The business surge in 2020 due to COVID-19 caught most pool and spa service businesses by surprise, especially given that we were forced to operate much differently than in the past. Despite the challenges, savvy pool and spa professionals are embracing the opportunity to improve their business practices and ramp up for an even better 2021 season. We interviewed several pool and spa industry experts to get their insight on new trends that are emerging.
Trend #1: Training
There is a need for pool and spa service business owners to provide more frequent, diversified and virtual training programs. Julie Kazdin of Kazdin Pool Service in New York says that training has always been central to ensuring the exceptionally high level of service her company provides to customers.
“In the past, all employees came together in a room for training,” says Kazdin. “But with the pandemic, that has changed and in fact, has highlighted the fact that so much more training can be accomplished by doing virtual, online training.” Kazdin’s company has developed an in-house training platform, as they have specific, proprietary training for her employees, including videos and quizzes, which they are now doing online.
Luckily, there are ample training tools available. Many manufacturers offer quality training webinars, tutorials, videos and even live training for existing and new employees.
As pool and spa businesses allow their employees to remain at home, they are ramping up their business software systems, so that many of the functions and information that could only be accessed within one building, can now be accessed anywhere. One of the best features available in some pool and spa software systems is what is known as the ‘practice company.’ This is a valuable training resource that allows you to simulate all the functionality of your store operations, without touching the actual system. The virtual company allows new hires to run sales, process refunds, look up inventory — everything that employees will be doing in the heat of the season. And, once again, when these systems can be accessed from any computer, employees can practice and train from home, ensuring employees remain safe and healthy.
Additionally, look for local CPO classes that can be taken online (or in-person when available), and be sure to register employees, pay for courses and make adjustments in their scheduling so they can successfully complete the classes.
Additionally, BioLab, Pentair and many manufacturers have webinar resources, online courses and even local representatives who are willing to come to your business and provide training. Even pool and spa software providers offer one-on-one training to help employees stay current on the latest software updates to maximize the utility of the software, streamline businesses operations and ultimately reduce the hours it takes to get jobs done.
Trend #2: Communication
The pandemic has underscored the importance of paperless communication, with not only customers, but also internally with employees.
“We immediately pivoted to virtual job boards and started using a chat system to stay in touch with one another,” says Kazdin. “It worked out much better than I expected.”
In fact, with the rise of remote work and ability to stay in close communication digitally, pool and spa service business professionals have reported that this has not only expanded their talent pool, but also expanded their reach.
“We are now serving a much larger market because we realized we no longer need to bring everyone together physically,” says Kazdin. “Utilizing technology and doing things differently is actually making us do things better.”
Using internal chat systems and integrated business software allows remote service techs to log in to the information they need, without having to physically go to a building for information. Re-stocking trucks can also be done at the closest supply house. Service companies can now expand their reach by making each service truck an independent, mobile business.
In addition to communicating better internally, retailers are reporting they are in better communication with customers now than they were prior to the pandemic. “Customers are calling us all the time,” says Kathi Belcourt, manager at AquaTech Pool, Spa and Bath in Winnepeg. “I’m constantly on ‘facetime’ showing customers how to diagnose and fix issues on their pool or spa, or just help them determine what product they should purchase.”
Many retailers have decided to add the chat function to their websites and divide up the shifts among all employees, so they can be available for clients 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. “It’s become so much easier to manage the chat function as we can do it from home so easily and we are developing much stronger relationships with our customers and bringing in so many new customers,” says Belcourt.
Trend #3: E-Commerce
E-commerce was already on the rise, but this past season made it apparent that online sales will continue to grow and, in fact, will help pool and spa service business professionals continue to expand their sales and profits.
Belcourt says their company is putting a huge emphasis on their online store in 2021.
“We were already going in the direction of trying to sell more through our online store, but this past season helped us realize we need to do more to really get customers re-trained to use online shopping with our company.,” she says.
Integration of your online store with a business management software is key to success. “We are also adding Shopify to our online store so we can do a better job of marketing to customers,” explains Belcourt.
Improving your e-commerce store and digital marketing efforts will allow you to provide customized offers to clients, knowing who bought what and when. This type of information will be extremely helpful this year, when there may be some supply chain shortages. Having a robust, integrated business software that integrates with a powerful online store gives pool and spa professionals the ability to plan better and smooth out supply issues.
“This season we will operate much more proactively—rather than how reactively we operated last season—the goal is to be prepared, reduce stress and sell more,” says Belcourt.
Remember that when clients go to your online store, they should be able to order, pay and arrange for delivery or pick-up of their chemicals and more. Be sure your pool service software supports your online store and has pool industry integrations, so that inventory and delivery dates are accurate. You should also be able to easily process credit cards on your e-commerce site directly through your business software system in order to eliminate mistakes and ensure the correct end-of-day tally.
Additionally, make online sales seamless by using an online bill pay system that creates a reliable and easy-to-use billing process. This saves money on supplies and labor costs by eliminating time it takes for billing and collecting payments.
The e-commerce shift is redefining how stores are used and there may be an increased need for staff to fulfill online orders and to prepare items for curbside and in-store pickup this year. Lenz says he has a huge parking lot and a space behind their store where they have containers filled with products. “We are planning to stock even more this year and might even be stacking our containers to fulfill orders,” explains Lenz.
Trend #4: Marketing
Pool and spa professionals are planning proactive marketing campaigns, with direct email marketing and old-fashioned direct mail. This is a great time to test email marketing and start planning a calendar of Cyber sales, for products previously sold only on the showroom floor.
Direct mail also seems to be making a comeback. Given that people are spending more time at home, they are paying closer attention to the offers that appear in their mailbox. “Folks in our town just don’t like to cross the river even through they are just a few miles from our store, so this year we are actively targeting those areas [with direct mail] to increase our sales reach,” says Belcourt.
AquaTech has planned direct mail pieces, explaining that they are happy to deliver to pool and spa owners, to avoid coming to the physical store. “I’m hoping to create an UBER Eats for pool chemicals this summer — I’m already contracting with new partners to make delivery easier — so people can order shock like ordering a burger.”
Trend #5: Using Apps
The use of mobile apps has exploded for every business in light of the pandemic, as apps have made it easier than ever to make transactions and stay in touch. There are now many mobile apps available through business software packages or as stand alone tools that will ensure your company provides better service to customers and makes daily operations less stressful for employees.
A live mobile app allows employees to use mobile tablets and smartphones to access the same data anywhere on the retail floor. Being able to help a customer with readily accessible information at any terminal or on any screen in-store improves service and builds an incredible amount of customer loyalty.
This also applies to service techs in the field, where apps allow techs to upload photos, equipment information and other customer data for future reference as well as tools to help diagnose water chemistry issues. Apps even allow techs to send messages directly to clients with recommended product purchases that can be made directly through your online store.
Retailers can also provide better and faster service to customers with the ‘line buster’ feature. Staff can use a tablet, an integrated magnetic stripe-reader, or a pocket barcode scanner to complete sales transactions, process credit cards, and email receipts. Further, staff can work the floor and perform inventory searches and access customer history or profiles instantly.
Embracing New Ways
The trends emerging from our industry clearly show pool and spa professionals are embracing technology to thrive in a marketplace where there’s an even greater demand for products and services that enhance the backyard.