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Nicole Ruble was on Facebook in late April when an ad caught her eye. It was promoting a new lead generation service, Pool Service on Demand, that claimed it could help pool businesses land new service customers.
Ruble, sales manager of JFY Pools in Elgin, Ill., was intrigued. But Sean Ruble, her husband and owner of JFY Pools, was uncertain.
"I was the one that was like, 'All right, let's do it, it sounds really interesting,'" Nicole says. "Sean was the one who was a little skeptical, a little scared, and I said, 'Well, what do we have to lose? Let's give it a shot and see how it goes.'"
After filling out an application form online, JFY Pools was quickly approved by Pool Service on Demand and added to its provider network. A few days later, the Rubles received their first lead through the service.
Sean was still nervous about the idea.
"I've dabbled in similar things in past years and the clientele they would refer out was, let's say, not to my caliber," he says. "It was just people wanting something for free. It always turned out to be a huge waste of time."
But after visiting the first client from PSoD, Sean says he changed his tune.
"When I went out to meet the first customer, they raved about the company. 'We were having trouble locating somebody to do what we wanted, we were referred to you guys immediately, and you guys came out, so we're happy. We want this, this this, this this and this.'" Sean says. "It was a whole bunch of extra things on top of what they originally said because they just liked our company and they like that PSoD company. It was a nice experience."
PSoD's parent company is Silicon Valley-based ConnectedYard, which was established in 2014. While the firm is still young, investors clearly see its potential — in January 2015, ConnectedYard received $200,000 in seed funding; in September, it would close another round of funding for $2.2 million. Shortly thereafter, the company launched pHin, a smart sensor that measures a pool or spa's water chemistry. Now, with PSoD, ConnectedYard sees an opportunity to establish deeper roots in the industry by connecting with service professionals — there are now more than 750 service technicians on PSoD's roster.
Here, we explore how the service works, what it's like for the technicians who use it and if on-demand is the new normal for our industry.
Say Mrs. Smith has a problem with her pool. She can pull out her phone, go to the PSoD website, fill out her information and request a service, like "filter repair," "leak detection," or "heater and pump repair." When she hits "submit request," her information goes to PSoD, which in turn sends that request to a service technician in her area who is on the PSoD network. (All service technicians must fill out an application before they're accepted to PSoD, which the company says protects the quality of its service.)
The service tech then decides if he or she wants to take the request. If it's a busy day, he can turn it down and the lead moves onto someone else. If he'd like to take it, he calls the homeowner and schedules the service.
As Nicole notes, PSoD isn't the first of its kind to cater to pool and spa professionals.
"We've used other services in the past, but those are more general services that cover everything the homeowner is looking for, whereas PSoD is very industry specific, and I think that's fantastic," she says. "There's not another service out there that targets that market. They understand what we're doing and what we're up against as opposed to just a general company that does everything from roofing and siding to landscape."
Another issue with more "general" lead generation companies: In order to ensure the service provider doesn't privatize the lead, thereby cutting out the middleman, they require communication through the platform only.
"There's another service that we use every now and again, and it's very un-user friendly. You can only communicate with the customer through their website. It's very restrictive," Nicole says. "So we had a job last week where the guy wanted his pool emptied. Well, you can't give the range of what it's going to be, you can't ask the customer how much water is in the pool. So we get out there and this guy's thinking we're going to come in a tanker and haul this dirty water away. Had we been in front of that, and had somebody who was able to contact him and get an idea of what he's looking for and what his expectations were, we could've avoided all of that."
With PSoD, users are given the lead's contact info so they can communicate directly and learn more about the job at hand — the size of the pool, for example, can wildly change your estimate for a pool cleaning. And while this does open the door for technicians who wish to go around PSoD and privatize the leads they receive, ConnectedYard isn't too concerned.
"If a tech wants to take advantage of the service and pull these people into private use, can he do that, sure," says Kevin Mapel, director of business developement for ConnectedYard, PSoD's parent company. "Are we going to notice he's doing that? Probably. And are we going to send him as many leads? Probably not."
