7 Tips for Training Summer Help

Cailley Hammel Headshot

The Fox Pools team.The Fox Pools team.

Training summer help happens in the spring, but thinking about and preparing a summer help training program happens in the fall and winter. To that end, we offer these tips for consideration in developing a strong seasonal staff.

In 2011, Brandon Windsor walked into Fox Pools and Spas (Hendersonville, Tenn.), ready to start a brand-new job as a summer employee. With a background in specialty retail and retail management, he was pretty well equipped to hit the ground running in the pool and spa industry — or so he thought.

"It was quite a learning curve," he says. "It certainly is and can be intimidating when you are faced with so many customers day after day expecting you to be the 'professional' or 'expert' in all things pool, and you have been working that job for maybe a month or two."

For pool and spa retailers stretched thin by the demands of the busy season, part-time seasonal help is an essential component to success. And since these positions neatly align with summer break from high school and college, students are commonly hired for these positions. Yet for many retailers, hiring summer help presents a Catch-22 scenario: Seasonal staffers are hired to help with the busy season, but the busy season is too hectic for adequate training.

"I think there is a tendency to get people trained just enough to let them stay afloat," says John Antilla, general manager at Aqua Quip (Seattle, Wash.). "A lot of people tend to view training as a necessary evil and so they stop short. If I look back at the most successful summer people we have, managers really invested in those people early and often."

After that first summer, Windsor was hired full time and now serves as Fox Pools' online manager. In addition to managing the company's web presence, marketing and day-to-day retail tasks, his job also includes training summer hires. Having experienced the summer gig himself, he and his colleagues at Fox Pools have developed a new approach to training seasonal staff. It can be summarized in a single sentence: "Try not to throw them to the wolves."

Below, he and other industry pros share their advice for getting the most out of your summer hires.

1. Start Early

Aqua Quip has nine locations throughout the Seattle area; each year, the company brings on eight or nine seasonal staffers. According to Antilla, hiring for the summer can take place as early as December.

"We try to line that up over the winter holiday season. They can come in and interview over the holidays and we'll try to get the job lined up at that point so they have a plan," he says. "Or sometimes we bring these kids in during spring break and get a week of training under their belt before the season starts."

Windsor says Fox Pools follows a similar path, often bringing in new hires as early as March.

"They get to ring up customers, run water tests, explain things to customers," he says. "On-the-job training is a big part of it, and it gives us a chance to evaluate them and see 'Ok, they do this well, they don't do that well, we need to talk to them a little more about certain things.'"

Fox Pools Operations Manager David Ferrell acknowledges that bringing on staff in the spring, a traditionally slower period, can be a cost burden for your company — but it's time and money well spent.

"You really don't need them at that point," he says. "But if you wait until you need them, you're pretty much in trouble."

Windsor, center, and his staffers enjoy time in the sun.Windsor, center, and his staffers enjoy time in the sun.

2. Create Resources

There's a joke at Fox Pools — "I'm the handout guy," Windsor says with a laugh. A training checklist, for example, helps new hires keep track of what they've learned and what they still need to cover. And a list of commonly busy dates throughout the season lets staffers know when they're in for a long day so they can prepare accordingly.

All jokes aside, Windsor stands by the handouts as valuable tools staffers can revisit throughout the season.

"We try to give them as much information as possible written down in advance so there are no surprises," Windsor says. "We try to give them a forecast and a picture of what it's going to look like when it's busy."

3. Teach Them About the Job and About You

While new hires need to learn the basics of water chemistry, testing, how to ring up an order, etc., it's equally important to teach them about you as a company — who's who, what your company offers (remodels? service?) and what products you carry. To address those subjects, Fox Pools held its first orientation for seasonal hires this year.

"We used this as an opportunity to tell them a little about the history of Fox Pools, introduce them to their coworkers, and tell them how their job is going to fit with that person's job. It was just a little more of an overview of how everything comes together at Fox Pools," Windsor says.

