Let's start off with a bit of critical thinking and a dash of common sense.
If you have a goose that lays golden eggs, and you like having golden eggs, it only makes sense to take care of the goose. If, however, like the farmer in the Aesop fable, you kill the goose in an effort to get more eggs from inside it as quickly as possible, you wind up eliminating the very thing that makes the precious eggs in the first place.
That is not a good idea!
Renowned author Stephen Covey talked about this very thing at the beginning of his seminal book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” — an inescapable point that we are always our own makers of success, and therefore to achieve our goals, we must first care for and prepare ourselves so as to set the table for our desired outcomes.
A TIME LIKE NO OTHER
In today’s pandemic-driven, torrid demand for swimming pools, builders are the golden geese, and many I’ve talked to admit that they aren’t always doing a good job of taking care of themselves.
“It’s been brutal,” says Michael Logsdon, owner of Land Design in Boerne, Texas, a landscape and swimming pool design and installation firm serving a blistering market in the Lone Star State. “Of course, I’m always grateful for the business, but this level of constant demand pushes you in terms of your ability to keep up and perform at your best. You have to take care of yourself and your people first."
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According to Logsdon and many others like him, the current demand puts pressure on every aspect of the business, including staffing, relationships with subcontractors and vendors, response times to prospective clients and interaction with existing ones, and, of course, your energy level and mental wellness.
“I love what I do, and I’m thankful every day for the opportunities God has brought my way,” Logsdon says, “but this past year has been exhausting.”
The existential bottom line is that pool builders are busier than ever, and while prognostication is always iffy, the demand currently shows no signs of slowing, with builders reporting backlogs that already stretch into next year and in some cases, even farther.
Many builders I’ve talked to admit they are putting work above all else, at least for now, because they know this hot streak won’t last forever. The plan, they say, is simple: go at it as hard as possible for as long as you can manage, staying focused entirely on producing as many golden eggs as possible.
While that gung-ho, all-hands approach does fit neatly with the intrepid spirit so many builders pridefully cultivate, going that route may not be the best long-term strategy. In citing the “Fable of the Golden Goose,” Covey was ingeniously examining the concept of “production-over-production/ capability,” which at its most basic level indicates that what you do produce is always relative to what you're capable of producing, meaning – you've got to take care of the goose.
With that fabled analogy in mind, here’s a list of things that today’s pool builders can do to increase production capability and reduce stress.
Topping the list is all stuff we know already, but also many of the first things lots of us set aside.
Often the very first to go in times of intense activity, the consequences of not getting adequate sleep are well known to medical science. The list ranges from lack of focus, irritability, memory loss, racing and scattered thought patterns, hypertension and, of course, low energy. All are maladies that can significantly compromise varying aspects of your physical health and almost inevitably, your performance on the job.
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It also bears mentioning that doing many types of physical labor while exhausted will increase the risk of making mistakes, property damage and injury, self-inflicted wounds no one can afford, especially not now.
Another seemingly obvious point is that the fact is, many busy contractors skip meals, rely too frequently on fast food and are generally not making good nutritional decisions for themselves. The possible downsides of not eating right are so legion in number we’ll skip the list, but suffice it to say, anyone attempting to keep up with the current demand needs to be running on the right fuel, which means a balanced diet and proper hydration.
Focusing entirely on one thing for long periods of time may seem like an absolute necessity when faced with overwhelming demand, but it’s not a formula for performing at your best over the long haul. Scheduling time to tend to personal matters like showing up to your kids’ activities, or time with friends where work is not the focus, or perhaps playing golf, hiking in nature, meditation, going to church and, yes, even good ol’ swimming, can all increase your ability to work at a high level when you get back to the grindstone.
Some builders I’ve talked to say they do put up barriers in their schedule, which includes setting time aside for healthy distractions from work.
It’s human nature to turn to sources of comfort in times of stress. Unfortunately, some of those comforting habits will set you back. Especially now with the pressure turned up so high, finding the strength to set aside unhealthful activities — smoking and drinking to excess immediately come to mind — might just pay you back in terms of increased production capability, and certainly in terms of your personal well-being.
THE PROFESSIONAL YOU
When it comes specifically to the work of the pool builder, there are a number of measures you can implement that will increase efficiency, reduce stress and ultimately result in increased production capability.
Consumers want pools, and they want them now. In fact, in some respects, since the onset of the pandemic, pools have gone from a luxury to a necessity for some. (Ever stayed at home with teenagers for months on end?)
More than ever, recalibrating consumer expectations about how long the process will take is critical. With wait times extending into months or even more than a year, there really is no choice but to be realistic with prospective and existing clients. Otherwise, they will become impatient and add stress and anxiety to you and your staff’s work days.
There will be some clients who will fall off the board because of the wait, but with today’s demand so ferocious, that probably isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, those who do stick it out and go the distance are intensely motivated buyers and, in most cases, will be more patient than those demanding a pool as quickly as possible.
Some builders have added language on their websites and even on their phone messages explaining the situation and asking for patience, but for the
most part, it really comes down to being candid about the situation with prospective clients in all your interactions with them. Most will understand, some won’t.
Keep in mind that mid-construction delays are particularly frustrating for clients who stare out their windows at unfinished holes in their property for weeks on end. Keeping them informed about how long they need to wait for work to start back up again is necessary and merciful to everyone involved.
Staying in touch and simply being honest, even if it’s not what they want to hear at the moment, builds trust and will encourage patience.
It’s no secret the product pipeline is not currently keeping pace. Product and material delivery times have dramatically attenuated to several times the normal duration for many product types. There are no magic bullets other than patience and communication. Stay in regular communication with your vendors and factor the extended delivery times into your schedule, and again, in communicating with the client.
There is a tendency to look to alternative products and sources, which can help in some cases, but the current crunch is so all-encompassing, odds are you’ll experience delays no matter where you turn.
Anticipating material purchases for some products used on all projects, such as PVC pipe and fittings, reinforcing steel or commonly used components, such as lights, valves and common coping types, may be ordered in bulk, which can ease the burden — especially knowing that all of that inventory will eventually be used.
LABOR AND STAFFING
This may be the toughest area of all, largely because the industry was already facing a labor shortage before the pandemic, and the resulting demand took hold. The solution to shorthanded crews and subs is an all-encompassing issue that touches on the spectrum of human-resource related issues: from what you pay people, to hiring practices, training, continuing education, opportunities for advancement and communicating performance expectations.
Many builders I’ve talked to have prioritized encouraging clients to order well ahead of time. As the logic goes, if you want to swim in June, don’t wait until March to get started. Extending the time frames as much as possible relieves stress on everyone. Including early-buy messaging in marketing materials, websites and on social media can turn out to be a small investment in effort with a big payback in sanity.
LEARN TO SAY NO
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When your services and products are in such high demand, it makes no sense to agree to anything outside of your wheelhouse. This is no time to indulge pushy and demanding clients, and it certainly makes no sense to haggle about price. In fact, considering the basic economics of supply and demand, one could argue this the best time ever to abandon the corrosive, yet common, practice of competing purely on price.
After all, if you’re going to go to all this intense effort, the rewards you reap should be commensurately shiny — perhaps even golden.
Take care, be safe and thrive!
Eric Herman is editor of WaterShapes Magazine and vice president of communications for Watershape University. He is a former senior editor with AQUA Magazine, a position he held for nine years, and a long-time member of the pool, spa and aquatics industry dating back to 1989, when he started as an associate editor with Pool & Spa News.
This article first appeared in the April 2021 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.