Houston pool company transitions to second-generation ownership, seeks to change the industry
By Michelle L. Cramer
Photography by Ian Schatte
New Year’s Day was big for the second generation of Mannings. Their ownership of Manning Pool Service in Houston, Texas, many years in the making, was finally official.
Jeff Manning, Sr., who had been in the pool industry since 1982, started Manning Pool Service in 2001 as a one-pole operation running warranty claims for Pentair.
His son, David, joined his father in the business in 2008, straight out of high school. By 2010, David had a maintenance division going. But as David’s wife, Ana Manning, will tell you, it was chaotic until she came on in 2012. Before then, she recalls a lack of route structure and David coming home as late as 8 p.m. each night, complaining about how he “traveled around the world.”
Ana worked at Manning Pool Service part time learning operations while getting a business degree at the University of Houston. She used to dream of starting a restaurant, “but my knowledge in the pool industry was so valuable, and I loved it so much,” Ana says. “I just could not leave. I’m a pool lady for life now.” Ana is now chief operating officer at MPS.
Jeff Manning Sr.’s son Jeffrey worked for the company off and on in high school, and after graduation joined the Marines. Upon returning from service, he became a firefighter while occasionally working at MPS. Jeffrey joined the company full time in 2018 and acts as repair manager. David is the company’s maintenance manager; the company also has a customer service department that handles concerns, warranty tickets and route scheduling. An in-house bookkeeper and maintenance managers are also on staff.
“David and I are pretty much hybrids,” Jeffrey says. They cover anything that needs to be done from pool cleanings to repair calls. “They literally fill the gaps,” Ana says.
MPS has nearly 650 weekly maintenance accounts, 30 vehicles on the road with 34 employees, fields regular repair calls from outside the weekly customer base and is the largest Pentair warranty station in Houston.
Changing the Industry
With a cadre of young employees from 21 to 32 years old, MPS has a distinct perspective on the industry and ambition to make changes to the status quo. Culture and providing educational opportunities to staff are their top priorities.
At MPS, there are weekly in-house training meetings. Every Monday and Friday morning, maintenance technicians come into the office for a meeting that often includes training videos and quizzes on topics from chemistry to safety to equipment.
On Tuesday mornings, the customer service and office staff meet; Wednesday morning meetings are with the repair technicians; and Thursdays are management staff. Every weekday morning that MPS is open, meetings foster continual growth for the staff.
“We turn it into a classroom style so if these guys have questions, it’s the best time to answer them,” Ana says. “So everyone has feedback from each other.”
Jeffrey, David and Ana don’t limit education and growth to their employees; the trio also meets with a business coach weekly to make sure they are on track to achieve their company goals.
Creating a fun and encouraging work atmosphere is also important to the Mannings. During the ownership transition last year, they implemented uniforms for all staff, a first for the company. “And then we thought of an idea for Funky Friday Shirts,” David says. “They’re Hawaiian style shirts with our logo on them. If a technician gets a five-star Google review [they get to wear that shirt on Friday]. It’s brought some culture to Manning Pool Service.”
In addition, in January the Mannings launched an Employee of the Month program. That employee gets to choose food and dessert for once-a-month company cookouts with the entire team. At each cookout, there is a PowerPoint presentation about the Employee of the Month that also acknowledges staff birthdays and work anniversaries.
On January 24, all 34 of its employees attended the Southwest Pool & Spa Show in Houston. Ana suspects they were one of the only companies that brought the entire staff.
The culture they’re working to create isn’t limited to funky shirts and employee appreciation. “Being youth driven, we hire on culture,” Jeffrey says. The three established the company’s core values for staff last year: trustworthy, positive, passionate, problem solver and communicator.
The Mannings are also working to change the way their customers view the industry. Jeffrey says they don’t cut corners and tend to be one of the most expensive in the Houston area.
“We’re premium; we do everything,” Jeffrey says. “We pride ourselves on trust. That’s what’s on our trucks: ‘You can trust us in your backyard.’ That’s huge with us. We don’t load our technicians down with [too much] work. We like to spend 30 minutes or more in a backyard because they’re doing every single step. They’re brushing, scooping, vacuuming, adding chemicals, testing the chemistry, checking the equipment, taking pictures. Our time is valuable.”
The company sends digital door hangers to customers after service each week (versus leaving a paper report) that thoroughly explain what the technician did that day, including a checklist of tasks, chemistry readings, how much water was in the pool and pictures. If a customer has a complaint, MPS strives to be in the backyard addressing it within 24 to 48 hours.
MPS also requires its repair technicians to have a Residential Appliance Installer License, a subset of an electrical license. “That way they can legally go out in the field and work on electrical equipment,” David says. “We’re licensed and we want to do things correctly, have a process. We’re trying to be that company that does care, that gives you what you’re paying for.”
The Mannings hope to eventually buy land and build their own facility: Ana wants a kitchen to bake cookies for the staff; David wants plenty of parking space for their service fleet and employees, and updated warehousing for parts and chemical storage.
“We’re busting at the seams where we are now,” Jeffrey says. The company added two trucks, four employees and nearly 20 customers between October and December.
In this first year of full ownership, Ana is working closely with the management team. “We have set goals for each department to reach this year,” she says. “I was able to show them data from the last three years and use the trends we saw to forecast for this year.” Some things on the agenda include implementing a rewards program, working on gaining Google reviews and new customers, perfecting the hiring and on-boarding processes and more. Jeffrey, David and Ana are confident that Manning Pool Service is growing and changing in beneficial ways. “Whatever we’re doing, we’re succeeding,” David says, “and we’re going to keep doing it and replicating it.”