One Company's Response to the Crisis

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Throughout the country pool and spa companies are responding to the COVID-19 crisis and the partial shutdown of the U.S. economy. In different localities, this means different things.

For pool and spa companies in severely restricted areas, retail operations have been the hardest hit. In some places, in-person retail operations have all but ended. In others, some retail traffic remains.

With face-to-face sales interactions curtailed, companies that are able to provide a means of commerce without interpersonal contact (online, phone-order-and-delivery) are faring better in this respect.

Compared with retail, service remains relatively unscathed. And construction contracts, as of this writing, appear to be proceeding as planned. These sectors will be vulnerable to long term changes in the general economy, but those effects are uncertain at this time.

The mission for the nation as a whole has clarified over the last week. The country is united in an effort to “flatten the curve” — that is, slow the spread of COVID-19 in order to buy time for the medical establishment to ramp up its response and better manage the influx of flu victims.

The mission for pool and spa companies has clarified as well. It is to survive through this temporary crisis. That is, to preserve as much service and construction business as possible while mitigating the damage to retail, to keep precious workers onboard and maintain account balance through this temporary crisis, all the while contributing to the national effort to prevent flu transmission.

Toward this end, All Seasons Pools and Spas, located in suburban Chicago, is implementing a crisis plan. Company Vice President Dan Lenz shared the plan with AQUA this morning, March 19:

 


 

“These are interesting days. I guess that’s the only way to say it.

We had a 3 1/2 hour meeting yesterday and decided it was time to step it up and take some action. We’re still running all of our outdoor operations, service and construction, [more on that later], but traffic at our retail store, for now, is done.

So for our retail operations, we decided to send everybody home except for a handful of key employees, who are spread out. Tom, our retail and purchasing manager, and I are the only ones here.

This hit us right in the middle of our “spring chemical early-buy.” Typically, in the month of March, we do a little over $100,000 in chemical sales. And the majority of it is online purchase, which we deliver.

Those numbers are significantly down this year. And traffic in the store is done, over, because people are no longer moving around. They’re staying home. So we closed our retail store. If someone showed up, we’d take care of them, but at least for now, nothing’s happening.

BATTLING COVID, HAND-TO-HAND

In Chicago, and most cities right now, commercial sanitizer is sold out. Fortunately, the pool and spa industry has its own abundant supply.

I stopped at Loews this morning and picked up a bunch of chemically resistant spray bottles, filled them with a solution of our own chlorine and water, and we started coating everything in the store. We use two teaspoons of our own 12.5% liquid chlorine in a spray bottle. It’s probably three times as strong as Lysol.

We’re coating all the surfaces in the store, the bathrooms, of course, and all the other rooms — even the handle on the refrigerator. Every keyboard and mouse, every phone. Just spraying them and walking away.

In our service and construction office (not the sales office but the internal processing offices), we have two of the usual five people in there, working well over six feet apart.

Normally, in the morning, our service and construction crews come into that office to get their paperwork for the day, and they drop off their paperwork there at the end of the day.

We’re trying to minimize the spread of the virus in the company, so we have moved their paperwork mailboxes outside in the warehouse. After picking up and dropping off paperwork now, we’ll spray down those areas — paperwork and everything — so there’s no transmission.

This may be an overabundance of caution, but this is what we’re doing to try to keep this from spreading.

SERVICE AND CONSTRUCTION HOLDING UP

Service wise, for us, we’re right on the verge of the spring opening season. We have our normal team of technicians in the field today.

Usually this week and next week we start bringing more people in with our hard-push, serious spring preparation and training, and then things start really ramping up. But that’s all on hold right now. Because we just don’t know what’s going to happen in the next month.

And our construction crews are operating normally. We have a few projects going now — those should be money in the bank. And we have our normal liner replacement crews working; two crews with two guys each. We used to not bother about who was working with who but now there’s no mixing of crews. I don’t want to mix people between the trucks. If someone from a crew comes down with the virus, we’ll deal with that when it happens.

But the teams are communicating with each other well. We’re fortunate we have the people we have. They get it. They know how to work with one another. They don’t need a ton of oversight, which makes it a lot easier in a time when we’re spreading out and not seeing each other face-to-face.

STAYING AFLOAT

Inside salespeople are all remoting from home on their computers; their phones are all forwarded. As are some of the other office employees.

The rest of the staff we sent home till the end of next week, when we are going to reevaluate everything. We’re paying them 30 hours for next week. We have to be careful. With our income reduced and everything still unknown, we have to be cautious. The state is changing the rules for unemployment and talking about relief for business, but we don’t really know the details yet.

And we’re trying to keep up cash flow as much as we can. We pre-schedule all of our spring openings, and customers send in their deposits. So we have that mail still coming in with some cash flow. And we’ll continue the online purchases, delivering the products and leaving them in the backyard.

KEEP PUSHING

And we’re going to keep pushing, that’s for sure. We have pools that need care. We don’t want them to become another health hazard. We want to get them open, so our customers who have nowhere to go right now have something to do.

Other parts of the country, pools are really helping people get outside now. That really helps. The sun and fresh air are great combatants against Corona and the mental stress of the quarantine.

Today, All Seasons sent the following email to customers:
 

To Our Customers
 
We would like to take a moment to brief you on All Seasons’ current actions relative to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
 
Pools and hot tubs have always been a focus of family enjoyment, and they need proper maintenance and treatment to ensure they are sanitary. All Seasons intends to ensure that you have all that you need to safely operate, maintain and enjoy them.
 
To help promote a healthy at work environment, we are taking extra precautions.  We’re providing additional cleaning of our office areas with extra emphasis on door handles, computers, keyboards, telephones, computer screens, all bathroom surfaces, etc. In addition, all areas are equipped with antibacterial soaps, Clorox wipes and hand sanitizers to be used by everyone.
 
We’ve briefed our team on the benefits of hand washing, keeping a safe and respectful distance, and have encouraged team members to stay home if they are feeling ill. In return, we ask that our customers refrain from contact with our employees if you are feeling ill as well.
 
The health and wellbeing of our customers and our team is most important to us.  As we closely monitor information regarding the outbreak, effective immediately, the majority of our support staff will be working from home to avoid close contact with coworkers and customers. Customers will be able to reach most any department through normal channels, such as phone, email, fax or text.  Specific contact information for various departments is listed below.
 
By implementing a work from home policy, we’ve reduced our in person office staff for our delivery and service departments to a minimum and expanded personal space.  These efforts will remove most all employee to employee office contact.
 
All Seasons remains committed to providing you with on-site service, pool and spa openings, maintenance, product purchases, deliveries, and all of our other highly rated services during this difficult period.  All of our at home service and delivery staff will now communicate electronically with our offices to remove the employee to employee contact that otherwise existed.  We’re asking that all communications between our delivery and at home services teams and our customers to be done via phone, text or email as well.  As such, for all deliveries and outdoor services, our staff will refrain from ringing doorbells and will instead phone you upon their arrival at your home.  We’re hopeful that you will have, when appropriate, your yards accessible and any needed equipment left outside for them prior to their arrival.
 
We will continue to process purchases through our online store at www.shopaspools.com, with all orders of $100 or more receiving free delivery. If you are in need of anything that you aren’t finding at our online store, please contact us and we’ll make arrangements to deliver whatever you may need.
 
For the safety of our customers, as well as our employees, our retail store will be closed during this time as we monitor the spread of this virus. We will continue to evaluate our retail store operations and hours, and communicate any changes with you as they occur.
 
For those wondering if pools and spas are safe, the CDC has this to say:
 
There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs. Proper operation, maintenance, and disinfection (e.g., with chlorine and bromine) of pools and hot tubs should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.
 
Thank you for your patience as we begin these new procedures, and for being the best part of All Seasons.

 

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