Sometimes the business you’re in is not a business you can effectively scale, and the ambitious business owner broadens her focus. That’s a calculation Kryshon Bratton has made — twice.
In 2006, she transformed her husband’s lifeguarding business into a company that builds and maintains swimming pools. Today, Bratton Pools brings in $2 million in annual revenue mainly by building custom aqua playlands for Houston homeowners, often now also ringed by lovely patios and outdoor kitchens and accessed via driveways it builds.
That’s no small shakes, but installing high-end pools in a hot city flush with pool-builders only gets you so far. So in 2015 Bratton started Piper Whitney, a second business named after her daughters, to expand the driveway-offshoot business Bratton Pools had started. Piper Whitney builds parking lots, drives and walkways using permeable materials that are durable and more environmentally sustainable than traditional asphalt and concrete. The new company brought in about $500,000 in revenue in its first year, and Bratton expects to reach $750,000 this year and $1 million to $1.25 million in 2017.
And it’s an open road from there. While Bratton is pleased with her pools business, Piper Whitney offers greater opportunity for this Houston native, whose drive to succeed she acknowledges may be the result of a childhood marked by poverty, including a period of homelessness in the 1980s after her family home was foreclosed. Entrepreneurship has been her avenue to success, and Piper Whitney now promises both growth and the kind of safety and stability diversification can bring — while preserving the time with her husband and daughters she holds dear.
Scaling up Bratton Pools, she says, would require expanding geographically. For her high-touch, design-heavy business, that would mean an unacceptable amount of travel time — “the last thing I want to do as I’m getting older,” she says. On top of its geographical limits, Bratton Pools mostly plays in the residential market, she adds, “whereas Piper Whitney, there’s a greater potential.”
A Bigger and Less Competitive Market
Bratton is already taking Piper Whitney beyond Houston — indeed, beyond Texas. She has inked projects in Austin and San Antonio, and by year’s end she expects projects in Louisiana. The company is doing both residential jobs — think driveways, walkways and even synthetic grass yards — and large commercial parking lots and drives.
While she and her husband, who takes a leading role in the fieldwork, are supervising non-local projects now, Bratton intends to hire representatives to handle jobs outside of Houston. Already, she’s preparing to open a satellite location in San Antonio.
Bratton sees a green field for Piper Whitney thanks to growing interest in the permeable materials it uses. In a part of the country notorious for downpours and regular flooding, these materials offer a solution by allowing water to seep into the ground.
In fact, some clients are digging deeper for project funds because of its environmental strengths. One recently told Bratton that the 12,000-square-foot commercial truck area Piper Whitney “paved” had no flooding issues after a recent storm, while ”everything else was mud.” She’s preparing a contract now for the 20,000 square feet they didn’t do originally.
The business potential is different for pool building, which is a well-established and saturated industry in Houston. There are no less than six pool builders in walking distance from Bratton’s Houston offices, she says.
Easier, Steadier Money
Less competition means that Piper Whitney’s jobs tend to be more profitable than Bratton Pools’ projects. Parking lots and drives also have the virtue of being simpler and less risky because there’s less design work and aesthetic rigor and because construction takes less time.
“In terms of job length, if you have solid good weather, you’re looking somewhere around a 45-day range to build a pool,” Bratton says. “But we can do a commercial parking lot or a commercial drive or what have you in 10 to 14 days, depending on weather.”
The work appears to be less susceptible to economic troubles as well. During the current period of low oil prices and resulting economic pressure in Houston, Bratton Pools has lost some projects, while Piper Whitney has mostly just seen delays, she says.
A New Need for Capital
The trickiest part of the move into this new and more promising business has turned out to be a psychological one for Bratton: relinquishing a bit of control. She is coming to grips with the need to delegate more to employees, she says. Even tougher, she’s contemplating taking on debt for the first time — namely, a $75,000 line of credit from her bank that she can dip into to purchase equipment, buy a company truck, hire some more people.
Bratton has entirely self-funded her businesses up to now. “I tend to be more on the conservative side,” she says, a caution that stems from the financial hardship she experienced as a child. “It’s very important to me to not be over indebted,” she says.
