Education. We hear about it all the time in the hot tub and pool industry. We're told it's the way to increase our professionalism, deliver greater value to our customers and ultimately grow the industry as we compete for consumers' discretionary dollars.

Yet for all of the obvious importance of professional education and the hopeful rhetoric that surrounds it, I can't help but think, as an industry, we've come up short. That's not to say that we're entirely lacking in educational opportunities. In fact, when it comes to certain specific areas, such as how to replace a pump, clean a filter or maintain water chemistry, I'd argue we've covered those kinds of topics rather thoroughly.

Where I believe we're missing the mark is in our reluctance to embrace resources from outside our industry, meaning those authoritative voices that speak to the overall challenges of running a business.

REFRESHED PERSPECTIVES

There are many probable reasons for our habitual isolationism. For one, many in our industry feel like we're different, that our businesses are unique and therefore somehow immune to overarching business principles. On the contrary, I've come to believe that to a large extent, a business is a business and there are big ideas that do in fact apply across the board.

For our part at Olympic Hot Tub, we first started looking outside the industry several years ago when the city of Seattle began providing education to companies that were impacted by "the big dig," a massive project to create a public transit tunnel under the city.

One of the speakers the city brought in was Jon Schallert, who runs a program called "Destination Boot Camp." In his presentation he made the point that if you're in retail, you're in retail regardless of the product. He also talked about making your business a destination and the importance of structuring your business to sell from the get go.

Those may sound like overly basic ideas, but when we dug deeper into Schallert's message, we unearthed a series of "a-ha" moments that resulted in changes to our business.

PRESENTING VISIONS

As for our industry, looking back, there was a time the only resource within the industry for this type of information was the educational programs at the AQUA show. I personally believe that publisher and show organizer Peter Brown deserves tremendous credit for bringing in a variety of business gurus that at least showed us the possibilities of a broader educational approach.

One of these leaders was Michael Gerber, whose presentation had a huge impact on our firm. He pointed out that many who start a business do so in order to have a job rather than to create a business that is poised for long-term success. For my part, that simple comment alone prompted a whole new way of thinking and further exploration. What we were doing should be more than just a job.

I was so impressed and inspired, in fact, that we hired one of Gerber's people to coach us for a year, the result of which was a far more functional and enjoyable way of doing business. As basic as it might sound, one of Gerber's primary recommendations was to develop job descriptions for each position in the company, which we had never really done in any meaningful way.

We quickly found that it helped in establishing expectations and gave us a tool to assess whether or not our employees were, in fact, doing what we hired them to do. Everyone needs feedback to be successful.

Also, when it comes to the hiring process, those descriptions are invaluable in finding the right person for the job. Today, when we post a job opening online, we are very clear in the qualifications and qualities we're looking for and what the job entails. Instead of leaving it to the imagination, we spell it out in detail and the hiring process is much easier as a result. Also, it bears mentioning that in situations where someone is not living up to the expectations of the job, a concise job description helps when it comes time to let them go.

SO MANY WAYS

Time and time again, I've learned that until you explore the information that's available, there's no way to fully appreciate what you might be missing.

Again, looking back at Gerber's input, we also found a way around a problem we had among our salespeople, who would often get in terrible fights with each other over leads. We addressed the problem by setting ground rules that said if your lead comes in on your day off, another salesperson would sign them up under your name. Likewise, you would do the same for them.

It was a simple fix and one that created an atmosphere of cooperation. I'm proud to report we haven't had a dispute over a sales lead since.

As another example, we've grown in the way we market our company with positive messaging that motivates consumers to come to our stores. That's a complicated subject, but in brief, we've learned to define our business as a destination, a place where homeowners will have a positive experience and find the at-home luxury they're looking for.

It's no secret that negative competitive marketing, i.e. trash talking the competition, is one of the bad habits we as an industry have perpetuated over the years and I argue that we've done so to our own collective disadvantage.

I look at it this way: Consumers come to the process of buying hot tubs or swimming pools because they want to feel good, have fun and enjoy positive experiences with family and friends. In that light, it makes absolutely no sense to greet those desires with divisive language and scare tactics.

We may all know that deep down, but sometimes it takes an authoritative voice from outside the industry to inspire us to reach for higher ground.

FINDING FISH

I feel so strongly about this that I thought it might be useful to share a few of the resources that have benefited our company. In the coming months I'll be sharing brief reviews and recommendations on the AQUA website that I hope will help others improve their businesses and ultimately gain greater success and satisfaction in their work.

For now, here's a practical and inspirational one that I highly recommend.

It's called "Fish Philosophy," a wonderful resource started by documentary filmmaker John Christensen, who was inspired by the energy, culture and success found at Seattle's famous Pike's Place Fish Market. I read his book by the same title and we subsequently had Christensen take part in one of our company summits in San Diego. It was a huge success.

In a nutshell, the philosophy has four big ideals:

Be There: That means being emotionally present for people. It's a powerful message of respect that improves communication and strengthens relationships.

Play: Tap into your natural way of being creative, enthusiastic and fun. Play is the spirit that drives the curious mind, as in, "Let's play with that idea!" You can bring this mindset to everything you do.

Make Their Day: Find simple ways to serve or delight people in a meaningful, memorable way. It's about contributing to someone else's life — not because you want something, but because that's the person you want to be.

Choose Your Attitude: Take responsibility for how you respond to what life throws at you. Your choice affects others. Ask yourself: "Is my attitude helping my team or my customers? Is it helping me to be the person I want to be?"

We found that if you embrace these ideas, work is more enjoyable and more successful. In fact, one might argue that the Fish Philosophy has something to offer our lives away from the workplace.

For more information, check out fishphilosophy.com

Odds are, even if you don't become as successful or legendary as the Pike Place Fish Market, you're business will be much happier and effective all the same.

As fishing expeditions go, this is one well worth considering.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail editors@aquamagazine.com.