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The future of the industry has long been a concern in the pool and spa industry, but over the past couple years in particular, the issue has reached a boiling point. Who will take over from the greying generation of pros who are itching to retire? How will we find young people interested in getting their hands dirty in service and building?
Those concerns are merited. However, while putting our Next Generation Issue together, we learned there is much to be optimistic about. Not only are there young people willing to take the helm, they are genuinely excited about building a career in the pool and spa industry — and that excitement is contagious.
RELATED: Where is the Next Generation?
We also learned that this next generation, the millennial generation, comes with different priorities for their careers and workplace. They relish challenge and the opportunity to advance through the ranks. Technology isn’t a distraction, but a way to streamline and economize time. And, perhaps most importantly, workplace culture is closely tied to job satisfaction. Today’s young workforce flocks to companies that offer solid benefits, a healthy work/life balance and a positive, collaborative culture — a significant departure from how their parents and grandparents viewed work.
With an entire generation of industry pros are looking for an exit plan, we’re entering a new era of the pool and spa industry, one led by enterprising, talented millennials. As you’ll see below, the future is in good hands
All Seasons Pools & Spas | Memphis Pool | Thatcher Pools | Memphis Pool | Purity Pool Service
AQUA: Besides pay, what's important to millennials on the job?
Relationships are important. I worked here at All Seasons for a while, but my boyfriend and I wanted to try a different place. I'd never lived outside Illinois, and wanted to try something fresh and new, and we ended up moving to Salt Lake City in November of 2016. I got a job in an office, but it just wasn't the same. One of the biggest things was my boss and I at the new job, we just didn't click. And with Dan here at All Seasons, we had always worked really well together. He just says exactly what he wants done, and it's clear. We have great communication.
And working at All Seasons, it's a good company. It's like a big family working there, and I really missed that. So I texted him one day, actually from my job, and said, "I really miss All Seasons, and I miss working for you."
And he just texted back and said, "Well, what's it going to take to get you back here?"
I just felt really appreciated. And that's what got the ball rolling. My boyfriend was totally onboard. As soon as I told him what happened, he said, "Let's do it." So coming back to All Seasons was a no-brainer. We moved back in July of 2017.
AQUA: Thoughts about the work ethic in the younger generation?
I would say there are people in any generation that don't have a good work ethic, but a lot of people in the younger generation are attached to their phone, and that can turn into an opportunity to slack off at work. But the girls in the office here, they get it. You don't have to put your phone away, but you have to get your work done. If you want to send a text once in a while, that's fine.
There are millennials out there who have a great work ethic; it's just a matter of finding them.
AQUA: Biggest challenge for a young person?
I would say it's probably the drive and willingness to overcome the new obstacles each day brings that you may not be trained for. There's no college course or previous job experience that will make you successful in the pool and spa industry. You have to get out there, get your hands dirty, realize that no two pools are the same, accept that and adjust to it.
AQUA: How did you get started in this business?
The company started out of my great grandfather's garage, so I'm a 4th generation pool guy. My dad did this work, my grandfather did it and my grandfather's dad it, too.
AQUA: What do millennials offer the pool business?
I think we understand the younger generation of pool owners better. We see things more like a younger customer might.
AQUA: Do millenials have issues with their work ethic?
Honestly, the older I get, the more I agree with that statement. Many of them just don't seem to have the drive — they were given so much they want to be instantly pleased without having to earn it. But it comes down to how you've been raised. I had to earn my own spending money when I was a kid, so I expect to work. My grandpa always told me, "You don't have to like your job, but it's important to be the best you can be at doing it."
AQUA: What attracted you to this industry?
I like the backyard industry and working outside. And it's a family atmosphere here. I think that's more important to younger people — having good personal relationships at work. You're never dreading going to work, you're kind of looking forward to it. It seems like nobody has a down day here — as opposed to other places I've been where it was kind of a dead atmosphere.
AQUA: What do I like about this industry?
For me, this industry is more than just working retail, it's a learning process, and there is never a day of work where I leave without learning something I didn't know that morning. And as I learn more, it makes me want to connect with my customers and clients to ensure they have a better understanding of a subject I feel I am starting to specialize in. It gives millennials like myself the chance to become the teachers rather than be the ones being taught. We are known to be independent, strong-headed and electronically driven. In this field, there's a unique way to express all of those ambitions and share them with those we are servicing.
AQUA: What's the generation gap look like from my perspective?
Well, the majority of our customers are over 40. Often the person coming in is someone in their 50s or 60s, and they've had a pool for 20 years. They come in here and see a 21 year old — they definitely have their doubts. Can they trust me?
They definitely steer toward the older gentlemen that work here. They don't want to waste any time, and I might be a waste of time. They just want to get the answers and the products they need, and get going.
What they may not know is even though I look young, I've been working here for five years; I have some experience under my belt.
AQUA: What do I have to offer?
