Service-Department Checkup

How Gohlke Pools’ service revenue went from 20 to 50 percent

When a major storm bears down on the open sea, cargo ships can be vulnerable to major damage, sinking and possible fatalities. In such a dangerous scenario, the captain must put the safety of his vessel and crew above all else, even if that means cargo is jettisoned.

On land, businesses go through similar struggles when the economic climate goes south. The Great Recession was a stormy scenario for most business owners, including Matt Gohlke of Gohlke Pools in Denton, Texas. “It was painful, that’s for sure,” Gohlke says. “We never want to go through anything like that again.”

Before the recession, Gohlke Pools’ income was about 67 percent new pool construction; the service department was about 20 percent of business revenues. When the recession hit, the pool construction side was severely affected. Gohlke survived thanks to his no-debt policy and the work of his service manager, Nick Day. Together, Day and Gohlke strategized several internal adjustments, including reassigning personnel from one department to another.

Even with the harsh impact on new pool construction, Gohlke came to a pragmatic conclusion. “It dawned on me that there are existing pools here,” Gohlke says. “People might not be building as many new pools right now, but if we crank up the service department, there’s a potential customer base and revenue stream in service.”

Day says it seemed obvious to take advantage of what their service department could offer customers. “In terms of resources, it made perfect sense to go in this direction,” Day says. “Expanding our customer base took an additional truck or two, and training a technician. There was no need to open another retail store or showroom in another market. We moved people from the construction side to the service side, which meant employees kept their jobs. Because we already had the infrastructure, a few internal changes fostered business growth at a time most people struggled just to hang on.”

Technology also played a key role in rebuilding Gohlke’s service department. “Customers expect a certain level of technology these days, in particular as it makes communicating easier via email or text, as opposed to telephone,” Day says. “Technology also allows quicker interaction with customers, including how they receive and pay invoices. A lot of people want the convenience of going online to report a problem or set a service appointment with us, too. We embrace technology and feel the pool industry lags behind other industries in the use of it. We use Evosus business solution software; it’s helped us organize our customer database and computerize our service routes, which were previously done on paper. Because our office staff is handling less paper, they focus on customer-service needs.”

Day applies the right technology for the needs of specific service techs. “In the field, our maintenance technicians are using their cell phones with an Evosus app that organizes their work orders,” Day says. “They can make service notes, add inventory items and mark the job completed. Our repair technicians, however, have a little more information at their fingertips. They run a full version of Evosus on the laptops in their trucks. They can look at schedules, order parts, and invoice the customer from the field, print the invoice on a portable printer and collect payment at the job site.”

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Day also focused on Gohlke Pools’ marketing strategies. Direct mail was the primary media, targeted specifically to homes with pools in southern Denton County. The campaign successfully attracted new business and referral business from new customers. Gohlke says the shift to building their service business has led to double-digit business growth. Gohlke’s new pool construction business accounts for 34 percent of fiscal-year business, while the service department generates 39 percent of Gohlke’s total revenue. “The service department and our pool renovation department account for more than 50 percent of our total business,” Gohlke says. “That’s strong growth.”

As Gohlke and Day continued reconfiguring their service department, they were open to ideas and inspiration. By combining these ideas with their own findings, both men developed their own success checklist called The 10 Keys to Service Department Success. (You may have gotten a copy of it at their seminar on the topic at the New Orleans trade show in November.)

Items on the list: staffing, training, compensation, marketing, developing systems and procedures, staff professionalism, pricing, sales, use of technology and constant self-improvement. One of the pair’s most-requested punch lists, if you will, is a New Hire checklist. “The very first day a new hire starts, our office manager goes through an exhaustive list of scenarios that can (and have) happened on the job; their salary; how pay is figured; what to do if there’s a payroll error, etcetera,” Gohlke says. “We also review that person’s job description; personnel policy; chemical safety; they receive a training manual; complete payroll; withholding and documents like I-9 and W-4; fleet-driver forms for our insurance company; safe-driver training; uniforms. We spend the necessary time to go through everything with that person on Day One. That’s the best time to train them, let them know how we operate and what to expect. It is so worth the two or three hours to get that person started on the right foot and to be successful with Gohlke Pools. Employees are the face of your business. Start them properly and they represent you properly.”

The keys Gohlke and Day have identified are culled from real-world experience with both employees and customers. They’ve also built a positive culture in the business with regular staff outings to baseball games, flexible work schedules and even providing flu shots.

As that culture has developed, Gohlke noticed a segment of his staff, perhaps surprisingly, thrives in this positive culture and work environment. “I’m 54 years old and I hate to sound like an old man, but I’ve noticed millennials are interested in helping other people and mankind,” he says. “They understand our culture and that we’re helping people with the service we provide. As a result, we seek ways to continually foster that spirit in our employees and their families. It helps us as a business and gives a sense of pride and fulfillment to our staff.”

To request a copy of The 10 Keys to Service Department Success, contact Matt Gohlke: matt@gohlkepools.com or Nick Day: nick@gohlkepools.com

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