Pool professionals resist performing commercial work for a residential price
“Liability, insurance and licensing. That’s why my price is my price.”
Joe Wilmot repeated this statement many times during the 11 years he operated H2Joe Pool Service & Repair in Fountain Hills, Arizona, northeast of Phoenix. He said it when giving bids on service to board members of HOAs; to owners and managers of small apartment complexes and motels; and to others who oversaw commercial and semi-public pools.
Many times, commercial pool managers balked. The reasons varied. Sometimes the HOA member was a “snowbird” — someone who spends winters in the Phoenix area and compares Wilmot’s bid with what they pay for their pool in another part of the country. Other times, he was bidding against pool service companies that weren’t properly certified or insured.
“Some commercial pool managers don’t care that you have the right certification or proper credentials or insurance,” Wilmot says. “There are people out there who’ve got nothing more than a net and brush and a bucket of tabs, and call themselves a pool company. No wonder their bids are 25% lower than mine.”
Wilmot sold his company in 2018 and launched the Pool Trader app the following year. He is still connected with the pool industry as a consultant, “just not swinging the net and brush,” he says.
Liability, insurance and licensing are not the only things that make servicing a commercial or semi-public pool more expensive than a residential pool. Bather loads are higher — sometimes much higher — which means more frequent trips to monitor the water chemistry, more chemical consumption and more equipment maintenance. The equipment itself and the mechanical systems in commercial pools are typically more complex than residential, requiring more training and experience to properly maintain. And many states and local municipalities — like in South Carolina — require commercial pools to have daily service rather than weekly.
“A common problem of commercial clients is that they don’t understand how water chemistry and equipment management work together to protect the life and longevity of their pool,” says Felisa Ball, owner of Crystal Clear Pools in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. “As a company, this is why I require all my staff to have knowledge of all aspects of pools, so they can help to educate the owner to keep pools safe and fun.”
Ken Scott, owner of AquaBliss Pool Service in Deerfield Beach, Florida, has been in the business for 12 years. He is frequently called to bid on a commercial contract because the owner or manager is dissatisfied with their current service.
“The challenge is, a lot of [managers] are preconditioned to a rate that they have with whomever they’re with at the time,” Scott says, despite being dissatisfied enough to consider a change. “They’ve got problems with their current service because it’s not meeting their needs. Usually the reason is they’re not paying enough.”
What’s a pool pro to do? Scott educates his customer upfront before providing a price. “What they have and what they need, and any variables, like frequency of service,” he says. “I think that’s the only way for you to get a decent rate.”
Ball agrees education is key. She says her commercial accounts have not complained much about higher rates, primarily due to how she strives to educate them on their pool, equipment, safety and water chemistry.
Chad Deal, owner of Alegro Pool Care in St. Augustine, Florida, says his company loses many commercial bids because he is insistent on the pool being in strict compliance with state and local safety codes.
“We maintain a philosophy that if they are not moving toward being completely legal with the state, we’re not interested in having the liability for that pool,” he says. His company will consult with pool managers not in compliance with local regulations and requires the pool’s owner to sign a waiver absolving Alegro from code violations that may occur at the pool.
Scott has a number of high-end hotels among his mix of residential and commercial accounts, so he has learned to navigate the sometimes-tricky waters of working with managers of commercial facilities.
“The No. 1 priority when you’re going to do commercial pools is to make sure you price it right and then stick to your price,” Scott says. “I think our biggest challenge in the industry is that we’re not all operating like that.”
When meeting with a prospective commercial client, Wilmot advises pool professionals to go in with proof of insurance and copies of certifications and licensing. It’s not strictly necessary with a residential client, but it shows the commercial client you are serious. It’s also a reminder that proper insurance and certification are important for a service company to have.
He also advises pool pros to have a prepared response if the prospective client asks questions about the pricing. They should be ready to explain why they are charging what they do for commercial pool service.
“A lot of these commercial accounts are getting cheaper prices because pool companies are offering [them],” Wilmot says, urging pool pros to resist the temptation to match a lower price to secure an account.
“Stick to your guns,” he says. “It’s not easy, especially if you’re a new company and you’re hungry. It’s hard, but be ready to say no.”