There was a time when the technology of building and servicing pools and spas remained fairly static, and product retail seemed straightforward. You could make it on a corner store with mom and pop and a guess and a handshake. Those days are long gone! You can no longer wing it in the challenging, complex and sophisticated modern business climate we face today. Continual education for yourself, your employees and even your customers has to be part of your plan to compete in the pool and spa trade.
But the good news is that along with the rising challenges of the pool and spa business, a parallel industry has developed devoted solely to help you effectively meet these challenges. From basic business courses to in-depth product training, there are a multitude of resources to put your organization in the forefront of the industry. Opportunities to raise your skill levels are everywhere now.
One example is Texas-based Premier Education, operated by Sam Thompson, an industry veteran of more than 38 years. His firm offers CPO-certified courses, Texas Residential Installer Licensing workshops, special private courses for companies with more than 10 employees or for groups and numerous online classes. His firm also offers publications such as a pool math workbook useful in all aspects of the industry, a basic consumer pool-care book, "Cruising Through Pool Care the Wise Way" (which, full disclosure, I wrote) and a handy tool for builders to help cut down on repeated new pool owner calls called "Home Pool Essentials."
According to Thompson, "We want to help aquatic professionals improve their skills by providing access to the training they need. Our course offerings span all segments of the pool and spa industry, including distributors, dealers, facility managers, health officials, pool operators and even consumers."
Recent mergers of some of the leading trade organizations are providing increasing standardization and a more organized way to pursue professionalism throughout the industry. NSPF and Genesis merged in the fall, and now both organizations will be aligned as NSPF merges with APSP, providing greater educational opportunities and standardization industry-wide.
According to Skip Phillips, one of the founders of Genesis, "The industry has historically been starved for credible information, and Genesis has fulfilled this role with our third party-approved construction and design courses. The National Swimming Pool Foundation has fulfilled this role on the service and research side of education and is now putting the finishing touches on residential service certification. When you combine those programs along with the health and wellness message in which the Foundation is well-versed, then you finally have a singular informational center for an entire industry with this merger. And Genesis also wholeheartedly supports the Foundation's merger with APSP. The groups' programs have the added advantage of approval on an international level."
APSP has been at the forefront of developing certification courses and standards for the construction, service, maintenance and retail segments of the industry for many years, and now with the recent mergers will play a major role in consolidating this program.
"APSP is the only organization that delivers education across the industry spectrum: builder, service, maintenance, retailer, standards and safety," says Rich Gottwald, president and CEO of APSP. "Our membership consists of subject-matter experts in each of these areas, and our reach across the industry through our 30 local chapters provides a unique platform for delivery."
One of the big payoffs for this education is it acts as a conduit for licensing, which is slowly creeping through the industry as a way to combat the unprofessional, overnight startup businesses that have plagued the pool and spa industry for decades.
"There is a growing movement across the country to adopt skills-based licensing at the local or state level," Gottwald says. "Where this is happening, APSP is committed to making our certification programs the content on which licensing is based."
Also stressing education as a major component of its emphasis on professionalism is the Independent Pool and Spa Service Association. IPSSA requires its members to pass the IPSSA Water Certification Exam to qualify for membership, and encourages CPO certification through NSPF, according to Jason Lehmann, Ft. Worth Texas IPSSA Chapter President. IPSSA publishes a basic training manual used to prepare prospective new members for the certification test.
Trade Shows And Manufacturers
A great venue in which to take advantage of many of these and other educational programs are the classes offered at trade shows, many of which are free! Trade shows are great opportunities to concentrate a lot of education and focus on new knowledge in a short amount of time, undistracted by the day-today demands of running the business. And not only do trade shows provide numerous formal class offerings, but the knowledge gained by informal networking with peers can prove invaluable as well. Sometimes a casual conversation on the floor of the show, on a bus ride to the show or as you share a meal can provide that great idea that becomes invaluable to your business. Industry veterans as well as newcomers can also bring you a fresh perspective and are generous in sharing what has worked for them.
Manufacturers and distributors are also a good source of training, especially about new products and proper use and sales of established products. And often these sessions are not only free but come with a complimentary dinner or refreshments attached; sometimes even a trip — either partially or wholly dedicated to education. Check frequently with your manufacturer and distributor reps to find out what they have to offer to help you and employees improve your skills.
One of the major advantages of joining a buying group is the excellent education programs they offer, especially at their annual meetings. Not only do they give you intensive one-on-one time with product reps, but they usually have seminars, some of which are free or at a reduced rate, that make their trips well worthwhile for educational purposes.
And as you become educated yourself, don't overlook the value of regular in-house training sessions for your employees and the usefulness of offering to your customers regular pool care seminars. A formal employee handbook is important and a training program you can run in house either hands-on or online is time well spent for employees in your business. Start teaching and developing your employees from day one, and continue with skill improvement to receive maximum value from your most valuable resource, your staff!
Finally, don't overlook the value of community resources that might be available in your area. Most community colleges offer everything from AutoCAD classes to computerized bookkeeping offerings, and Chamber of Commerce organizations also offer useful classes for effective business management and marketing. And with the many online offerings, you can find numerous classes and webinars available that can help you run your business more effectively.
"In the last 10 years, aquatic organizations have been realizing the power of incorporating online learning for their employees," says Jacquie Williams of NSPF. "The introduction of Pool Operator Primer in 2007 was just the beginning for over 21 online aquatic training courses introduced by the National Swimming Pool Foundation. Online education is most ideal when combined with instructor interactions to create a blended learning program."
Online training allows busy professionals to set their own pace, while in-class instructor time allows a student to reinforce what he/she has learned, have questions answered and participate in hands-on skills training. This method of training and education can also be a powerful tool for managers, company owners, trainers, designers and others to impact skills and performance. There are many reasons why industry professionals should consider more training to obtain additional credentials, including being able to create a safer environment for pool users — but most importantly, its good for business. In a recent consumer survey, the number one quality homeowners said they looked for in a service provider was "training and qualifications."
So, dedicate your organization to education — it will be time and resources well-spent and put you at the pinnacle of professionalism. Be the expert!
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