JANE LEW -- To entrepreneur Todd Stahl, Jane Lew is more than a sleepy, mountain town.
With I-79 in sight of Viking Pools' office and glass-fiber pool manufacturing plant, and Corridor H opening a smooth connection to the east, Lewis County is smack dab in the middle of Stahl's east region.
It was the shipping possibilities that brought Stahl to West Virginia.
"We were actually looking up in the Pittsburgh area. We wanted something in the Northeast," said Stahl, a 30-something who co-owns the nationwide business with his father, Alan Stahl. "I saw information about West Virginia on the state Development Office Web site and sent an e-mail."
"The problem is transportation; that's why we're opening up a multitude of offices. Once you get over 700 miles, it's cost prohibitive to ship."
Viking Pool already has manufacturing and shipping sites in California, Texas and Florida. Stahl hopes to open plants in Mississippi and Arizona in the next couple of years.
Stahl selected the Lewis County Industrial Park site for the eastern operation because it gave him plenty of room. He built a 32,000-square-foot building and has completed outdoor areas for finishing and storing full-sized pools. Shipping areas for a fleet of heavy equipment and four company-owned semis are complete and Stahl is hoping his access road is paved soon.
"It looked like a good spot."
Only three weeks into operation, it certainly has been.
"This week we'll ship out 10 pools. Next week, we've got about 20 leaving," Stahl said, adding Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia are the largest sales sites so far.
Early business has been so time consuming Stahl has spent weeks living in area hotels while his wife and two young children remain at their California home. This week, he bought land in Bridgeport, where the family will build their permanent residence.
"It's the newest, best one (plant) I've got," Stahl said of the desire to relocate immediately. "Plus, it takes a couple years to get up and operating and I didn't want to live in a motel."
Stahl entered the pool business as a "ditch digger" in 1974. His father bought a glass-fiber pool and liked it so much he started his own manufacturing business. Stahl did the excavation work as a youth.
Now, he oversees the works -- from sales to manufacturing to shipping to plant site development.
At prices ranging from about $25,000 to $35,000 per pool, Stahl knows his market is limited. But he anticipates sales from the Jane Lew site will be about $6 to $7 million per year once the plant is at full capacity.
Competing with less-expensive vinyl-liner pools and cement pools in various sizes and shapes, Stahl said Viking's market niche is the product's lack of maintenance.
"That's really our big selling point. You never have to repaint it, or plaster it or replace a liner. Once it's in, it's pretty much done."
The pools are created by applying layers of glass fiber, anti-corrosive coating and ceramic similar to that used on space shuttles over a wax-coated form. Viking has about 30 forms that range in size from spa to diving pool.
"Kidney-shaped pools were very popular in the '70s and '80s. Now these six-foot-deep volleyball or game pools, some people call them sport pools, are in," Stahl said.
The game pools are rectangular with shallow ends that slope sharply to a deeper middle. Also popular are lagoon shapes landscaped to look like ponds.
Other options include tiles embedded in the glass fiber -- no grout to clean -- fiber-optic lights along the pool bottom and waterfalls.
Viking Pool is one of two businesses to locate at the 27-year-old industrial park this year. Energy, Land & Mining, an oil- and gas-well tending business, plans to be open by the middle of this month.
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403.