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Deterring DIY-ers

Discouraging your customers from installing equipment themselves

Do-it-yourself websites and television shows give homeowners the misconception that every project is compatible to their skill sets, including maintaining a swimming pool. Increasingly, homeowners are attempting to clean, chemically treat and even install new equipment on their pool without the aid of a professional.

While some individuals can handle this, many soon find it overwhelming — and it certainly harms the pool-service industry. But in a market where many retail stores can’t beat online pricing, concessions must be made.

“Maybe four years ago, we wouldn’t install pool equipment unless you bought it from us,” says Phil Stocke, service manager for North Bay Water Services in Benicia, Calif., which provides pool care services for approximately 1,500 customers a week. “But now, rather than fighting that, it’s just making sure the customers understand they have to handle the warranty issues themselves. And we only install it if it’s brand new. We will not do it if they got used equipment off Craigslist or something, because we have no idea what condition it’s in.”

While North Bay doesn’t do service contracts (billing monthly), the services include biweekly and weekly full-service options, inspections and repairs. North Bay covers installation labor under warranty for up to six months depending on the job, and it will help with manufacturer warranties, as long as customers purchase the parts directly from North Bay. Otherwise, the customer is responsible for working out warranty issues with the manufacturer.

Palm Springs Pool Service in Garland, Texas, provides the manufacturer warranty and a 60-day install warranty for the work its staff does. If the customer buys the part online, only the installation is covered. “We don’t have control or responsibility for parts that the customer may order,” says company president Tom Dittman. “We have seen cases where the parts provided by the customer were damaged. So we require the customer to observe while parts are being unpacked.”

If a customer decides to install the parts himself, Stocke and Dittman both say it’s important to make sure he understands this will likely void the manufacturer’s warranty on the part. Stocke mentions that variable-speed pumps are more complicated than most homeowners realize. “There’s a breaker that has to go with it, so that requires changing out the breaker and the wiring,” Stocke says. “It’s not just as simple as doing a pump swap. And if they have automation, there’s making sure the pump communicates with the system. Those are things customers have no idea about.”

Stocke says the pool service industry used to keep information from the customer on how parts installations or chemical maintenance works, in hopes they will come to you for service. However, these days you can find DIY tutorials online, so Stocke has taken the opposite approach. “The more we explain to them about how complicated the chemistry and filtration is [and how complicated installation is],” he says, “the more customers we keep.”

Dittman also says informing a customer of how beneficial your services can be will maintain that working relationship, especially if you keep them from mistakes. “One customer bought [replacement pool] equipment from three different online sellers,” he says, “without realizing that he missed out on an extended warranty if all the parts had been purchased from the same seller at the same time.” (Palm Springs knows this and takes advantage of it.) Ken Adams, vice president and general manager for North Bay, says reminding the customer of your working relationship with the manufacturer can also be a strong selling point for your services, even if the part is out of warranty. “Manufacturers like Pentair will replace something because we run a lot of stuff through them,” he says. “We’re good customers and buy a lot of parts. They want to take care of us.”

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