5 Hard Truths of Hiring for Pool & Spa Businesses | AQUA Magazine

5 Hard Truths of Hiring for Pool & Spa Businesses

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If there's one thing that's been really on my mind lately, it's the problem of finding good employees and keeping them. I know how much it weighs on your mind, too. My job takes me across the country from dealership to dealership, and no matter where I go, how big a company is or how successful they are, I hear the same thing: "I just can't find anybody to work for me."

When I talk to dealers about this problem, I like to dig in a little. I ask about how they hire, how they present themselves as a company, how they train, how they structure their company and more. And when we have that conversation, we usually come to the same conclusion: They can do more.

So I'm going to be a little blunt with you: There is more you can do to find good people. There is absolutely more you can do.

The catch? It's not easy. (If it were easy, you would already be doing it, right?) Some of the steps I'm about to propose to you are practical, actionable things you can get started on today. But others will push your boundaries and make you rethink what are, in some cases, deeply ingrained ideas about hiring and management.

RELATED: Tips for Hiring and Training Service Techs

I'm going to put all my cards on the table and tell you everything I know about hiring and management. I'll break this down into two parts: The first, which you'll see below, focuses on attracting new talent. The second part, which will come next month, will address retention and management.

Let's get started, shall we? If you're someone who has a hard time finding great people to work at your company, here are five things to keep in mind:

A sample list from a management/employee workshop.A sample list from a management/employee workshop.

1. YOU NEED TO ASSESS YOURSELF OBJECTIVELY

Before you throw another boilerplate help-wanted ad on Indeed, I want you to do some introspection and think about two questions:

  • Why do people work here?
  • Why do people stay here?

This isn't a task you should do solo — it's an exercise that only works when done in collaboration with your team. Hold a meeting with your staff, grab a whiteboard or legal pad and crowdsource answers to those two questions. List anything and everything you can think of. This is a "no wrong answers" kind of conversation.

When owners/managers do this exercise, an interesting thing happens: You learn what you think is great about your business is often quite different than what your employees think about your business! The things your team enjoys about your business may be things that never crossed your radar, or things you thought were unimportant.

The other key takeaway here: Not everything your employees value costs money! Managers and owners tend to think money is the only thing their employees value, but I promise you, it's not. A flexible schedule, for example, can be worth its weight in gold to a young parent — and you may not have known that before doing this exercise.

The bottom line is that you can't assume you know what your employees enjoy about working with you. And you need to know what your employees think, because the things they enjoy about working with you are exactly the things potential candidates will find appealing about your company, too.

Once you have your list, you can move onto the next step.

NOTE: If you try this exercise and don't come out of it with a robust list, your first instinct may be to take it personally. Don't! Remember: This conversation is not intended to criticize you. If your list isn't as long as you'd like it to be, take it as a sign that there's room for improvement. Start thinking of things you can implement to make your company culture stronger and your employees happier!

2. YOU NEED TO FOCUS ON THE RIGHT MESSAGE

People in our industry are great at marketing. You're always thinking about the next water care sale, an event at the state fair or a blowout event at your store. You know your messages and your calls to action. But when it comes to hiring, I often see that knowledge go right out the window!

RELATED: Hiring for Summer: How to Write a Better Job Listing

You need to advertise for an employee the same way you advertise your store. So take a look at that list from the workshop you had with your employees. Of that list, what are the strongest arguments for working at your business? What are the things that separate you from the pack?

Once you have that list, you can write up a job listing that emphasizes those specific benefits.

NOTE: I see a lot of job listings include vague phrases like "great company culture." Those are things that sound good on paper, but mean nothing to potential employees because everyone says them. Your company culture is defined by things like your business philosophy, the perks you offer employees and more. Let those things do the talking!

3. YOUR ABOUT US PAGE PROBABLY NEEDS WORK

A lot of pool and spa businesses have a similar setup for their About Us page. It's copy that says "We're a family business that's been around for five decades and we love what we do," with one super pixelly photo with 300 people jammed in there.

I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but that's not the best strategy for that page. Your About Us page is one of the best tools you have for engaging potential employees, because what do people do when they see a help-wanted ad that interests them? They go to the website and check out the company! It happens every time, like clockwork. You need to make sure your website is prepared for that scenario.

With that in mind, your About Us page shouldn't solely be about the history of the company; you should view it as a marketing tool to advertise your business.

Here's my suggestion: Make a recruitment video and put it on that page. Video is such a compelling component of marketing these days because people are so much more visual...and yet almost every action we take to find new people is written.

