Pool industry employees share how they got here and what they love about their jobs
By Michelle L. Cramer
The pool industry is full of people from all walks of life. Some fell into the industry by accident and never left. Others grew up in a family pool business and knew from an early age that’s all they wanted to do. Whatever may have brought them here, pool professionals are eclectic and vast, providing the framework of an industry so many are proud to be a part of.
21st Century Pools & Spas
Vestal, New York
Ken Jayne was between jobs and selling advertising for high school sports calendars when he stopped into 21st Century Pools and Spas to speak to the owner, Bob Sullivan, about buying ad space. “A week or so later during a follow-up call, he informed me he was not going to buy any ad space but would like to hire me,” Jayne recalls. “I told him I would need to think about it because there was no way a guy could make a living in Broome County selling pools and spas. How little did I know.”
Jayne started as a salesman at 21st Century in 2004, with an office that consisted of a discounted patio furniture set next to a window on the showroom floor. In 2010, he was promoted to sales manager with a dedicated office space. His pay is commission based, with a stipend for the manager position he carries. In season, Jayne averages 65 hours a week (with no overtime pay) and 35 hours in the off-season. The sales staff does not get earned time off, vacation or holiday pay. Instead, “staff is set up on a weekly draw so our pay is consistent and constant,” he says. “Time off is on our own accord.”
Jayne says it’s hard to pinpoint what a normal day looks like for him. “I never have a typical day, which is awesome,” he says. “In-house appointments are set for me by our appointment center and I spend most of my day running leads in-home. We average seven in-home presentations a day in-season.” The remainder of his day is spent setting up crews, doing paperwork and contracts, following up with clients and various other responsibilities as a sales manager.
Jayne tries to use his competitive nature to attempt to “win” every day. This includes setting attainable goals for himself and his sales staff, having some fun with it, which he finds to be very productive for both staff and management.
He also says it’s important for sales staff to build relationships with their customers. “It can’t always be about the money,” Jayne says. “Customers see through that at the end of their experience. Let them know you care about them and their experience and the money will come back to you through referrals. There is no better customer than the referred customer.”
Finding enjoyment in one’s job is a choice, Jayne adds. “You need to embrace every day as a
new challenge, bring a positive attitude, embrace your fellow employees, look
forward to meeting new customers and forging
Ultra Modern Pool & Patio
Bryan Garton was working as a store manager for ACE Hardware when he attended a wedding in 2015 and began a conversation with Rita Rowlen, owner of Ultra Modern Pool & Patio. She spoke about the brands they carried and her hopes for the future of the company, “and it piqued my interest,” Garton says. He researched the brands Ultra Modern carried and was so impressed that he sent Rowlen his resume.
In January 2016, Garton was hired as a sales associate and assistant manager. In March 2017, he was promoted to branch manager. “What brought me in was Rita’s enthusiasm for the pool industry,” he says. “It made me excited for what they had to offer.”
Garton usually comes in between 8 and 8:15 a.m. to get his day started with “typical management stuff” like getting the register ready, daily walk-through with a checklist to make sure everything is stocked and in place, confirming all staff are present and accounted for and unlocking the doors for the day to begin. Throughout the day, Garton works on things like early buy purchases, managing staff, scheduling customer appointments and making sure service calls are being handled appropriately.
“During my day I’m 50/50 dealing with customers and also office type work,” Garton says. “I do a lot of my work on the floor just so I can keep an eye on things. That way, I’m more available to my employees to help them if they have a customer issue or need help with pricing and whatnot.”
Garton is grateful his position allows for face time with customers — one of the main reasons he enjoys the pool industry. He wants to help customers find exactly what they’re looking for — whether it’s a pool, pool toy or chemicals — to enhance their backyard experience.
Despite his management position, Garton still maintains his own customer base. While 90 percent of his time is spent in the store, he says the 10 percent he spends monitoring customer projects is rewarding. When he was first promoted to branch manager, there was only one other part-time salesperson. That’s why Garton is salaried with no overtime pay but still makes commission on his personal sales; it’s also why he’s training more sales staff.
Compared with his job at the hardware store, Garton is grateful to be in the pool industry. “I like helping someone with something that’s going to bring them joy,” he says. “When I was working in the hardware industry, customers had emergencies almost all the time. That was filling a need but [the pool industry] is filling wants that are going to make people’s lives better. I probably have more responsibilities with Ultra Modern than I did at ACE, but I have less stress just because I’m working for a great family-owned business and helping people do things that they enjoy.”
Bi-State Pool & Spa
Twenty-three years ago, Rammacher wasn’t looking for a job in the pool industry. In fact, he was hoping to find something in home building — but wasn’t having any luck. So he answered an ad for a “fun summer job” cleaning pools for Bi-State Pool & Spa. Anticipating the job would soon end, Rammacher got his real estate license at the local college. “I fell upon that Bi-State ad, answered it, but never intended to stay here. I was told it was a seasonal thing,” he recalls, “and I never left.”
