2016 SOI Service Report: Service is Where the Action Is

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In some ways, the post-recession pool and spa economy has mirrored the plodding U.S. economy with small, fairly uniform, positive increments recorded year on year. Annually, hopes have risen for a breakout, but those hopes have always been met with another modest gain.

Under these conditions, the economic dynamic in the pool and spa industry has remained rather stable, with mid-level builders struggling to make profits in an extremely price-sensitive climate, high-end builders enjoying the success of their market base and traditional pool and spa retailers slugging it out with heavy competition from Internet retailers and mass merchants.

Through it all, service has remained relatively steady and profitable. And as day follows night, competition follows dollars — thus, the sector has drawn competition both from entrepreneurs (licensed or otherwise) and existing pool and spa companies opening or expanding service departments.

For many of the most experienced veterans of the service industry, these developments have caused little stir. Companies established in the '70s, '80s and '90s with very experienced technicians have generally continued to thrive. For others, particularly in areas where a rival can easily pop up out of nowhere, grab a jug of chlorine, undercut a price and take customers, it has been more of a struggle.

The 2016 State of the Industry survey reveals these trends in detail. The problems set forth by respondents to this year's SOI survey are in line with previous years, with some caveats. For instance, motivated and capable workers have always been in tight supply, but this year the shortage seems more acute.

One respondent put the situation succinctly: "There's a shortage of skilled pool technicians. This requires companies to either A) head hunt or B) become really good at training."

"I can't find people willing to work for a living," said another.

Behind hiring and recruitment, Internet retail was the second biggest problem facing service companies, as more homeowners bought products online instead of from their local pool service provider. Some homeowners have the gall to ask their service company to install the online product, a request that is met by differing responses. Some companies are happy to take the money for installation labor, and others believe a non-install policy helps motivate customers to buy from them.

These issues have remained core concerns since SOI's inception six years ago, and are as perennial as the grass now greening in poolscapes across North America.

However, another recurrent trend was given even greater emphasis in this year's canvass. Throughout the survey, in different forms, the industry-shaping power of computers, automation and advanced communication was tangible. One service pro put it simply: "The biggest change happening right now? Technology both in and out of the industry."

Some noted the huge changes smartphones and business software have brought to the way they do business, from ordering parts from the backyard to the GPS software that guides work trucks.

Others pointed out the tremendous technological changes they've seen in pool equipment and the tremendous effort now required to keep up with them. As one service pro stated, "It's hard to stay current on new equipment and still work my business."

Still, the overall tone of the service survey was upbeat. This is because overall, service pros are an optimistic bunch that understand the power of hard work to overcome obstacles.

Said one service vet who summed up the feelings of many, "My entire adult life has been dominated by gloomy outlooks from the financial commentators and experts, and yet I have managed to remain employed and thrive."

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Industry Spotlight: Pleatco

Technology and training both play a key role in the evolution of pool and spa service. To learn more, we chat with the sponsor of this year's SOI Service Report, Pleatco.

AQUA: What role do you see for the service professional in the ever-more sophisticated technology of backyard pools?

Battista Remati, Chief Marketing Officer, Pleatco: The role of the service professional will become more critical as the technology of the leisure water environment changes. Mainly in the pool sector, with the advent of smart diagnostic tools, the service professional will be needed to apply these smart tools as the customer may not have the time, expertise or inclination to train themselves in the fine details of their operation. For pool owners this is good news as smarter tools mean higher quality of water and more leisure time. Equally for service pros, keeping abreast of new technologies will allow them to solidify their role while also adding extra service depth for which they will be able to charge a premium. At Pleatco, we thoroughly support the service pro and the betterment of our industry through the development of smart tools.

AQUA: How can a small service business with limited resources keep up with rapid change?

BR: Nowadays technology for the most part is open platform. Smaller service businesses today can easily afford technologies that were once out of reach due to cost. As new technology enters any industry it commands a premium. But as that technology is adopted the cost of entry drops dramatically and it becomes accessible to all. A good example is how people can now use an inexpensive mobile app to do their taxes where five years ago the same suite of software may have cost hundreds of dollars. So smart service companies will embrace the new technologies and tools to secure their business operations.

AQUA: What are some of the best ways to access a manufacturer's expertise in keeping abreast of their products?

BR: At Pleatco we strive for innovation. Internally, we look toward advanced manufacturing techniques and materials to improve product performance and optimization. We invest a considerable amount of energy into our own scientific research and technology center, where we are constantly looking at better ways to improve filtration and water quality for our end users. We promote our new technology throughout the industry and force complacent competitors to change their methodologies, improving the standards of the industry as a whole. We disseminate all of our product knowledge down through our sales and distribution channels and make available content such as consumer product videos that can be easily accessed online. A smart, well-educated customer drives the industry to higher standards overall.


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

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