Your video should show your business and the people working there, but also capture the spirit of what working there is like. Show your team enjoying Pizza Fridays, if that's a perk you offer. Show them at a trade show. Show them running the annual car wash for charity fundraiser. Again, turn to that list of benefits you created in step one and use video to illustrate those however you can.

And if you need another reason for video: A recent study by CareerBuilder found job postings with video have a 34% higher application rate.

NOTE: If you need another reason to update your About Us page, check this out — a great About Us page is attractive to customers, too. People want to buy from people who care about their employees and the community! That means you have twice the reason to give that page a makeover.

4. YOU NEED TO BE PROACTIVE

Most of the time, people post a job and wait for applications to come in. That's the "gathering" approach. But when the labor market is as tight as it is right now, with fewer people actively turning in applications, it's not in your best interest to solely rely on that method.

Think about it: People who apply to jobs are typically people who are either A) currently unemployed or B) unhappy with their current job and actively looking for another job. What about the guy across town who is happy with his job? Don't rule him out — go hunt him down.

In addition to gathering, you should be hunting for great employees wherever you go. It's the old-school idea of recruiting people you encounter who are exceptional at their jobs, like the guy giving you an oil change, the woman at the coffee shop or the server at the restaurant who never forgets a detail. You should always be ready to chat with people about opportunities in the future.

RELATED: How to Manage a Challenging Hire

The thing is, the best time to hire someone is when you don't need to hire anyone. Why? Because good people will pay for themselves. They generate revenue and/or create cost savings that pay for themselves. But unfortunately, most small business owners do the opposite: They say they're "fully staffed," and when someone leaves, they fall into a panic.

When you hire in a panic, you hire poorly. And if by chance you do hire well, you won't have time to onboard them properly. That leaves your new employee ill-equipped for the job, which means they cannot contribute to your bottom line in any meaningful way. That frustrates them, which pushes them to quit, leaving you exactly where you started. It's a brutal cycle that hurts you and your employees.

Always be on the lookout for those rare, talented individuals who excel at what they do, and if at all possible, try and recruit them right away — even if you don't have an opening. You'll thank yourself later.

5. YOU NEED TO THINK BIGGER

Speaking of recruiting, a lot of the pool and spa dealers I meet are fishing in a small pond by limiting their search to their own zip code. When you're looking for a great salesperson, service technician or pool designer, why not recruit someone from the other side of town, or even the other side of the state?

Think about it: If you could find a great seller, or a sales manager or a service manager, someone who can do a million dollars a year in sales, or manage a couple million dollars a year in service, would you be willing to spend a few thousand dollars to help them become part of your community?

Offering relocation assistance is huge. You don't need to cover everything, but covering the costs of movers, trucks, etc., will help make a big difference to those who might otherwise have never applied to your company.

That brings me to my final point. Not only should your search be broader, your hiring message should, too!

More often than not, you're hiring people who are brand new to the industry. These are people who have never really heard of the industry, let alone given thought to making a career out of it. So when you're advertising a job opening, don't just sell them on your company — sell them on the industry as a whole.

Think about people who work in HVAC or sell cell phones at the mall. Both are valuable, much-needed jobs, but it's hard to get fired up about it. Compare that to the pool and spa industry, which is fun and exciting! The products our industry sells are all about improving lives — you're helping people improve their health and improve the connections they have with family and friends. You're helping people live longer and make great memories with their loved ones. Who wouldn't want to be a part of something like that?

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

I want to leave you with an example to think about. Epic is the big video game developer behind Fortnite. They're also a company based in North Carolina... which is not exactly the place people think about when they think about video game development.

RELATED: Hiring for the Sales Floor

This presented the talent acquisition team at Epic with an interesting challenge. Not only did they need to communicate what's great about working at Epic, but they also had to communicate why North Carolina is a great place to live.

They accomplished this in a recruitment video that shows off Epic headquarters as well as what Raleigh has to offer: a vibrant nightlife, close proximity to mountains and ocean, culture, its status as a mid-size city and more. All of these things work together to paint a vibrant picture of why working at Epic is a great decision both professionally and personally.

Epic may be a huge video game company, but the principles of that recruiting video can all be replicated in your store. Once you figure out what makes your company special, make a video that shows off your company, your employees, what they enjoy about the industry and what you enjoy about your city and community. The result will be a compelling video that will make people take notice.

I hope these tips give you the push you need to find a great new hire. Next month, come back for advice on how you can improve retainment through better management and planning.

Mario Maichel is manager of dealer development for Watkins Wellness.

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