Unless you live in an area that enjoys year-round swimming, the pool season follows a standard ebb and flow: heavy business in the summer followed by a frenzy of pool closings and then…not a whole lot until next season.
With little to do, service techs are typically laid off around October or November. This cuts down on payroll during the slow season, but it also means owners run the risk of their well-trained techs finding other work that prevents them from returning the following year.
To help manage the sudden drop in cash flow and keep employees working longer, some pool businesses are breaking into a different market: Christmas lighting.
“I had been thinking for years about what kind of auxiliary side business I could add to my existing [one] without causing too much interruption, and also make me another buck or two,” says Michael Giannamore, president of Aqua Pools & Patio (East Windsor, Conn.).
He found the answer six years ago when he met a representative from Christmas Décor at a Carecraft meeting. Christmas Décor is a professional yard decorating service that has been in business since 1986; in 1996, it began partnering with businesses in the pool/spa and landscaping industries to expand its footprint across the U.S.
With the Christmas season closely following the end of pool season, Giannamore thought the timing worked out perfectly.
“It could fit with our schedule,” Giannamore says. “At the end of September and October, our service department starts to slow down. We’re winterizing lots and lots of pools through October. By the end of October, we’re starting to lay people off. That’s when Christmas lighting starts to get busy.”
Kaylee Pountney, marketing coordinator for Swimming Pool Services (Waukesha, Wis.), tells a similar story. She’s been working with Christmas Décor since 2012.
“We started [Christmas decorating] as a way to keep our guys working longer,” Pountney says. “We wanted something to offer our employees to help retain them. The longer we keep them working, the more likely they would come back here year after year. It was a way we could add two plus months of work onto our calendar.”
“It does not eliminate our primary focus, which is swimming pool construction, then swimming pool service. Third on the list is holiday lighting,” Giannamore says. “It is meant to supplement what we’ve got.”
It helps that the clientele is similar as well. “When we started, we found that the database of clientele overlapped very nicely with our existing client base,” Pountney says. “The people that will pay for a pool service are going to be similar to the people that will pay to have lights put up on their house.”
While Giannamore quickly got on board with the idea, his service techs weren’t as certain.
“Some of the employees were not very enthusiastic about working outdoors in the freezing temperatures, and some did not feel enthusiastic about climbing ladders,” he says. “Once a couple of them got on board, the rest saw that it was a viable way to make a couple more bucks.”
It’s easy to understand that trepidation — who wants to string lights while standing on an icy roof? Giannamore understands this and prioritizes safety above elaborate lighting design.
“If we cannot reach it with a ladder, we will not light it,” he says. “It is meant to be an auxiliary way to make some money, and it’s not meant to be overly dangerous. We’re not roofers. If you looked at the Christmas Décor website, you will see lighting that I would never sell because I don’t want to be held responsible for someone getting injured. It’s just not worth it; I like my co-workers too much.”
In true holiday spirit, Christmas Décor also has programs that allow franchises to give back to their communities. Swimming Pool Services participates in the Decorated Family Program, which serves military veterans who might not otherwise be able to decorate their own homes for Christmas.
“We decorate the homes of two veteran families for free each season,” Pountney says. “We ask for nominations and then pick two from the ones that we receive.” Eligible people have to either served in the past or be currently serving and live in our service area.
“Last year we did a home for a guy that was in his early nineties. We are doing the home of another ninety-plus-year-old guy this year.”
Like the pool business, Christmas decorating is a seasonal job, but it’s a welcome one.
“It’s a nice change from the pool work,” Giannomore says. “By the time the end of the season rolls around, we’re all tired of swimming pools and swimming pool customers, even though they pay for groceries. It’s nice to do something a little different.”