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For years, the service sector has enjoyed unique advantages over other sectors of the recreational water business, and those advantages remain in 2018.
Unlike retail, which faces aggressive competition from outside the industry, and the builder segment, which is subject to the vagaries of new-pool demand, service is buoyed by a large installed base and consumers' ever-greater need to delegate work. Each year, more and more people are attracted to the idea of letting someone else worry about the threat of algae and that vague brown blob of something floating in the skimmer.
Growth inevitably draws the attention of those who would like to share in it, and the service sector has become more competitive, evidence of which can be found throughout the SOI survey. Whether it's the increased resources spent on training and education, fights over scarce employees or simple comments about the unrelenting pressure to keep up, industry veterans have noticed the quickening pace.
Still, many of the things people love about service work are as salient and poignant as ever.
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Techs relish the satisfaction of direct immediate impact on a problem — a dirty pool becomes clean, a dead pump comes to life, a cracked union is made whole. These moments are a source of pride and joy and expressed in comments like, "My best day last year? I found a difficult pool leak. I was the fourth company they'd called." Or, "I rescued a dog from a pool that could have drowned."
Moments like these are entirely unique to the pool service business, and it's clear many people working in it understand that and are thankful for them.
Overall, a sense of optimism shines through this year's SOI survey. The future looks bright, and service expects continued expansion as more people acquire enough money to pay for pool and spa care. There are obstacles to overcome, but business is good. Revenues seem to be limited by energy and resources, not opportunity. That's a good place to be.
Expectations are running high for service companies in 2018 as economic growth has shown no sign of abating. However, success has brought challenges — finding good young workers to meet rising demand is one of the most pronounced concerns in this year's SOI survey. At the same time, technological advancement is changing the way service companies go about the practical business of keeping pools healthy and clean. Pleatco Executive Vice President Jeff Smith spoke to AQUA recently about these issues as they impact the service sector.
AQUA: How do you view the industry's prospects for the coming year?
JS: At Pleatco we are extremely excited to see the trend of positive growth continuing in 2018. The economy seems stable and as long as we have a hot spring and summer, hopefully that will lead to a strong pool season. As well, we see real industry advancement in areas such as education with positive strides being made by great organizations such as NSPF, Genesis and IPSSA. Innovation is opening new revenue streams as automation has really accelerated across the board and new smart products are emerging. At Pleatco, we always look toward science and innovation to push the boundaries of filtration and deliver quality products for everyone and support positive growth in the industry.
AQUA: What's the best way for the pool service industry to attract young people to the profession?
JS: There is certainly a new shift in the labor market driven by the emerging millennial culture. Once people used to look towards 9-to-5 jobs, sticking with a position for many years. The new technology driven culture has reversed that paradigm; multitasking and having a tapestry employment history is no longer a stigma. In this current employment climate, it's hard for service companies to attract new talented workers and hold onto them. The best way is to offer flexible working environments, services that use technology and real incentives where recruits can learn the trade and feel like they will be financially rewarded. The key is ownership and relationships. Get them involved with the company culture and the customers. Train them in the social arts as much as the pool technologies. Once they are established with the customer on a personal level, they will enjoy the deeper benefits of a great outdoor job where they are helping their community as part of a fulfilling and rewarding career.
AQUA: How can service companies use advanced filtration technology to gain an edge in the competitive pool service sector?
JS: Quality is crucial, and a pool or spa maintenance company needs to be sure of the quality of its service and its products. It is important for companies to make sure they keep up with the changing environment and deliver the best products that meet their customers' needs. Smart companies use quality filtration products to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their customers first and foremost by not cutting corners. At Pleatco, quality and innovation is everything. Customers will always be loyal if they feel their service company is looking out for their best interests and using the latest and greatest filtration products. Business-wise, advanced filtration technology holds the value of the market up and supports growth, while cheaper products create a price war, which is essentially a race to the bottom and a very poor business strategy.
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