Service has lived a charmed existence. While great forces have devastated other sectors of the pool and spa industry (and certainly the economy as a whole), pool and spa service has continued to provide a steady living for its workers in a tranquil setting, almost as if the industry itself were private property.
When the recession wiped out 90 percent of the pool construction market in Florida, service workers continued to maintain their properties. As retailers have fought the grim, ongoing struggle against internet and mass merchants, servicers have suffered only a glancing blow, sustained by their base rates for cleaning and water care.
And out in the wider economy, taxi drivers and travel agents and librarians tell a similar story of livelihoods ravaged by societal change in the internet age, but through it all, service has remained as peaceful as the grounds of a suburban home on Tuesday morning.
A large percentage of the service community remains to this day sole proprietors who run their own businesses, shape the outlines of each day and answer to nobody but the customer. In the world today, who else can say that?
This is not to diminish the challenges that go with the job. The SOI survey is packed with short stories and comments about crazy customers, cheating competitors and struggles with the physical demands of working outside under the hot sun. Service pros are bedeviled by ever-changing regulations and technology, and online retailers undercutting prices for equipment. Finding good workers to staff service companies these days is like hunting for Blackbeard's treasure.
Still, even with all that, these are good times in pool and spa service, and that is clear from the descriptions of individual days on the job last year. One guy did a great job on the equipment and was invited to the barbecue that night. Another saved a mom's pool party for her son — and brought the woman to tears. Another lady, on a particularly hot day, invited her service tech to go skinny-dipping in the pool he'd just cleaned. Few jobs provide such opportunities.
As far as the service sector economy, that also retains the health that has marked it for many years. Over 90 percent of you said you were doing at least ok, and three quarters said it was more like good or great. That stat speaks for itself.
Industry Spotlight: Sponsored by Pleatco
While 2017 is shaping up to be a strong year, with good weather and a good economy in the forecast, service companies are searching harder than ever for good workers. That means profitability gains are dependent on getting the most out of an existing workforce. To learn more about these trends and others revealed in this year's SOI survey, we spoke with Battista Ramati, chief marketing officer for SOI Service Report Sponsor Pleatco.
AQUA: How do you view the prospects for 2017?
We are very optimistic about the coming year. We have seen solid growth in the past few years and believe that our advanced filtration technology has been extremely well received in the industry. We are seeing like-minded companies who have invested in technology and pushed the industry forward enjoying the same effect.
AQUA: With the labor market as tight as we've seen in years, how can a service company increase efficiency on the jobsite in order to get the most out of its workforce?
There is a new wave of service professionals adopting smart technology and streamlining the way they service clients and run their business. This same group also seeks out the best products to offer their customers quality assurance. They understand the value of working with advanced products and charging the premium rate, as opposed to the old school mindset of trying to find the cheapest products in order to save a few cents on material costs.
This old school methodology is a race to the bottom and devalues the market. Fortunately we are seeing quality winning over price again and that's good for the whole industry.
AQUA: Building a new generation of service techs is a core concern. What's the best way for the pool service industry to attract young people to the profession?
The best way is to offer a flexible working environment, current technologies, and real incentives where recruits can learn the trade and feel they will be financially rewarded for doing a good job. Pleatco's Perfect PoolGuy and PoolGal contest celebrates the service professional and spotlights the rewards of a healthy outdoor career. It also highlights the fact that nowadays females play a crucial role in the service industry and it's no longer considered and all male profession. By positioning the job as a smart, healthy, active and financially rewarding profession an employer can attract the right candidates and retain staff.
AQUA: In competing in the service industry, how important is continuing education?
Education is the key. Great companies like G3, the National Swimming Pool Foundation and IPSSA run excellent courses that push the industry to better standards and creative solutions. The simple fact is that the better educated you are, the more money you can make.
Service professionals can charge premium rates if they are educated on the latest technologies and can help their customers save money, time and stress with smart solutions. Likewise having a solid foundation in the fundamentals such as water chemistry, construction techniques and equipment repairs is equally important as these skills are vital to operating efficiently while in the field.