Vance Gillette's Advice to Young Professionals

VanceI’ve always liked to think that with age comes wisdom, that as we grow older we become more of who we are. For those of us entering our, shall we say, more “wizened” years, we can take comfort knowing that our experience affords us hard-won perspective and insight. 

Of course, age also brings with it many effects we’d all choose to forgo if we only could. When it comes to the smarts we gain along the way, it’s equally true that many of us become rather set in our thinking. We’ve been around the block so many times, it’s only natural to rely on what we believe we know without challenging those presumptions. 

Arguably, this is where people in their youth, and those who remain young at heart, have a big advantage: They tend to be more open minded, often idealistic, more ambitious and, quite often, more open to new ways of thinking. 

In considering the plight of our industry, I can’t help but recognize that as our ranks advance in age, far too many of us have become stuck in paradigms of the past, which I personally believe is one of the pool and spa industry’s biggest drawbacks. That’s not to say that there aren’t many progressive minded people among us, but collectively, it’s fair to acknowledge that the “stinking thinking” of the past is much too affixed in our culture. 

Inevitably, the generation of people I grew up with in the industry will be forced to yield control to younger generations. Although that obvious fact can be tough to accept for some, I believe it’s high time to work toward a future that at some point won’t include us. 

This is all why I believe that the young people among us are truly the future lifeblood of our industry. Knowing that, there’s been a good deal of discussion about how to attract and develop a fresh generation of professionals. There’s no question about it, our industry must attract millennials ages 30 and under to grow the industry’s declining ranks. Both individually and collectively, we must rethink a succession strategy if we want to see our industry not only survive, but prosper. Unfortunately, I’ve found most companies have no succession plan, and far too often, these firms perish when the owners are no longer involved. 

The good news is that the pool and spa profession can be a wonderfully rewarding and prosperous business for young professionals. The challenge comes in helping prospective industry members realize as much. And that means honing our message to those who might seek to follow in our footsteps. 

So here’s a bit of advice for young people entering our industry: 

First, realize the amazing benefits our work brings to consumers. Pools and spas deliver enjoyment, luxury, indulgence, pampering, places to party, venues for family togetherness, prestige, beauty and relaxation. If you want to find a profession that truly improves the quality of people’s lives, look no further. No other profession I can think of encompasses so many wonderful upsides.

Define your business strategy around attracting consumers. Most pool/spa sales today are generated from referrals. Develop an approach where you earn those referrals by providing the best possible products and service to your customers. Go the extra mile to make them happy and realize that their goodwill is a foundation for future business. Likewise, be aware that unhappy clients will spread their negative impressions as readily, if not more so, than delighted ones. In other words, take care of your customers and they will take care of you. 

In that light, adopt a servant-leader mentality. Remember that the truest and most reliable path to success is to facilitate the success of others. If your job is cleaning pools, then do it with enthusiasm and pride, knowing that a wholesome body of water has tremendous value to the client and delivering a clean pool is the essence of the service you provide. If you’re a company owner, do everything in your power to set the stage for your employees’ success. 

Have an attractive website, be on Facebook, Pinterest, Houzz, LinkedIn and YouTube. Most consumers go to one or more of these sites for education, ideas and research, so embrace these tools as a way to spread the good word about the products and services you provide. 

Create a sense of professional community and alliance. Team up with your local landscape architects and realtors. If applicable, reach out to general contractors, developers and business leaders. Seek areas of common interest and strategies aimed at mutual benefit and shared values. 

Educate yourself: Seek information in classrooms, online and from other professionals. If you’re a builder, for example, look into the offerings of the Genesis 3 Design Group or Artistic Resources Training and other educational resources such as those offered by APSP and other industry trade associations that can imbue your acumen with information about design. Look to the educational resources offered by manufacturers or those presented at trade shows or online. Never stop learning!   

Realize that success is all about differentiating your company from your competitors. Keep in mind the consumer doesn’t want to be sold to — they want to buy. The key to effectively closing the deal is all about gaining trust, meeting consumers’ expectations, and promoting the aquatic lifestyle experience. 

Remember what drives consumer demand for pools? Paradoxically, swimming, health and exercise are near the bottom of the list. Don’t get me wrong; some people do swim and exercise in their pools, but for most, that is not the primary reason for ownership. My next door neighbors have owned their pool for more than 15 years. They actually get wet maybe only 10 times a year. Yet nearly every day they look at it, party around it and enjoy the spectacular water features. Their pool is an integral part of their backyard environment and lifestyle.

By the same token, if you do have clients who are interested in the health benefits, then be sure that you’re familiar with those upsides so you can point out the healthful qualities swimming and hydrotherapy provide.  

Finally, never lose sight of the fact that through your best efforts, you have an opportunity to do great things, to innovate, to make the world a better place, to provide for yourself and your family, to make people happy. I contend that if you embrace the potential waiting in this fantastic industry profession and within yourself, in many ways, it’s possible to in essence remain forever young. 

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