While Rammacher’s official position is service director — he was promoted nearly two years ago — he says the title really doesn’t encompass everything he does. In addition to managing the pool service part of the company, Rammacher sells pool renovations and serves as project manager for Bi-State’s rehab projects.
Rammacher was the first employee Bi-State hired, and he has held most every position within the company since then: pool cleaner, chlorine deliveries, technician, leak detection and inspections, sales and training employees, to name a few.
His typical workday varies widely: His mornings often consist of in-home meetings with customers to provide bids. Some afternoons he meets with employees to make sure everything is going according to plan. He’ll write up bids and do paperwork in the office. And there are some customers who still prefer Rammacher clean their pools, so you might find him out in the field rinsing filters, too.
The hours he puts in each week fluctuate. “I usually work until the work’s done,” Rammacher says. “I don’t keep track of my hours. We don’t really have a structure where you have so many vacation days. You take what you think you should have [when you need it], and I don’t think anybody really takes advantage of that.”
On the whole, Rammacher believes the best way to enjoy your job in this industry is to have fun. “Learn as much as you possibly can and grow with the company you’re with,” he says.
Maintenance Manager; Service Tech
Magnolia Pool Services
Vaughan, Ontario, Canada
Tyler Clarke grew up in the pool industry, tagging along with his stepdad, Steve Schechter — who worked for a pool company — on weekends during middle school and in summer 2008. He would help the employees load their trucks and clean up at the end of the day. The next summer, he was given service jobs and helped with repairs, painting pools and construction. “It was a labor of learning,” Clarke says. “And as time went on, I took on more responsibility.”
He worked in the office as the customer service manager’s assistant, helping him schedule jobs, provide quotes, deal with suppliers and coordinate contractors. He did pool inspections for a time. Then Schechter opened his own company in November 2016 — Magnolia Pool Service — and it was a natural transition for Clarke to do it with him. “When Magnolia opened, I was pretty well-versed in most of the different aspects of the business,” he says. “I’ve grown into the position [of maintenance manager] rather than being thrown into it.”
In the summer, Clarke is putting in 60 to 70 hours a week. Mondays and Tuesdays are reserved for repairs and small construction jobs, and the rest of the week is regular service and maintenance routes. “We try to plan our day-to-day but never really end up sticking to the exact game plan,” Clarke says. “It’s a lot of running around, a lot of traffic and a lot of getting dirty. That’s pretty much every day, that’s for sure.”
During Canada winters, all pools the company services are closed except for a couple of indoor accounts. But Clarke still puts in 40 hours a week doing bookwork, further developing Magnolia’s business plan, researching and creating a plan for the upcoming season. He’s also been working with local health departments to make sure the company is compliant on local health and safety requirements. And Schechter is teaching him the sales aspect of the business.
“A lot of people talk about hating their jobs and, honestly, I used to in the beginning because I went to university and saw a different direction [for my life],” Clarke says. “But when the opportunity came to start a family business — something that’s our own — I thought a lot about it and it seemed like I can still do everything I learned in school and apply it to this excellent business. And I do like working on the road.”
Clarke recommends those in the industry trying to make a career out of it should advance through certifications and other training. “It might not seem like it, but there’s a lot of opportunity in this industry,” he says. “Don’t just put in your 9 to 5. Try to make yourself the best you can be and you can succeed in this industry. You can start your own company. Don’t sell yourself short.”
one more thing…
They all have high praise for the pool industry, but no job is all sunshine and rainbows. There are a few things these pool industry employees say would make their jobs even better.
Across the board, training seems a top priority. Jayne says 21st Century is constantly looking to improve the sales and production process. Garton would like to see national organizations like APSP and NSPF (soon to be The Pool & Hot Tub Alliance) offering more than official certification training online, but also the seminar training typically only available at expo events.
“Not every company can send eight people to Las Vegas,” Garton says. “[I’d like to see them make] that more readily available and cost effective, so we can get that information to key members of the staff that you may not need to send to the expo but you want to get that training.”
Rammacher concurs. “Most of us have our CPOs or tech certifications,” he says. “But there’s no training in health department rules. They don’t really tell you how to put on coping, you just know it’s supposed to be there. There’s always an area for [further] education.”
Garton would also like to see more tools and training for managing the ongoing competition with internet pricing. “As an industry, we need to know how to drive more business to the brick and mortar websites or actual stores,” he says.
More business-management software and tools to help small pool companies succeed would also be helpful, Clarke says. He recently signed up for QuickBooks to help him manage invoicing and payroll more effectively, which he says will be a huge improvement for Magnolia, but he would still like to see more options.
Clarke’s more ambitious suggestion: A way for his team to eat healthier lunches on the go. “No one really wants to work after having pizza or a hamburger,” he says of the limited options for a 30-minute meal while covered in dirt. “Quick, healthy food options would be good,” he says, “because my mom doesn’t make me lunches anymore.”