Dan Lenz, PHTA Midwest chapter president, poses with senior service technician Mike Heddins during a chapter training event. Lenz says he leans on Heddins for his expertise as a “lifelong pool industry guy” who helps Lenz make practical business decisions. Photo: Dan Lenz
Sometimes, you just need a little help from your friends.
Pool pro friends, that is.
If you’ve been in the industry long enough, it’s likely you have a handful of trusted experts, colleagues and fellow professionals you turn to on a regular basis.
“I absolutely have people who I’ve met throughout the years that I rely on their knowledge in a lot of different aspects,” says Chris Bowen, president of Bowen Pools in Flower Mound, Texas. “We consult people if we’re having issues with automation or if I need help trying to solve a problem when we’re building a pool and I want to know how others have created certain effects.”
Whether you’re a rookie or a seasoned pro, sometimes a little wise counsel is needed. From business matters to pool technical issues, having a source you can contact any time is useful in this industry.
“Most of what I deal with is on the business side of things,” says Dan Lenz, vice president of All Seasons Pools and Spas in Orland Park, Illinois. “For that purpose, I love talking with other peers in the industry.” Lenz is also the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance Midwest chapter president.
Someone recently emailed him and asked how to create organizational charts for job roles and descriptions. Lenz says having a network you can rely on for that sort of information is invaluable — both for in-the-field questions and business operations.
Luckily, aside from personal connections, there are also plenty of other helpful options. Social media groups and professional associations are powerful backup resources to explore as well when in doubt.
Find Trusted Sources
Whether it’s a trade association or a Facebook group, experts advise exercising caution when it comes to seeking industry advice. It takes careful consideration and a watchful eye to learn who is doling out true wisdom.
That means investigating a bit — checking their LinkedIn profile, watching their social interactions, and even looking into their credentials.
“You want to look into who they are,” Lenz says. “Experience is one thing. If you have the ability to connect with people who have certification in the industry, not just PHTA, then that’s a good thing. There are plenty of GENESIS-trained people.”
He believes certifications show a person’s true dedication to the field.
“Certifications tell a better story than simply how long they’ve been doing this,” he says. “Just because someone has been doing it 20 to 30 years doesn’t mean they’ve been doing it the right way or the most effective way.”
Lenz says once you find a group — whether it’s PHTA, IPSSA or another organization — or a trusted resource, connect with them often to build a relationship. He says organizations in particular are great, and members often call and email one another about pool industry questions.
It’s a two-way street, though, and Lenz advises individuals to give as much as they take from others’ knowledge. He also believes in learning a specialty within the field to become the go-to expert.
“Grow yourself as an individual so you’re able to give back,” Lenz says. “Become the professor in your area or in your region or in your county. The more you can give, the more you can get. None of us can be the professor of all things, but we can be the professor of a few things.”
Lean on Reps
For product or technical questions, heading straight to the manufacturer is the best bet, experts say. Going directly to the source guarantees an answer from someone trained to troubleshoot or at least guide pool pros in solving an issue.
“If it’s a technical question, always try to get the answers from the manufacturers or vendors themselves,” Lenz says. “That is sure to be the right answer for the product they’re working on. That’s not always possible, which is why I think these [social media] groups have become such a big thing.”
Lenz adds: “Technical support is always a challenge. If you have a relationship with the local sales and service reps, they’re going to be much easier to get a hold of when you’re on-site and need help.”
He says going to the trainings manufacturers offer is one of the reasons his team has a close relationship with reps. Because of that, they get personal cell numbers to text reps and get responses quickly in the field.
Unfortunately, hold times haven’t gotten any better for technical support, but pool pros can sometimes skip the automated phone tree if they have a direct number.
“Some of the manufacturers, you can’t get them on the phone,” says Luke Norris, president of Luke Pool Service in Cumming, Georgia. “You can call them, but you’re on [hold] for three hours. You have to know who the representatives are or the technical person.”
For straight-shooting answers, skip calling headquarters, Norris advises.
“Talking to the actual manufacturer’s rep is going to be more informative than talking to the person at the headquarters,” he says. “The rep is going to know your specific area. Corporate is mainly for customer support.”
Getting close to local reps helps with getting answers quickly, too. Bowen has one directive: Know your most reliable local representatives and keep them on speed dial.
“Texts with reps always get returned fast,” Bowen says.
Find the Right Facebook Friends
Norris generally recommends other professionals rely on manufacturing reps, but if they need a broad question answered, Facebook groups can be helpful.
But how does one find the right group? Luckily, there are several to choose from that offer high-quality content.
Within a few days of watching the group posts after becoming a member, most pros will quickly pick up on whether it’s a professional page based on the content quality, Norris says.
“People post pictures of their jobs and they’re not up to code and people are liking their posts and saying, ‘great job,’ ” he says. “That’s when you know it doesn’t have the trust factor [you need].”
For pool pros who enjoy Facebook, Norris and Lenz advise watching out for negative individuals who tear others down simply for asking questions. It happens even in the most well-moderated groups. Additionally, any groups that allow multiple people to spam the group by asking tons of questions without providing value themselves can get tiresome — and unhelpful — quickly.
Norris highly recommends Pool Chasers and the Ask The Masters groups to professionals looking to engage with other high-quality pool pros. He’s also developed friendships in his area from the Facebook groups he’s in. He connected with Jeremy Hine of Florida Leisure 11 years ago, and the two have stayed in touch ever since.
“We can exchange ideas, but he’s not my competition,” he says of the friendship with Hine, whom he often meets at trade shows.
Experts warn building those professional friendships doesn’t come overnight. For those willing to invest the time, Facebook groups are a great way to find valuable mentors.
“It’s not a quick flip switch sort of thing,” Lenz says. “You have to develop a relationship. It’s pretty easy to go through and find those people [in a group]. Especially when you see a person’s always offering good information.”
Lenz says of Talking Pools that its founder, Rudy Stankowitz, is a “wealth of knowledge” and leads discussions with “high-caliber moderators.”
“They’re asking questions of others,” he says of 14psi Pool Industry Lounge. “It just seems to be a great team of members. There’s no real hierarchy. It’s not people bowing down to those who run it. Everybody respects everybody.”
As for the types of questions to post in those groups, only consider posting questions that aren’t timely. It’s a practical way to see who has tested the waters with other products or business practices, says Bowen.
“Typically, we don’t rely on Facebook groups; we only use them when we want multiple answers to questions and see what people are doing in a broad sense,” Bowen explains.
For him, it makes more sense to focus on training over connecting on social media. “We do a lot of online training as a company,” he says. “I believe it’s good to be book smart and street smart, and that there is a time and place for both.”
Seek the Truth
Lastly, experts say it’s easy to get overloaded with bad information that could be costly in more ways than one.
“It’s hard for someone to know who to trust and who to believe,” Lenz says. “There’s a lot of risk and liability in everything we do. If you choose wrong, it could be devastating.”
Because of this, they recommend spending quality time in groups with those certified, well-respected individuals and investing in organizations that are highly regarded like Watershape University, PHTA, NESPA and IPSSA.
“There’s way too much bad information out there or people professing things that they aren’t really as versed in as they should be,” says Lenz.
That’s one of the reasons Norris trusts the Ask The Masters Facebook group as much as he does. He advises others to trust those who are highly invested in pool industry education. “Every master in there has extensive training for swimming pools,” he says of the group’s admins and contributors that evoke trust. “They’ve taken a lot of paid classes. If one of them responds to your post, you know it’s good.”