“I have to manage that to make sure we’re on a steady path, not just for my family but for my employees who I’m responsible for,” Bratton adds. “When a small business goes out of business, it’s devastating — not just with the owner and the employees, it has a community impact. I didn’t dream this, I didn’t realize this just so it could sustain me and further me along and have it not further along other dreams.”
Kryshon Bratton – Owner – Bratton Pools
Kryshon Bratton (KB): We didn’t start out with the idea that we were going to build pools. We uh had a friend who said, “I wanna have a pool but I don’t want anybody else building it for me. Will you do it?” And we did and from there we uh did their pool in 2009, and then the next year we did two more, and the next year we did four more, and the next year we did these.
CARD: Kryshon Bratton – Owner – Bratton Pools
Houston, TX USA
KB: Bratton Pools uh is a pool builder, renovator, re-plasterer. Uh we, we upgrade pools. We uh take pools out. We also are building outdoor kitchens and pavilions.
CARD: Kryshon was born and raised in Houston, the oldest of 3 girls.
CARD: When she was 7, her parents divorced.
KB: My mom all of a sudden became a single mother with three children, all under the age of ten. She’s a, a really inspiration because she, at one point, was working three jobs to support my sisters and I. We lived in-, with friends, with family, sometimes we spent time in the car, right in someone’s driveway. Swimming was my passion. It was an escape.
CARD : Kryshon worked and saved for college from an early age.
CARD: In 1997 she started studying political science at the University of Houston.
CARD: In 2000 she married Michael Bratton.
KB: I didn’t graduate. I’m, I’m 10 hours shy of graduating. I got pregnant with Piper and it was a difficult, complicated pregnancy and I just never went back and finished the hours.
CARD: Kryshon started working with Michael.
CARD: He owned a lifeguarding company, staffing and maintaining pools all over Houston.
KB: I was in charge of all the teenagers, all 500-plus teenagers and, I loved what we were doing together at that point but it was not family focused. There was no time for family.
CARD: In 2006 Kryshon became pregnant again.
KB: Mother’s Day, I’m very pregnant with Whitney, I’m at a pool, I’m dealing with other people, and it kind of hit me that I wasn’t with my own child. It really got me thinking, “Is this what you want to do? How can we have a business and be successful but still have the family as the focus?”
CARD: Kryshon decided she and Michael should pivot to building and maintaining pools.
KB: Thankfully he bought in and he said ok. There’s a path for success.
CARD: At the end of 2006 Kryshon registered Bratton Pools, and she is the sole owner.
KB: It’s a better lifestyle choice. And we get better financial benefit from it.
CARD: Bratton Pools has annual revenues of about $2 million.
CARD: But it has turned out to be largely a seasonal business.
KB: We started to working with permeable on the side yards or the offshoots of the pool itself. And that kind of grew away from swimming pools and into driveways and parking lots.
SOT: It’s a little windy so far.
SOT KB: Right, we’re just going to have to make it work
Once we get the fabric down then we’ll, uh, start laying the grid.
KB: We all at one point have dealt with flooding in Houston and it’s never a question of “if.” It’s always a question of “when.” Permeable uh allows for proper drainage. So whenever you have concrete water goes everywhere. But with permeable it’s all going back into the ground. So it’s cleaner. It’s environmental friendly.
CARD: At the end of 2015 Kryshon started Piper Whitney to build walkways, parking lots and drivable lawns.
KB: I just love the fact that it’s green. I love the fact that it’s responsible, and this is my city. This is my town. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I’m creating something and it may be a parking lot, and it may just be a sidewalk, but I created something that’s gonna last and it’s going to have value.
SOT KB: Actually I’m in the middle of something but I’d like to touch base with you, what’s a good time?
KB: My goal personally is to get to a point where I can tell my mom, “We’ll take care of you. don’t worry about it.” But to get there it’s gonna cost a lot of money and it’s gonna take a lot of hard work. And this is how we’re gonna get it done.