photo of a pool service person

Each sector of the pool and spa industry has seen periods of prosperity. Certainly in the early years of expansion, pool builders and retailers enjoyed the fruits of a growing customer base as North Americans discovered their taste for backyard pools and spas.

But in the last half decade or so, builders and retailers have endured the brunt of the recession and lingering blight while service and maintenance has remained relatively insulated from the cold economic blast. Sure, there is competition for the service dollar — success always breeds competition — but the dollars are there to be earned. The recession did not reduce the number of pools and spas in North America, nor did it dull consumers’ basic taste for Service — expert care for their belongings, properties and even themselves — a general trend which has buoyed the economy for many decades, in good economies and bad, and which will continue to grow.

Our survey reflects this comparatively robust economic microclimate. Respondents — who skewed toward the more successful, established companies — overwhelmingly agreed with the general statement that their business was “growing.” Thirty-two percent were in position to raise rates in 2013, as opposed to only 1 percent that felt they had to lower rates. Sixty one percent saw revenues increase as opposed to 13 percent that saw them drop.

Products driving growth included some familiar winners — new salt systems, energy-efficient pump replacements and automation upgrades — but also some surprises. Liners were popular, as the pent up demand from the lean recession years burst forth; so were LED lights, UV units, cartridge filters and good old replacement hot tub covers.

But “growth” is not necessarily the objective of every service company. Another surprise from the survey was the number of sole proprietors and small service companies that said, in effect, “there are a lot of hassles with getting bigger — more government red tape, good workers are hard to find — and it’s just not worth it. I like my world the way it is, simple and uncomplicated. I’m going keep my business strong by giving my customers great service, and enjoy what I have.”

Which is a great testament to the service business.

The survey was not short of these — endorsements and affirmations for a livelihood that is not confined to a desk and a computer screen. Servicemen spoke almost poetically of the early morning solitude on the job and the gratification of leaving a pool clean, or a piece of equipment functioning where only an hour ago it was not. They like doing a physical job and that simple, tired satisfaction at the end of the workday.

Makes me jealous, I have to admit.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail editors@aquamagazine.com.

Strength In Service

Service company owners across the nation enjoyed the fruits of a sector that held up well and even grew in a stagnant economy. As the data below shows, owners felt generally confident enough to raise rates, and they noted increased competition, the surest sign of a healthy business.

2014 SOI Service chart

Last year, did the competition for customers in your area . . .

Comments:

Everyone who has a pick-up truck or a van is a pool tech. Lots of mechanical firms are scraping up any work that is closely related to their field.

We are seeing an increase of unlicensed individuals entering our business and more homeowners attempting repairs and the like themselves.

New competitors, but they’re all idiots. Lucky me.

2014 SOI Service chart

Did your gross service revenues increase or decrease last year?

My Revenues are UP because…

We are bringing new products to the customers’ attention and showing how those products can help. The customers were happy to pay additional for them.

2012 was one of my worst years; people were not spending. Purse strings loosened up in 2013.

A lot of equipment repair that people had been putting off.

2014 SOI Service chart

My Revenues are DOWN because…

Customers are doing more for themselves and making do with less. Some cities do not open all of their facilities. Increased competition has taken some of the work too.

Did not have the quality people to sell the work. Demand is there. Having issues with staffing.

Large service firms are hiring cheap [illegal immigrant] labor. Some of their service techs don’t speak English. The repair tech who talks to the customer speaks good English, but the day-in, day-out cleaner does not.

If you had unlimited power, what would you change about the pool and spa service industry?

Licensing, professionalism and Internet equipment sales are what service people would most like to change. Many believe that requiring a formal license and enforcing that requirement would change the industry for the better. At the same time, many resent government intrusion into the pool and spa business.

Comments:

Retail Internet sales undercut my prices.

Professionalism. Too many of us show up in tattered tee shirt, driving a dirty old leaky truck. No wonder price is the only thing we can offer.

Get the Fed and State out of our business.

Turn all the carpool lanes into pool truck lanes!

Big Sellers…

Salt systems

Energy efficient pumps

Automation

Liners

LED lighting

“Good, solid weekly service.”

But also…

UV units and enzyme treatments

Robotic cleaners

Hexoborates and phosphates

Cartridge filters

Replacement hot tub covers

LED lights

Ionization

Leak detection. “Customers are now trying to get more years from their pool liners before replacement, so leak detection seems to have increases steadily.”

What is your biggest concern about your business heading into this year?

Comments:

Can’t compete with Internet pricing. Clients can pay less with free shipping than what I pay wholesale for almost any product.

Ridiculously high cost of medical insurance for my staff.

The drought.

2014 SOI Service chart

Best part of the day

Best part of the day? That, for most people in the service business, is the morning, before the day gets hot, while it’s quiet, most people are still in bed and nobody is calling on the phone just yet. Just getting out in the morning and feeling that energy and momentum and focus.

For others, it’s the end of the day, and the feeling of accomplishment and tired satisfaction. And for some, it’s both.

Comments:

Solving a problem. Something doesn’t work, and it’s a small mystery. You investigate, you come up with a theory, you try your solution, and bingo, right on the first try, the flow returns to normal or the pool stops leaking or the heater starts heating again.

Just leaving a pool nice and clean.

TOUGH PART OF THE DAY

Comments:

When someone poops in the pool. Yes, it really happens, a lot more than you want to know.

Irrational customers who direct their other personal issues to the pool guy.

Listening to people tell me we are gouging them since they could buy the part online for ½ the price.

Scott Webb is Executive Editor of AQUA Magazine.