The orientation was successful on many levels, Ferrell says, because they ended up covering more than they expected.

"We found there were a lot of things that we really never told people," he says. "We didn't tell people we carry Grizzly Coolers, so if they didn't happen to notice them in the store, and if somebody called in and they had to take that call, then they looked foolish because they didn't even know enough to say 'yes we do' or 'no we don't.'

"There actually turned out to be quite a bit of information we gave them in the orientation that they really need to know, that we never thought to tell them before."

4. Lean On Manufacturers

"A lot of manufacturers have very good training webinars and also actual programs you can use," Antilla says. Aqua Quip and Fox Pools both turn to Bioguard's online training program, which can be found on BioGuard's dealer website, One Source Connect. The program has three modules, each followed by a quiz. The first module offers an introduction to the BioGuard product line and outlines basic water chemistry, making it a great match for new hires.

"We can't use it all because it's a huge resource and that would take a lot of time," Windsor says. "But we do use it to supplement what they need to know in terms of chemicals and product knowledge."

5. Have Your Employees Shadow You

When looking for a way to learn the ropes in his early days at Fox Pools, Windsor discovered he was best off simply observing his more experienced colleagues. Now, shadowing is an important element in Fox Pools' training process.

"There's a lot of watching me run a complete water test with a customer. They can see it modeled several times," he says. "And then we kind of slowly work them into it, taking over different parts of the test to the point where they can take it from beginning to end. Even when they're doing a test from beginning to end, I'm there observing to make sure it's done the way it should be."

A few seasonal employees at Fox Pools and Spas share a laugh.A few seasonal employees at Fox Pools and Spas share a laugh.

6. Pay Them Well.

Throughout the summer, you'll put in a lot of time and effort in hiring, training and managing your seasonal employees. And just when they have the hang of how to run a water test, they're back at school.

Those who see success with summer hires stress the same thing: "You want people to come back more than one year," Antilla says.

That's where pay comes in. By offering more than minimum wage, you attract more candidates (and better candidates) and make a statement: "We value our employees."

"We're not afraid to pay our employees, " Ferrell says. "If you pay someone a minimum wage, they look at it as such. And obviously it doesn't help with retention."

Aqua Quip encourages seasonal hires to return with its scholarship program. For a staffer's first year, they receive a $500 scholarship, paid directly to his or her college. The next year and beyond, it's $1,000 each year.

"It's worth it to us because every year they come back, they sell way more," says Jeff Brooks, Aqua Quip's sales manager. "Your return on investment goes up dramatically. You need people coming back. If you've got eight new kids every year, you can't teach them enough. They're always going to need support from a veteran, and when it gets crazy, that's hard."

7. Think of Them as More Than "Summer Help"

For some retailers, summer employees create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They're hired by stressed store owners, but because not much is expected from them, they're not trained well and their performance suffers. Antilla says it's important for employers to shift their perspective.

"Some people think of summer help as just that, they're just summer help and they're just going to do the bare minimum," he says. "Sometimes those guys don't have the bad habits that some more experienced people do, and they can be your best salespeople if you think differently."

At Fox Pools, seasonal staff are welcomed to the team and invited to post-season gatherings, such as the annual company Thanksgiving and Christmas events.

"They're invited to come to those, and there are bonuses and things for them. And even though those bonuses aren't huge, it helps keep them in the fold so they're still thinking about Fox," Ferrell says. "And we let them know that we want them to come back so they don't have to go through a new job again next year."

"It's really just bringing them into the family," Windsor adds. "Once you're here and you've been in the trenches with us, you're one of us now, and there's that acceptance and that team and family spirit."

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

Page 1 of 155
Next Page
Content Library
Dig through our best stories from the magazine, all sorted by category for easy surfing.
Read More
Content Library
Buyer's Guide
Find manufacturers and suppliers in the most extensive searchable database in the industry.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide