Pay Day — What Pay Structure Works Best?

Examining pool service pay structures

Tracy Bond, owner of Great Valley Pool Service in Frazer, Pennsylvania, knows that time is money, and that finding the right pay structure can take a lot of both.

 According to Bond, there are benefits and drawbacks of paying per job and paying per hour, explaining that, while paying per job seems to create more incentive for techs to maximize their time, hourly pay tends to produce better-quality work.

“Paying per job can lead to poor quality and call backs, as technicians can rush to get through as many jobs as possible and not pay attention to the details of the work that is done,” she says. “The technicians may not focus on getting the job done to the best of their ability.”

While rushing can be a risk in that pay structure, Bond says spending too much time at one job can be the downfall of the other. “Technicians will take longer than is necessary as their compensation increases the longer their day is,” she says. “There is more non-billable time as tools are forgotten and pools require frequent follow up.”

Tracy and Cecil Bond owners, Great Valley Pool Service, Frazer, Pennsylvania

Bond, along with her brother Cecil Bond, purchased Great Valley Pool Service in 2014 and says hourly pay was the structure in place when they took it over. “We would love to pay by the job,” Tracy Bond explains, “However, it seems to be a bit complex to develop a comparable compensation plan that rewards the employees and takes into account all the variables inherent in the type of work that is done on a daily basis.”

Michael Wagner, president of Pool Scouts in Virginia Beach, Virginia, shares similar insights on the pros and cons of paying per pool or route.

“We focus on providing high-quality service and find that it is better to pay hourly,” Wagner says. While he acknowledges that paying per hour runs the risk of techs not working as efficiently and may also lead to overtime pay when they’re short-staffed, Wagner believes an hourly pay structure helps the company stay focused on the quality of its services.

Collin Parrish, owner of Blue Desert Pools in Gilbert, Arizona, offers another perspective on paying employees per job. “In the beginning, we considered paying hourly to ensure our technicians are spending quality time at each stop, rather than running in and out quickly,” Parrish explains. “But our team is a group of very hardworking individuals who genuinely care for our clients, so we don’t have to worry about our technicians splashing and dashing.”

Parrish says his team focuses on fine-tuning the equipment, with the goal being that the pool takes care of itself as much as possible. “This allows our technicians to service multiple pools per hour and make a great income,” he says.

He adds that the company is in the process of changing the pay structure for its service manager, Garrett Gonzales. “Rather than per pool, he is being transitioned to salary pay as he takes on more tasks,” Parrish explains. “This allows him to spend time training the other technicians, performing quality assurance visits and special projects.”

Parrish says its technicians are also W2 employees, recalling some rough beginnings in the industry as a 1099 subcontractor. “I had no idea what that meant and had no clue how rough tax season would be,” he says. “I was hit hard financially in my first year in the industry due to this.” Parrish vowed that when he started his own company, he would never hire someone as a 1099 and says he still hears horror stories similar to his own tax situation. “It costs more to employ our guys as W2, but we know they are protected, as they should be,” he says.

A group from ASP’s pool school for new franchise owners.

Stewart Vernon, founder and CEO of America’s Swimming Pool Company in Macon, Georgia, started the company 20 years ago and began franchising in 2006. ASP is one of the nation’s largest pool cleaning and repair companies, with 140 franchise locations. In this larger network of pool service employees, Vernon says the company tried doing pay per pool, but ended up going to hourly pay. “It’s ultimately the most fair,” he says. “We found the employee is happier and it’s more equitable for the employee to compensate them for the time they’re working.”

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In addition to pay structure, pool service pros can also respond to labor shortage and employee turnover through incentives and bonuses.

Parrish says extra pay is on the table for his techs who get referrals, upsells, repairs and installations, while pay raises are based on performance and time with the company.

Bond says their team has a system in place for determining paid bonuses. “Individual bonus eligibility is based on years of service as well as the performance of the company,” she says. “Each technician is given a score based on accomplishment of their annual objectives that are laid out at the beginning of the year.” Bond explains the percentage score is multiplied against their eligible amount to determine the bonus paid. “We always show each employee what they were eligible for and what they are paid to provide some incentive to achieve their annual objectives,” she says.

A $2-per-hour bonus was also implemented for first-year technicians to help address the labor shortage, and the bonus was impacted by attendance, quality issues and other criteria. On a related note, she also advises employees transitioning from hourly to salary for management positions to be prepared. “It requires a change in mindset, which is difficult for most employees,” she adds. “This should be given a great deal of consideration before making a change like this.”

At Pool Scouts, tenured and lead techs have an opportunity for bonuses halfway through the season, and if a tech has garnered praise from a customer for their service, they can receive additional rewards like gift cards, food and other treats.

Adrian Francisco, technical field coach, Pool Scouts, Virginia Beach, Virginia

For pool pros looking to offer more than bonuses and incentives, restructuring the way employees can grow their careers may be the next phase to consider. Wagner says he puts a lot of focus on building a culture where employees can thrive. “As a national company, we can provide an opportunity for technicians to work their way up,” he says. One of Pool Scouts’ technical field coaches, Adrian Francisco, started working as a technician for the Virginia Beach location and now travels to Pool Scouts locations throughout the country. Wagner says Francisco now trains other technicians for corporate office positions: “His knowledge and positive attitude has been a great asset to our company.”

ASP also implements a career track for employees, with the end goal of becoming a franchise owner. “We try to show an employee that there’s a career track,” Vernon says. “You start out as a traditional hourly pool cleaner with no experience, we train you and then some of those folks who are more advanced can move on to a service manager [position].”

Vernon says service manager positions come with a salary and oftentimes a company vehicle, adding that service managers who excel in their jobs can move up to general managers of locations. “We’ve got a handful of general managers who did eventually become franchise owners,” Vernon says. “And so to me, that’s the ultimate goal for an employee — to follow that track and eventually own their own business.”

When it comes to inflation, Bond, Wagner, Parrish and Vernon say they have all increased the amounts their techs are paid.

Higher pricing comes with high standards, so do your homework and be the best.

Collin Parrish, Blue Desert Pools

“We have passed on all extra expenses and price increases on to the client to ensure we continue hitting our mark on margin and profit,” Parrish says. “We charge accordingly so we can pay accordingly.” Parrish advises other pool pros to do the same: “It is all too often we hear of other companies going out of business because they are underpricing,” he says. “Higher pricing comes with high standards, so do your homework and be the best.”

Vernon says the locations he’s seen have the best results in this ever-shifting economical season are the ones who put employees first. “Two locations of ours come to mind that have had the most success not only retaining employees, but truly building a team during the hardest labor market ever,” Vernon explains. “They have just gone the extra mile for the employee.” He says these steps for care have included paying employees faster, showing opportunities for advancement and offering benefits they hadn’t in the past. “Ultimately, we have to realize as an industry, even though it’s not a skilled labor at times, an employee is still a commodity we have to take care of and be mindful of,” he says. “Going the extra mile, now more than ever,” Vernon adds, “really does work.”

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