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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Legends in the pool: Envious parents, wealthy cities

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Tried out the pool at Lake Forest Academy: Went for a swim before school and found it to be slow, cluttered and crowded. But when the pool opens this winter, there will be no trickle of swimming parents like me: Avi, Jules and Matthew Friedman, founders of the company Command Paper and the pool company they created, Make Me Aquatic.

You read that right. Not what one would expect to hear from the CEO of an online marketing company that helps businesses advertise their products on social media. But it makes perfect sense to the Friedman brothers, who grew up running seven pools in five states, knowing full well they would not enjoy this sort of lifestyle.

That is why they created Make Me Aquatic in 2013. Founded in a commercial space in the Loop, it manufactures custom pools, including baby pools and outdoor rinks. But, as Matthew explains, it turned out being located near Lake Forest was an ideal location to attract wealthy parents looking for pools and extra space.

“It was perfect timing,” he said, referring to several private school districts in the area that did not have a water feature on campus. “We thought, if you want to live next to a private school, go for it.”

It has been a business proposition that has paid off for Commander Friedman, who has struck partnerships with major metropolitan area schools, including DePaul, the University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul, Northwestern and Notre Dame universities. The Chicago Jewish Board of Family and Children Services uses the service to build more places to go swimming for their clients, as do water parks and YMCAs.

According to records, the Friedman brothers brought in $12.8 million in revenue from April 2018 to March 2019.

They don’t release exact numbers, but Matthew Friedman says 95 percent of the commissions are going to employees who have spent time on the production line or in the production area. The other 5 percent goes to the superintendent of the facility. There are more than 300 pools on the site, which features a production area adjacent to the offices of Commander Friedman.

The production facility is a far cry from the company’s original home. There, a group of Unilever employees set up a PR booth and allowed Friedman brothers to crawl into a swimming pool in their underwear.

“It became obvious they weren’t there for us,” Matthew Friedman said. “They were there for themselves.”

So they rented a tank.

That’s when Friedman struck on the idea for Command Paper. The two-year-old company distributes its products to 20,000 businesses that are using the company’s online marketing products. Commander Friedman has expanded into manufacturing specialty products, including temperature monitors for sub zero months, a product that Friedman says has caught on more rapidly.

Today, Friedman appears confident that all of his cool ideas will go public. The notion of having an indoor, controlled pool was presented to him at a party, and he took note. His brothers are both graduates of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he graduated from DePaul, and they both have young children.

“If our kids are doing this, I want them to experience the luxury,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I?”

That’s when the commercial space was found, and Make Me Aquatic launched.

It was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to open a pool company, Matthew Friedman said. It is one that neither of the brothers would have pursued otherwise.

“You get to experience the infinity pool,” Jules Friedman said. “Nothing like that.”

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