Family-run company focuses on social-media engagement, friendly service
by Sarah Protzman Howlett
photography by Christian Hernandez
In the mid-2000’s, Mike Burns and his wife, Amanda, were ready for a change from their life in England. Setting their sights on sunny Florida, the family purchased Doc Dean’s Pools from its original owner and emigrated in 2005. It’s been a great fit, says their son James Burns, because of a combination of his parents’ skills — his dad’s technical ability, having been a gasfitter in the United Kingdom for some 20 years, with his mom’s managerial and scheduling skills as a former Coty Beauty rep.
The business has also brought James and Mike closer — and would grant a teenage James exposure to an industry he would return to as an adult. Back in the UK, his dad’s shift work made it so the two didn’t get much time together. But once Mike had Doc Dean’s, James would ride along with his dad in summers, enjoying father-son talks in the truck and — OK, he admits it — occasionally dipping into customers’ pools.
In April of this year, James, now 23, was taking a break from college and thought he could busy himself by helping his parents with Doc Dean’s social media. It didn’t take long for James, as he puts it, to “go 100 percent guns blazing” in learning about effective online marketing.
“I go super deep,” he says. “I was that way with golf, and I was that way with drumming.”
James taught himself to edit and produce strong copy by watching YouTube videos. “There are limitless resources when it comes to learning to take a photo, edit a photo, do a video,” he says. “I have learned how to get the narrative across better with the style of editing. I really hate seeing a gorgeous pool build and a bad photo.” He does it all with his iPhone 6S Plus and has also built the company a website.
Consistently posting on social media has earned James different audiences for each platform. On Facebook, he says, it’s mostly customers: “Someone will ask if we set up handrails — we do — and I’ll get a time set up to come see what you’ve got,” he says. If someone comments that their pool is green, James can message them and be there in a few days to set up recurring service that can create future sales opportunities.
On Instagram, however, Doc Dean’s often trains its eye on producing content for the pool industry itself, sharing ideas and discussing common problems. “I can talk to people in Arizona, let’s say, about hard water marks, which we also have in central Florida,” James says. “We are now looking into treating those marks here — a potential new market.”
Being in the pool-service business in Florida means there’s not really an offseason, but Mike Burns also has a gas contractor’s license and can earn additional income repairing heating units. “When we get out of summer and people haven’t turned [their heaters on] for six or eight months,” James says, “the built-in hot tubs may sputter and shut down.”
The company employs four or five people and just added another pool-service employee, James says. Short-term goals include hiring more people and getting more vehicles on the road; right now it has three. It also wants to get into full reconstruction in the next couple of months in addition to the resurfacing and retiling it offers now.
And even though Doc Dean’s communicates heavily via social media these days, James says a somewhat older strategy — actually picking up the phone and calling a customer — makes it stand apart. “Nothing replicates that,” he says. “We call our clients very frequently. Getting on the phone eliminates the lag that email has. It’s that personal touch.”