When I get questions, I feel my answers are pretty consistent. I really work on that. I don't throw a bunch of situations and confusing things at them. I try to be sure I know what I'm talking about, stick to what I know, and don't tell them something if I'm not sure. And then I make sure they understood what I said.
They say young people often provide a fresh perspective in the workplace. That's certainly the case at Thatcher Pools (Rochester, Minn.) — though instead of a "fresh perspective," it might be more apt to say "a swift kick in the pants."
At 27 and 28 years old respectively, Kaitlin and Ben Thatcher, third-generation co-owners of Thatcher Pools, have taken their grandfather's business and given it a complete overhaul to modernize it for today's competitive business climate.
"I would say [we changed] probably everything," Kaitlin says with a laugh.
As millennials, the most immediate change, naturally, was incorporating technology into a business that long relied on paper.
"All of our service guys would hand-write their notes. Basically everything was on paper, and it was so time consuming," Kaitlin says. "But now it's all on the computer. It's all on their tablets, their phones."
The retail branch of the business was also digitized and streamlined.
"We would have 20 binders full of pricing," Kaitlin recalls. "So I think two years ago, we got iPads for all the salespeople, and now everything is on there."
Such rapid, sweeping changes are a refreshing change of pace from a longtime industry standard: the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to business. However, introducing such change was only Ben and Kaitlin's first step — the second was to convince the rest of the team (especially their father, Brad Thatcher, who is the third co-owner of the company) that these changes were worthwhile and beneficial.
Ben says. "Getting over those differences in perspective can be a little challenging sometimes, but once [the team can] see how well it works once we have it implemented, it's easier for them to get a hold of it."
Luckily, those differences are few and far between; while some family businesses are rife with tension, Brad gives Ben and Kaitlin plenty of space to make their own decisions.
"Our dad is very good about letting us do things our way. He's pretty good about saying, 'Try it your way if you think it's better,'" Kaitlin says.
Of course, no parent can keep their opinions entirely to themselves. Occasionally Brad tries to put his foot down, as he did when Kaitlin and Ben made an interesting marketing decision: to buy a giant duck.
Suggested to the team by a Watkins representative, the duck inflates to 25 feet tall and has room for signage, like "Pool Sale" or "Spa Sale."
"My dad was like, 'No, that's going to be a waste of money!'" Kaitlin recalls. "About a week after we put it up on our roof, we had so many more people come in the showroom that said, 'I didn't even know you guys were over on this side of town until I saw that duck.' So it honestly was one of the best marketing investments we made that year. It's paid for itself 100 times over."
Much is said to disparage the millennial generation — they don't work hard, they're glued to their phones, they're selfish. Kaitlin and Ben are aware of the stereotypes, and argue that there's more to the millennial generation than meets the eye.
"We know what people say about our generation, but we were raised with the work ethic that our dad and grandpa instilled in us, and it's definitely not bad," Kaitlin says. "I think we prove people wrong when they see that."
Hannah Vogen was raised in the pool service business. The daughter of veteran service tech Bob Foutz Jr., Hannah began riding along with her dad on his Southern California service route at age 7.
It only made sense for Hannah and her younger sister, Laura, to join their dad on the route. "My mom worked at home doing medical transcriptions, and during the summer it was a way to get me and my sister out of the house," she recalls. "My dad would take us with him and he'd put us to work helping him service his pools. I remember the first year I made 70 dollars and I was so proud of myself. I did that every summer at least one day a week throughout my school years."
When Hannah graduated high school, she was still servicing pools one day a week. "It was 2009 and because of the recession I couldn't find anything," she recalls. "So, I kept working with my dad and it was enough to pay my car insurance and gas."
Now, at age 26, recently married, Hannah has taken over a number of her dad's accounts and is using what she learned all those years at his side taking care of pools.
Prior to taking to the service route, Hannah worked a graveyard-shift janitorial job. The schedule was rigorous. When her dad suggested she join family business the move made sense. "I told him that I already know how to do this, having watched him work most of my life, and many of the pools were for people we'd serviced for years and years. For some of our customers, I've known the entire life cycle of their dogs."
Like many people working in service, Hannah says she enjoys the active nature of the job and the sense of being in control of her time. "I like working with my hands. I like physical work more than a desk job. And when a pool isn't working right and I can figure it out — that's a great sense of accomplishment.
"It's different now that I'm out on my own route and my dad's not always there to answer the questions. I used to do mostly cleaning, but now I'm in charge of water chemistry and circulation, so it can be challenging. I get a feeling of satisfaction making my pools sparkle."
The Legend is calling on AQUA readers to share your craziest, funniest stories from the working world of pool and spa pros! Maybe you’ve got a customer that drinks from her own pool. Maybe you’ve got a route dog that can empty a skimmer basket. The best stories will be featured in the September issue of AQUA. If your story is chosen you will receive lifetime Legendary status, AQUA glory and some sweet swag.
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