One of Sean's main concerns about joining PSoD addresses the elephant in the room: What kind of cut are they getting from this?
"He was like, 'Oh, they're going to take 50 percent, or they're going to be looking for some astronomical amount of money,'" Nicole recalls.
For now, PSoD is passing along leads to its network for free.
"We're doing that because we want to build confidence in the supply chain and iron out all those wrinkles to ensure everyone really is engaged in this and getting the key benefits out of it," says Mark Janes, co-founder and COO of ConnectedYard.
Eventually, PSoD will implement a pricing structure based on two scenarios: a fixed fee for the lead, paid for by the service tech, or a fixed fee for the consumer, tacked onto the top of their bill. (There isn't a set a date for when a fee structure will be implemented, as it depends on how the network develops.)
"What we're looking at doing is putting stability into the model and making sure that all the tools are available to the techs and there's no ambiguity or concern from the techs," Janes says. "I think once we [reach critical mass], then of course we need to charge a fee mainly to cover the operation costs of the business."
Before PSoD launched, ConnectedYard had just broken into the pool and spa industry with pHin, its smart sensor product. As AQUA previously reported (see "The Smart Pool Solution?" from the October 2015 issue), pHin is a device that remotely measures water chemistry. When the water falls out of balance, the unit sends notifications to the homeowner via smartphone app and lets him or her know what chemicals to add to the water to restore balance. Currently, pHin is only compatible with its own proprietary line of pre-measured chemical pods that are sent to the homeowner or service technician on a subscription basis. (More on that below.)
While PSoD's network develops, ConnectedYard is making most of its revenue with pHin units. (According to the pHin website, a sensor and 12 months of pHin pods is $499 per year.) But pHin and PSoD aren't intended to be independent properties — ConnectedYard hopes users see how they intertwine.
"With pHin, there's a number of ways the tech can actually embrace it depending on their business plan," Janes says. "With pHin, they can actually seed it out to the marketplace and let the consumer buy the product, knowing their name is on the service tray for any leads that come through that local area."
In other words, techs who sell a pHin unit to a customer are designated as the service provider for that customer. If, at a later time, the customer uses the pHin app or PSoD to request maintenance or repairs, the service tech who sold her the device is guaranteed to be the first to receive the lead.
While pHin may concern some in the pool and spa industry — as stated above, it's only compatible with its own chemical line that can be delivered directly to the consumer's door — ConnectedYard says they exist to make pool maintenance easier for consumers and professionals alike.
"From a pHin perspective, yes, we are providing single-dose, color-coded chemical pods that are fulfilled directly to the consumer at home. And that's because 75 percent of the industry DIY their pools themselves and actually have that problem," Janes says. "The 25 percent that use techs, they can still use pHin and still have the chemicals shipped to the pool tech."
"…The tech has the ability to completely control their business plan. We're not trying to stifle them, we're not trying to take work away from them, we're trying to engage and help them grow their business and help make them successful."
When discussing PSoD and ConnectedYard's vision for their involvement in the pool and spa industry, Janes and Mapel return to one word: partnership. In the early stages of PSoD, Janes says he interviewed more than 200 service techs to learn more about their pain points as business owners and the industry at large.
"Out of those 200 service techs I interviewed in the beginning, so many of them had either been in the industry and grown out of it and wanted to come back, or were struggling in the industry or had a very stable business and knew they wanted to expand and embrace technology," he says. "All of them had a business problem. All of them had an issue they wanted to address. And I think where we're coming from is making sure we can empathize with all of those business needs and making sure we start tailoring for those."
Mapel agrees, and adds that the techs are central to the PSoD platform.
"Without the techs, we don't have the business model. We need the techs, we want to support the techs," he says. "Whenever we can actually have the conversation with these folks, they start to understand, 'Oh, OK, these guys are helping me with my business.' So we really want to work with the techs and bring the techs into the network, especially the ones who are doing a good job."
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