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Your top salesperson just gave his two weeks' notice. What do you do?
For many hot tub dealers, the answer is "panic."
Such a reaction is understandable — a hot tub dealer's revenue rests almost entirely on salespeople's shoulders. And in a field where great salesmanship hinges on thorough product knowledge, the idea of finding a new person, and starting from scratch, can sound intimidating.
The pool and spa industry may be known for long tenures, but eventually, everyone has to go through the trials of bringing in a new salesperson. To learn more, we spoke to three pros in the hot tub industry about the hiring process, from where to find candidates to training new recruits.
The days of the newspaper job ad are no more. Today's job candidates are looking online for jobs, especially on sites like Craigslist and aggregator sites like ZipRecruiter and Indeed.
Aggregator sites are popular among job hunters due to ease of use — enter your information into a few fields and you can apply with the push of a button. That's great for job candidates, but not ideal for hiring managers flooded with dozens of half-hearted applications.
"It's kind of torturous to look through all those emails," says Bill Renter, owner of Best Hot Tubs (Farmingdale, Westbury and Windham, N.Y.). "[Sometimes] there's just three lines and their name and that's it. Who in the world would call this person back? There's nothing there."
To make it easier to cull through piles of resumes, Renter experiments with a "jump through hoops" format to help screen out candidates.
"The ad starts with, 'Read the entire ad before you respond or send a resume.' And in the ad, there are seven questions that were very easy to answer, like, 'Do you have a valid driver's license? Are you available to work full-time?'
"We would get responses that would just say, 'I'm interested in your position, and here's my resume.' Those went into the trash immediately, because if they didn't read the ad, they don't follow instructions. And I can't have that."
Another way to find sales reps is to post your job listing on a sales-specific job board. SalesJobs.com, for example, is exclusively dedicated to sales positions. Candidates can search by location and filter by distance and salary, an especially helpful feature for eager salespeople.
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For more specialized positions, it can be even harder to find candidates. Last year, for example, St. Louis-based spa manufacturer/retailer Aspen Spas was on the hunt for a salesperson who could also help with marketing and social media needs, a blend of talents that narrowed the candidate pool.
"We were just really struggling to find somebody who really fit the position," says Aspen Spas Co-Owner Tom Bania. "We diligently went through the traditional ways first, but we weren't having any luck."
Tom's brother, Sam Bania, came up with an avenue they hadn't yet tried: Facebook.
"We have an awesome relationship with our customers; there's just so many of them who love and support us and come back regularly," Tom says. "We knew they'd only send us somebody they really thought was going to be able to fit the bill. Somebody that we'd be excited about having here. So we threw it out there on Facebook."
Ultimately, the strategy worked: The post caught the eye of Dan Boelhauf, a hot tub salesman at another company, who then applied and landed the job.
Facebook can be helpful for two reasons: First, when shared by your followers, your post receives organic exposure among people in your area. In Aspen's case, this helped attract someone who wasn't actively looking for a new job, a marked advantage over online job boards. Second, Facebook allows you to break away from the formalities of a typical job listing and show your true colors.
"The way they worded it was definitely directed to the Facebook followers," Boelhauf says. "They said, 'Hey, help us better provide for you. Do you know of anyone out there who may want to join our family?' I was really drawn to that."
For Renter, candidates with past sales experience jump to the top of the pile. One recent hire, for example, came from a job selling commercial equipment to restaurateurs.
"Where he came from, he had a lot of sales training and experience," he says. "He probably had a lot of rejections, too, because oftentimes he had to literally walk into a restaurant and cold call on the restaurant owner to see if he could convince him to bring his equipment into their kitchen."
Another recent hire came from a car dealership.
"At car dealerships, it's all about sales. So they get the most training, and they have the most experience," Renter says. "This person worked at Saturn. And Saturn has the same core values that we have, where it's more about the experience than it is about the car."
An important caveat: Not all sales experience is good sales experience. At Aspen Spas, Bania carefully screens out candidates with work experience that won't be helpful; a job at a high-pressure telemarketing job, for example, may not translate to the big-ticket, slower sales process found in a hot tub dealership.
"Sometimes people carry a lot of baggage in with them," he says. "We all have to be on the same page. We're all working together to make it the best experience it can be for the customer. And if you have someone coming in who really wants to do it their way instead of one consistent way, I think that can really be a negative instead of a positive."
A resume can tell you a lot about a candidate, but not everything. It's important to meet your leading candidates in person, largely to get a read on who they are and how they interact with new people — in this case, you.
"Are they personable? Do they relate to people well? Are they friendly, easygoing? Focus more on them than their specific job skills," Bania says.
Then dig around to learn if they meet the qualifications you're looking for. Ask leading questions and follow ups, and ask for concrete examples.
"Let them talk," Bania says. "'Tell me about what you did at your last job.' And then guide them to see what kind of answers they're going to give. 'What did you do when you weren't selling to customers? Tell me a little about that.'"
Training, even for those with previous industry experience, is vital for a new salesperson's success at your company. However, given the volume of product knowledge a salesperson needs to absorb, Bania finds it's best to break it up into phases.
"Get them up to speed on knowledge of the product," Bania says. "That's not anything that's going to happen immediately, but the big bullet points can be memorized and understood pretty quickly. What are the models? What are their names? What are their sizes? What are the general features?"
Once your new hire knows the basics, try a shadowing system. Take him/her under your wing so they can watch firsthand as you greet customers and pitch your products.
"We ask them to just be in our hip pocket and be a part of all the different sales pitches that are going on and just listen and absorb and learn," Bania says. This process, he says, helps new hires learn more about the broad strokes of sales as well as the finer points — how to present a model to a customer, what features to emphasize, company policies, etc.
As a Bullfrog Spas dealer, Renter takes advantage of sales training at the manufacturer headquarters in Salt Lake City. In addition, he takes his whole team (a total of eight people, himself included) to The Pool & Spa Show in Atlantic City, which is a convenient 2.5-hour drive away.
"In January, we're probably going to close the stores for a few days, all three of them, so we can all go down together, take training, learn and walk the floor so we can see all the different spa brands and ask questions of the manufacturers, just so they can get education," he says.
Boelhauf first broke into hot tub sales in his early 20s, and recalls it was a bit of an uphill battle initially.
"It was very challenging being some kid telling these people, who are at least twice your age, if not three times, 'Hey, give me $6-, $7-, $10,000. I know what I'm talking about,'" he says. "Generally speaking, that's just not a very comfortable position to be in."
While Boelhauf did take advantage of training opportunities offered by his managers, significant growth took place when he took it upon himself to learn more about the business.
"I consumed, consumed, consumed. I ate up any information that I could," he says.
Boelhauf reports it all began to "click" after a particularly enlightening conversation with a road agent during a tent sale event:
"I sat down and I just picked his brain. I ended up taking so many notes on so many things — the product I was selling, the state of the industry, the way you sell in a showroom versus the way you sell at a trade show — that I ended up compiling a book of notes," he says.
"I peppered a little of my philosophy in there and after a year or two after that, I saw my sales just completely turn around. Just absolutely opened up. And I hit total sales growth for three, four, five years straight."
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Given how much time, effort and money is invested in each employee you hire, it's in your best interest to keep them on board as long as possible. Providing opportunities for ongoing training and financial incentives, as well as nurturing a positive company culture, go a long way to ensuring low turnover.
"I think the culture we have, everybody feels more like family than just a job. We try and treat them like family and cultivate the things they're doing," Renter says. "We celebrate their successes and talk about how we can do things better."
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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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