How to Grow Your Service Department

photo of Gohlke pools service department

A few years ago, about the time it became clear that the downturn in the economy was inevitable and that it would have an adverse affect on the construction of swimming pools, I began to think about the direction of Gohlke Pools.

Being in my late 40’s at the time and having a relatively young but loyal staff, with many years remaining before any of us would retire, we had to come up with a plan that would allow us to be successful in the future. We felt that if we worked hard and worked smart, we could overcome most any problem and help shape the future of the company.

At the time, new pool construction made up approximately two thirds of the company’s revenue. The remaining third came from our retail store (including hot tubs), service department and our renovations department. Our management team (made up of the department manager of each of these areas) began planning for the future, considering the pros and cons of each department. Based on predictions of a bleak economy, we looked at each department individually and in summary, and came up with the following conclusions:

New Pool Construction: We felt that this segment of our business would be the most affected by a poor economy. We realized that pools are not a necessity and as the demand went down, prices (and therefore profits) would fall. Needless to say, with two thirds of our revenue in this segment of the industry, we felt very vulnerable.

Retail Store: Although our retail store had shown double-digit growth, we were concerned about sustaining that. One of the main disadvantages of having a retail store is that the customer has to come to you, and with fewer pools being built in our city and the fact that we already had most of the market share, it would be difficult to continue to grow that segment of our business. Combine that with the fact that pool chemicals are available everywhere and online sales of pool equipment are increasing, and we felt we’d be unlikely to keep posting big retail sales increases.

Renovations Department: We had just been doing renovations for a few years and this segment of the business was in a big growth phase, but we felt the growth of pool renovations would be sluggish in a poor economy.

photo of Gohlke pools service department

photo of Gohlke pools service department

Service Department: Our service department had been somewhat successful in the past, but we felt perhaps it had taken a back seat due to the success of new pool construction. Although we realized that pool owners would spend less on their pool during a poor economy, their pools still had to be serviced to some extent. With all of the pools in our surrounding communities and the fact we went to them instead of them coming to us (retail store), we began to think that perhaps service (repairs and weekly service) was a sleeping giant. While planning our service department growth, we were able to acquire information from fellow Aquatech Society members, many of whom had much larger and more successful service departments than we did.

After discerning this information, our management team began making changes that would double the revenue of our service department within five years and make us less vulnerable to the economic downturn. We looked at what it would take to grow the service department, and we came up with three areas in which improvement would be required — hiring and training, marketing and systems:

Hiring And Training

Hiring: We made a decision to hire people with good attitudes and good communication skills and then train the pool knowledge into them. We made every effort to set the expectations up front — that excellent customer service, professionalism and communication skills were of the utmost importance. We did our part by making every effort to be a great place to work.

Training: As can be expected when hiring staff with no prior pool experience, we knew training would be critical to our success. This is an area that continues to be a challenge for us, but we feel that we are improving in this area.

Regardless of department, newly hired staff are expected to take a series of tests we have developed to help teach basic pool equipment operation, water chemistry and information about the company. Field staff, such as pool cleaners, have a more thorough training program. In addition, during the off-season, all staff is required to attend a weekly training class we developed which includes weekly tests. During the pool season, the pool cleaners meet daily at 7:00 a.m. to address any problems from the previous day, and then have a short training session led either by management or by a service technician. The service technicians have a similar meeting three days per week. Meetings like these are not only great training opportunities, but also act as team-building events.


Hiring well and training well is important, but in order to grow your service department, you must get the word out. We work very hard to plan and implement a marketing plan, which spells out exactly what type of marketing that we will be doing and when it will be done. Our marketing plan includes the following:

Direct Mail: We still really like direct mail and use it fairly heavily. Some say that direct mail is dying, and it might be, but it is a very slow death and we feel that if used properly it can really help grow your service department. We like it because it is targeted marketing; we can send information to people who we know own pools.

Email Marketing: At least on a monthly basis, we send out an email newsletter. It is mostly seasonal pool information — not really trying to sell anything — just providing information. Email marketing is very inexpensive and keeps our name out there. For this reason, it is crucial to capture email addresses at every opportunity.

Website: It is important to have a very good website and continually work to improve and update your website. Your website is literally the window to your business; if your website is not good, they might stop there and not even give you a chance. I believe that it is best to hire a professional, but you must make that decision. Once you have a high quality website, do everything that you can to drive traffic to it by putting your website address on everything — vehicles, business cards, advertising, invoices, etc.

Online Reviews: Reputation man­age­ment (the process of identifying and managing your online content) has become more and more important as potential customers seek information about your company prior to hiring you. People who are really upset with you — whether right or wrong — will post online reviews. It is your responsibility to be sure that those who are really pleased with you do it as well.

Be The Best! The best form of marketing that you can do is to be the best at what you do. There is nothing more powerful than word of mouth for good service.

You cannot rely on just one form of marketing to get the job done. All of these are important and play a role. Most of us got into this business because we knew something about swimming pools, not because we knew something about marketing. So if you are not interested in marketing, but you want to see your business grow, consider hiring a marketing/advertising consultant.


All companies that have grown to any size at all have done so by being organized and following systems. There are many books about the importance of systems, but I believe that the book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work & What To Do About It, by Michael E. Gerber, states the case for the importance of systems better than any other. Gerber points out that most small businesses are started by technicians, who frequently continue to do the work that they are skilled at, and ignore the business. Over time these technicians find themselves overworked, understaffed and oftentimes broke. For turning businesses like this around, he suggests building a franchise prototype, depending more on systems and less on people.

Having systems ensures that all staff members are on the same page and that everything gets done according to plan. In addition, having systems helps you present yourself in a professional way — clean vehicles, sounding professional over the phone, accurate and timely billing, etc.

Colin Powell said it well when he said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” We have certainly prepared, worked hard, and learned from our many failures in an effort to grow our service department. And we are not naïve enough to believe that all of our failures are behind us; we continue to have challenges every single day. We realize that we are a “work in progress,” and we are reminded of that each time we make a mistake — which is often. At the same time, we feel that we are much better positioned for the future.

Nathan Caldwell, lead service technician, and Matt Gohlke, president of Gohlke Pools, will be presenting information from this article in much greater depth at the 2013 International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo. They cordially invite you to join them!

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