• He started out as a service tech.
As a young man, Penton quickly learned a reality familiar to many a state-U student: When it comes to courses, demand always exceeds supply. Unable to get the classes he needed, he didn’t want to sit on his hands. “I figured, ‘If I’m not going to school full-time, I’m working,’” he says.
Having occasionally helped a service-tech buddy in the past, Penton decided to try the trade full-time. It only took a year working for another local company before he struck out on his own. “I remember looking at them, thinking, ‘I can do this better,’” he says. “I knocked on doors five days a week. By the time I got back to school that following fall, I had 30 or 35 pools.”
Eventually his company had approximately 130 accounts. To manage these, he didn’t have employees but rather worked with subcontractors. “I wanted to help build up other people’s companies,” he says. “It created a bit of a challenge, because every couple years they were big enough to go off on their own.”
Penton kept his service arm until just two years ago, when he sold it. “I’m still in contact with the guy who bought the service division from us,” he says. “He’s still servicing accounts from clients who I started with way back in 1992.”
• He has an interesting business model that sticks to his strengths.
Penton never designs the aesthetic portion of his projects — only the mechanical, hydraulic and structural. “All the stuff we design, nobody ever sees,” he says. “I’m thankful to have taken design classes with Genesis, because I can be sensitive and understand which areas of a design would be sacred or important to an architect.”
Working with designers such as Terry, a frequent collaborator, has been a defining part of his business model. And that work has become increasingly elaborate. Over the past year or so, Penton also has done more consulting work, partnering with fellow Genesis firm Watershape Consulting, in Solana Beach, Calif., to map out details for structures and hydraulic systems on complex waterscapes.
Contracts with these clients will include a final cost and stipulate how many hours of work that includes. If the job requires significantly more hours because of changes late in the process, that price may be renegotiated. Penton doesn’t necessarily become the contractor, but he requests to be considered among bidders.
He does a lot of the field work — “grunt work,” as he calls it. This entails site visits, face-to-face meetings with architects and providing a general framework of what the system will require. Then Watershape Consulting, owned by David Peterson, will review and fine tune the plans.
• Mentoring and learning the why’s took him to the next level.
Penton’s interest in math drew him to construction. An old buddy helped him learn the trade. And once he became involved in the design/construction education organization Genesis, a new friend helped him become a high-end builder.
Now retired Genesis mainstay Randy Beard, whose company still operates in the Orange County area, took Penton under his wing, welcoming him for ride-alongs and working on Penton’s first few high-caliber installations. “I would say Genesis was 55- to 60% of my success, and Randy was 45- to 50%,” Penton says.