The Pool Scouts franchise, which offers pool service exclusively, spans eight states: Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Tennessee. Fortunately, state mandates restricting businesses during the coronavirus pandemic have deemed pool service essential in all states the company serves.
“In this kind of [social distancing] environment, you want to make sure to over communicate and that’s one of the fundamental things we’re doing,” says Michael Wagner, president. “We try to provide our franchisees with the latest and greatest in information possible. The neat thing about having a franchise community is that you can share best practices pretty quickly across the system.”
Early on, Wagner says, Pool Scouts implemented requirements to sanitize all surfaces technicians come in contact with at the end of each service call for the health and safety of techs and customers. “We run our own local business here, so right out of the gate we filmed the sanitizing process, put it on our intranet, shared it across the system and said ‘hey, this needs to be a part of every service we do,’ ” he says. “Doesn’t it make sense to do this for our customers?”
Utilizing instructions from the CDC website, the corporate office determined the mixture for a bleach solution to sanitize gate latches, control panels, handles on the multiport valves for pump controls, ladders and handrails — any frequently touched surfaces on the pool or anything the techs come in contact with. Pool Scouts techs bring their own chemicals and service tools in order to avoid using pool owners’ equipment. Techs must also wear masks and gloves.
Pool Scouts also provided talking points for franchisees to communicate with their techs and customers the reasons behind this surface cleaning adaptation, which, coincidentally, will be normal practice for the franchise indefinitely, Wagner adds. The franchise also provided language for communicating to customers the importance of social distancing.
“We drafted emails that could be shared with our franchisees’ customer base saying ‘Here’s what we’re doing, here’s how we’re safeguarding our technicians and here’s how we’re safeguarding you. And oh, by the way, that means that we don’t need to see you face to face when we’re at your house. We’ll do our job, we’ll sanitize, etc.,’ ” Wagner says of the message to customers. “We want to make sure that we balance the relationship with the customer and think about the long-term value of that relationship, making sure we’re communicating effectively.”
Additionally, Pool Scouts franchisees send a post-service email to customers with all of the information about the service performed, before and after pictures, in an effort to limit face-to-face interactions.
Wagner also says it’s important to the franchise to continue meetings with the whole network of franchisees and for individual franchisees to do so with their teams. These have been virtual meetings or in-person meetings on a local level when done outside and attendees spaced out accordingly. “We’re talking to them specifically about CDC recommendations for staying safe off the job,” Wagner says. “We can have a lot more control with what they’re doing and provided with on the job, of course, but off the job we can’t, except for over communicating with them.”
Communication between Pool Scouts franchisees is also important. When it comes to pool openings, it generally takes two technicians to complete the job. Previously, they would ride together in a company vehicle. But a franchisee in North Carolina started having his technicians drive separately, covering gas for their personal vehicles. It was soon implemented company wide. Wagner says that is one example of how a best-practice can be developed from the input of a franchisee and then immediately communicated to all other franchisees for quick implementation across the company.
Wagner believes that these main points of communication — with customers and franchisees — are what is causing Pool Scouts to thrive during COVID-19 and the shutdown of the nation. The company as a whole is averaging a more than 70% increase in revenue over last year’s numbers with its 16 franchisees.
“You have to taper that with the fact that [three franchisees] just opened their business last year, so we expect their growth to be material,” Wagner says. “That said, our most mature franchisee in Raleigh-Durham [North Carolina] is up 64% over last year. To see that kind of growth level with a more mature business [during this time] is pretty exciting.”
Wagner says while it’s also been a problem in recent years for the company’s franchisees to find and keep great employees, he’s already seeing that change. Pool Scouts provides an online recruitment and hiring platform for its franchisees and the corporate office receives reports on how many applications come through the system. While this is the normal time of year for franchisees to hire (the beginning of pool season), Wagner says there’s been a clear increase in the number of applicants over previous years.
Pool Scouts also brought a new Charlotte, North Carolina, franchisee into the fray in mid-April, despite the pandemic, and Wagner says it’s not uncommon for franchises to see an uptick in this kind of situation.=
“The past couple of years, the economy has been booming, people are getting promotions, so the risk tolerance has not necessarily been there because you’re getting great rewards on your existing job,” he says. “It’s been more challenging with fewer leads across all of the 4,000 franchise brands that exist across the country. That will change with this. During this time many folks are let go or lose their jobs and they start to reflect on what they want to do in the next phase of their life.”
Wagner is striving to find the best in our global situation by focusing on positive outcomes. “This challenging environment will afford [franchisees with] an opportunity to grow and be able to hire and keep great people,” he says. “I’m an optimist.”