When Business Slows, and It Snows

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In the spring, summer and fall, pool pros can sometimes feel like they’re working two jobs instead of one. However, by exploiting your winter, you can take some pressure off the spring. There is work to be done if you want to set your busy season up for success.

Prioritize Rest and Recovery

First and foremost, it’s imperative you give yourself the vacation you deserve. If you didn’t plan to do this already, plan next year’s vacation now. Seriously. Plan it out — where you’ll go and for how long, figure out how much money you’ll need, and set your budget for the next year so you’re booked and ready to jump as soon as the date arrives next winter.

That goes for everyone. Yes, the people working 10-hour days in the field need a break when the fall winds down, but so do the design consultants. The constant ups and downs, the rejection, the late nights getting the design just right before a presentation the next day, it all takes its toll on the body, mind and soul. If you qualified for any manufacturer incentive trips, go. When you are setting up the details of the trip, consider extending the airfare so you can take an additional week to help shake off the stress of the past year.

Clear Your Mind and Get Off the Grid

If you didn’t qualify, or if your company doesn’t participate in the incentive trips, I’d suggest a travel destination in the Southern Hemisphere so you can experience summer without the high stress of the pool business. In my opinion, it’s important to give yourself at least a couple of weeks of stress-free summer — great wine, culture, and an opportunity to practice your Spanish. Whatever excites and restores you, of course. If you’re a skier, head to the mountains.

Set Yourself Up For Success

Once you’ve properly reset yourself, it’s time to get a head start on the upcoming year. Most pool design consultants take it easy this time of year as they await the spring rush. However, January through March is a great time to be assertive and build up your spring work.

1. Check in on all existing leads. The first thing to do is obvious, and you’re probably already doing it. Call everyone you’ve talked to in the past year. Call the person who was considering a vinyl pool and accidentally called you. Call the person who wanted a replaster but only had $1,500 to spend.

You never know how someone’s financial situation may have changed, or whether their opinion has changed on what they want. The buying cycle is long for some people. Even though they may have sounded like they weren’t a good client for your company, and you don’t want to ‘waste your time,’ call them anyway. (It’s winter, you have the time.) By taking good care of the people who don’t buy from you, you can still gain referrals by treating them with respect and by being their trusted information source related to pools.

2. Explore referral sources. Next, it’s time to reach out to the referral sources you’re afraid to reach out to.

This could be the landscape architect who only uses your competition to build their pools, or the home builder who has a kickback scheme with your competition. Or maybe it’s the landscaper whose curt responses whenever you call make you think they never do business with anyone. You can’t just call these people and expect them to want to do business with you. You need to get creative. But remember the perspective of most landscape professionals and home builders toward pool companies. You may be a professional working for a great company who is different from your competition, but keep in mind that pool companies, as a whole, are not held in the highest regard. You’ll need to dig yourself out of the hole our industry has dug for you.

Swimming pool companies are notorious for playing games that other design professionals and builders can’t stand. These “games” are usually reasonable practices that are not explained well and not planned for. As the design consultant/pool salesman — whatever you want to call yourself — your job is to not only get the construction contract, but also to help your clients visualize the process they are about to agree to. When you don’t make the extra effort, and instead focus on only getting contracts, you set the stage for frustrated clients. That’s right: It’s your fault they have a poor opinion of pool companies, and it’s your fault they view you as being just another pool salesman.

The good news is, you have the ability to change their point of view. You won’t see results immediately, but remember that transparency is key. If you want to become the trusted source for swimming pools, you must prepare your client for unforeseen circumstances. Differentiating yourself from the competition is what you need to do if you want to succeed. Building real relationships based on honesty is a good place to start.

Build a Lead Generation Engine and Competitive Moat

Here are some simple things to do to help lay the foundation for a good relationship with design professionals and builders before and after you’ve made the sale.

1. When you have the opportunity to meet a new design professional or builder, bring your construction supervisor or construction manager with you. I know this will cause some trepidation at first, and will probably result in some ‘that’s not my job’ type of discussion, but be firm and get them in the room with you. Introduce your client to who will be on-site building the pool and who they will be communicating with. You are a team, a unified source of solutions.

2. Prepare your clients for the unforeseen circumstances you know of. Nobody knows more about what can possibly go wrong in pool construction than those who do it for a living. Don’t keep this a secret. For example, if you know the city water in the area you are working in can stain the plaster, don’t try to save money by using it. Add a line item to have water trucked in with a small description of why. Make your knowledge a part of what you sell and why you are the one they should use to build every project.

3. If there’s a petty change order your company is known for, stop the cycle now. For example, if it’s light cords, always sell lights with 100-foot cords. Never let a $50 change order go to the client who is spending $100,000-plus with you.

4. Never send any change order without discussing it first. Change orders happen all the time, especially when working with design professionals. Get in the routine of what may seem like excessive communication around all things money-related with your client.

5. Give your clients bad news fast. Did you hit bedrock and need to hammer or blast? Tell your client immediately. Remind them of the conversation you had about what happens when you hit bedrock, do exactly what you said you would do, and make sure your company does exactly what you said they would do. This will require some micro-managing, and you may need to train your pool company to do things a little differently.

6. Always communicate. Make sure emails go out at the end of every week with a look ahead for what’s coming the next week, what the goals are, and what you’ve accomplished.

As you can see, the basic theme here is communication. Never let your clients wonder what’s happening next. Eliminate as many unknowns as you possibly can. As anyone who has ever hired a pool contractor knows, once the hole is open, there is nothing you can do about nickel-and-dime change orders other than chalk it up to typical pool contractor antics. You don’t have to participate in this way of doing business, and you have the ability to change how you are perceived as a purveyor of swimming pools.

Ultimately, the winter is a great time for getting caught up on the things you simply don’t have time for in the busy season. The two most important things to focus on are getting the rest you need and forging new relationships that will pay dividends when winter is over. Remember: While it may feel like forever, winter doesn’t last long. Before you know it, you’ll be back to having more responsibilities than you can handle in an eight-hour day.

Scott Pancake is a pool and landscape designer with over 20 years of experience. He’s worked in three different regions of the country: New England (SSG), Austin, Texas (Austin Water Designs), and Arizona (BYOP). He is currently a landscape designer for ZEN Associates, a global boutique landscape and interior design firm in Boston, Mass. In addition to ZEN, Scott founded Backyard Assist, a media site designed to help homeowners navigate tough questions in their backyard.

This article first appeared in the January 2022 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.

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