of pool pumps and filters, asked him to help with some warranty work for its Baton Rouge clients. Other manufacturers joined suit. That allowed Kleinpeter to get his foot in the door with potential customers who could be interested in regular cleaning and maintenance.
“It’s been nonstop,” Kleinpeter said “We went from being worried about what we would do tomorrow to how are we going to take care of all of these people tomorrow.”
Kleinpeter credits the lessons he learned at the dairy about service and communicating with customers for his success in the pool business. To let customers know he’s on the job, he uses his iPhone to take and send pictures of the freshly cleaned pool. “These are all things I learned in the milk business,” he said. “People are just starving for good service today in all business and all sectors.”
Kleinpeter said he’s enjoyed some of the changes that come from running a startup business with one other person, instead of a 100-year-old family company with more than 140 workers.
“Before this, I never got to talk face-to-face with customers. I never realized how enjoyable it is or how important it is, instead of hearing something through six other people,” he said.
Because of this, Kleinpeter said he wants to keep his business small enough where he can deal with customers every day. But he is looking at expanding slightly; he just hired someone to do pool inspections.
“This will help potential home buyers get comfortable with a house,” he said. “A pool is a $100,000 investment right there, on top of what a house costs.”
Eventually, Kleinpeter said he would like to have Kennedy overseeing a pool cleaning and maintenance crew of three or four workers and have two or three people doing pool inspections. “And I would just visit with everybody,” he said.
For people who are looking to leave one company and go into their own business, Kleinpeter has some advice. “Do what you are good at and what you love to do. You combine those two, man, you are going to be happy,” he said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate