With Winter Pool Covers, End With the Start in Mind

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When forming a business model, most planners are urged to "start with the end in mind." But when it comes to pool covers, the best advice is to "end with the start in mind."

That is, end the pool cover season in the springtime with the start of the fall closing and covering season firmly in your thoughts. It's a time for not just the physical care of the cover, but for tending the pool cover business as a whole if the fruits of the fall season are to be fully realized. Overall, the idea is to think long term so this great safety product becomes a satisfying purchase for your customer and a growing, profitable part of your business for years to come.

Stick With The System

At a glance, some might think the same individual who installed the cover would remove and reinstall the product year-in and year out. Of course, in the real world, we know that the closing crew often differs from the installation crew, and there can be significant turnover within both crews. Therefore, the key is to have systems and procedures in place that are the standard of operation independent of who performs the work. When a new person joins the crew, these systems are passed on and the process continues without interruption.

In this cyclical application and removal of a winter safety pool cover, the end is the beginning. And pool cover season ends in spring — with the beginning in mind, that is, the day the cover will be pulled out of the summer storage bag, examined once again for soundness and strength, and stretched over the pool.

Keep that day in mind in spring as you remove, fold and store the cover. Although there are pros that do it alone, it's best as a two-person job. At least four hands are needed to fold the cover along its proper axes without allowing it to dip into the water. A surprising number of pool cover pros take no steps to keep the cover dry, thinking it's an aquatic product designed for contact with water.

That's true, it's designed to endure moisture when it's spread out over a pool, but in the confines of the warm summer storage bag the cover can mold and rot and discolor like any woven fabric stored wet.

After clearing the top of the cover of all debris and water, and before taking the straps off the anchors, you can speed the reinstallation process by marking the anchor/spring that will be the first to go in when you put the cover back on in fall. Not only does this obviate any decision making at that point, it's also especially helpful with non-standard shaped covers as opposed to simple rectangles. Nail polish is great for this purpose. Even if a little rubs off, you can still see it.

Strap removal then proceeds, beginning from the deep end of the pool. Start with the radial straps (straps that extend out from a line across the width) end and then the axial straps. Free the first five feet of cover and fold it, then the next five feet, and so on, proceeding to form an accordion fold to make the cover as easy as possible to unfold in the fall. The idea is to end the process with the shallow end straps handy and obvious, ready for installation when the cover goes back on.

With the cover now lying on the shallow end deck, bring one side over to meet the other, again and again, each time reducing the width of the folded cover by half, until it is ready to go into the bag, taking care not to drag the cover along the deck.

Many cover installers use some kind of material to cushion areas where the cover rubs against the deck or coping or water features during the winter. Some use swatches of carpet or products made for the purpose, and these prevent abrasions on the cover and extend its life. The clip-on type would have been pulled off as you folded the cover, others would have been tossed aside as you folded your way down the pool. Make sure to collect these now and place them in a bin for storage or transport.

Easy There, Big Fella

As quickly as can be done within the flow of your work, get the anchors back down into the deck; as long as they are up they remain a trip (you) and rip (the cover) hazard.

Check around the anchor, threads and hole for dried debris from the long winter. It's a lot easier to clean it off than to deal with the problems it can cause if you don't — such as a stripped anchor. Although made of brass, these anchors can strip like any other screw, leaving you cursing and headed for the toolbox. A special tool called an anchor extractor can help you remove a stripped anchor so you can insert a new one. (You brought extra anchors, right?)

When you are screwing the anchors into the pool deck, go easy, don't grind them in there tight like you're driving screws into the joists for your daughter's treehouse. Over the summer, grit and tiny amounts of rust can bind those anchors so they become unwilling to come back up in the fall, requiring extra time to persuade them.

With the cover folded and ready, slip it into the storage bag. You may find some pools sporting large Tupperware-type bins for this purpose, but storage bags provided by the manufacturer are best because they are made of material that allows the cover to breathe during storage and minimize the growth of bacteria.

As you place the cover in the bag, treat it as you would a folded shirt you are taking on vacation, don't just stuff it in there like dirty laundry. This not only makes it easier to get the cover back out in the fall, but just like that nice shirt you're taking to Vegas, it prevents wrinkles. And pool cover wrinkles look just as ugly as shirt wrinkles.

I Got You Covered

Needless to say, safety covers are a superb perennial revenue stream and everything possible should be done to lock in customers for the long term. This opportunity also takes place in the spring, when installers can offer to store the cover at their warehouse for the summer for a small fee or as a bonus enticement. Customers like this idea because it keeps the awkward bag off their premises. Installers like it because with the cover in their possession, it deters the customer from going elsewhere. They can plan on the reinstallation in the fall, and likely the winterizing business that will accompany it. Some installers also report that with the cover in their possession, customers are more prompt and reliable in their payments.

If the cover will be headed for your warehouse, carefully label it with the home's address and any software tracking information you use, both inside and out. Both labels are necessary. The outside label is the most convenient to read, but it can conceivably fall off. The inside label is the insurance. The last thing you want is a pool cover sitting in your warehouse and no idea where it should go.

Steady Profits

Pool covers are one of the industry's greatest inventions. Not only do they keep the pool clean and safe in the off-season, they make it more pleasing to the eye through those long wintry months spent gazing out the back window at bare trees and a snowy poolscape, waiting for the sun to return.

For pool professionals, they're even better. Winter safety covers offer a very stable and reliable revenue stream as part of an overall package of opening and closing services. This reliability allows for planning and training to establish uniform systems to streamline the process and maximize profits. And it all begins at the end of the pool cover season.

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

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