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The Elusive Unicorn Platform

Pool service companies seek software that meets various business management needs

For 60 years, Heritage Recreation in Sutton, Massachusetts, used pen and paper to manage the business. In 2015, the company was still scheduling 800 pool openings and closings a year this way. But the method was both time consuming and unworkable, says second-generation owner Paul Domey.

“We had one notebook to use among six office staff members,” he says, “and 25 or so paper slips to write out every day. I knew we needed a more organized way of doing things.”

Domey began hunting for a program that would meet his needs. He asked office staff at other companies and field service techs what they used. During his research, he came across a program under development by other pool service techs. The owners showed Domey their vision for the product and in 2017, Heritage Recreation became one of the first Pool Office Manager clients.

“It was great to start on the ground floor with a company building a pool-specific scheduling program,” Domey says. His company has now eliminated almost all paperwork for the service department.

Roger Neill, owner of iPoolsAZ/True Method Pool Care in Scottsdale, Arizona, has a similar story. “I was at a point where we had a pretty big client list and all of our techs had notebooks that I had made for them,” Neill says. “It was a nightmare. I am not a [technology] person at all, and I was comfortable in my nightmare. However, my wife knew I could not continue with massive sheets of paper and three-ring bingers.”

Four years ago, Neill’s wife was in a meeting with him and a representative from Skimmer, a business management software program. She asked him to give it a try. “We did and never looked back,” he says. “Best decision.”

Paythepoolman, another such software, was created in similar circumstances. Owner Jeff Posth ran a pool service company, Pool Aid Man, in Southern California for 13 years; Paythepoolman came from his own company’s need be more efficient. “A solution to get in and out of the office quickly didn’t exist [for us],” he says, “so we created it. Speed was the goal, as I did not want to work all day in the field, only to come home to hours of work in the office.” Posth says Paythepoolman brought office time down to minutes from hours and positively affected his staff’s well-being.

Mike Leone was in the same boat when he started building the Pool Office Manager software in 2014. Even after going to tradeshows and trying existing software, he couldn’t find a program that would save time and handle the unique needs of a pool service company, so he created one. “I knew that if I could build a program to match my needs,” says Leone, founder and owner of Pool Office Manager, “I’d be able to help other pool companies struggling with the same issues I continually faced.”

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Pool service companies are diverse, so finding software that is a perfect fit can be an elusive quest. Julie Kazdin, vice president and partner at Kazdin Pools & Spas in Southampton, New York, says it’s hard to get everything you need in a single program. “At this point, I don’t think [that] exists,” she says. “I don’t know how many people I have talked to that I’ve asked if they could make their own, what would it look like — but each and every one looks different.”

Case in point: Javier Payan, president of Payan Pool Service in El Cajon, California, says the company uses six different programs — QuickBooks Pro, Service CEO, iON Pool Care, ServiceBridge, GeoTab and Biller Genie — to manage everything. The total monthly bill runs over $1,500.

Payan says the company has looked into at least seven other programs, but none of them met needs. He says none could sync with QuickBooks Desktop, take multiple pictures or handle the complexities of the Payan repair department. Payan is considering a switch to LOU from Evosus, but probably not until next winter.

Superior Pool Service in Lewisville, Texas, also uses multiple programs: SimPRO, Mapline and InTouchGPS, which totals a base rate of $200 a month and an additional monthly fee of $62 per mobile user.

“We really do use each one of them every single day to run the business,” says Elizabeth Donald, administrative assistant for Superior. “If we were able to combine [these programs] with an email platform, that would be the ultimate software for the pool industry.”

Susie Payne, vice president and business manager of Payne Pools & Spas in Culpeper, Virginia, is pleased with RB Retail and Service Solutions, the program her company uses. “You need to find something to suit your needs that is easy and gets the job done,” she says. “The pool business is its own little niche; if you have retail, water testing and servicing of pools, you need to be able to talk to someone who understands what you need.”

The Fantasy Program

Kazdin uses The Service Program from Westrom Software, but it isn’t a perfect fit. “This is not our ‘magic unicorn’ product,” she says. Her ideal service software would be able to handle 400-plus customers on weekly service, and also be server-based, QuickBooks connected, provide features for managing inventory and monthly billing, and have the ability to connect to mobile devices, print work orders, calendar views and the ability to add pictures to files. And she’s not the only one with a long wish list: Payan’s was too lengthy to include in this article; however, he and several others concur on some must-haves.

QuickBooks seems to have the market on accounting,” says Douglas Fleisher, owner of Blue Dolphin Pool Service on Vero Beach, Florida, who also uses The Service Program. “Unless the software works with QuickBooks, it’s not worth it.”

Lack of mobile capabilities can be a deal breaker, says Dan Lenz, owner of All Season Pools & Spas in Orland Park, Illinois. “Mobile users need as close to full functionality from a smart device as desktop users at the office have,” he says. “The app needs to be intuitive [and] all encompassing: handle retail, service, water testing, checklists, texting and emailing customers, invoicing, adding orders, recording of all conversations to and from customers and more.”

Donald concurs, adding that she believes every service management program must have an app technicians can use in the field. “A software without smartphone capability is just not acceptable,” she says.

Bob Zajkowski, owner of Adow Pools in Stamford, Connecticut, says customer notification features are also important. “People have camera systems and Ring devices around the property, so a good program needs to notify the customer once a service is complete,” Zajkowski says. “If they receive the email right away, this gives them the opportunity to respond if they need to before the crew leaves.”

Adequate training on how to use the software is also a must. When the SimPRO setup process started for Superior Pool Service, a SimPRO rep came on site for three days to help, and another rep came four months later to assist with the next phase of implementation.

“Both of those visits were incredibly helpful,” Donald says. “That was not anything many other software companies I looked into offered during the implementation phase.”

Kazdin says to make sure you own your data and can back it up frequently for continuity of service. “No program should ever take the place of your customer service, team relationships and culture,” she adds.

Let the Hunt Begin

Before looking for a software program, Lenz recommends a business analysis. “Find out what processes are taking the most resources in terms of staff and time, then look to software that will help to reduce those needs,” he says. “Where are the company’s weaknesses and how can software — or new software — reduce or eliminate those?”

Donald advises going through multiple workflows in a demo with a representative from the software company, as well as asking employees from each department what functionality they’d like to see in a software. Be open to changing any workflows, she adds, that could mold the company to fit the software, so to speak.

Domey advises other pool pros to ditch the handwritten work orders and invoicing, even at small companies. “Use a simple software appropriate to your company size,” he says, “and don’t over think it,” he says. If the company is larger, it’s worth the extra money for a good platform, he says.

“Make sure it can handle growth,” Domey adds. “Have a rep who can help you, even if you have to pay for their services. Onboarding new software can be painful; you may have to go through a little pain in the beginning.” Above all else, don’t let fear hold you back, Neill says, adding that the unknown was scary to him, and he feared making the switch would cost too much. “I was comfortable in my nightmare,” he says. “I knew what to expect. I did not even know I needed something. Whichever [software] you choose, choose one now.”


Service Software Options

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IGNITION
ThisIsIgnition.com
Cost: $10/month per user with $250 annual service fee (30-day free trial)
Customizable: the functions of included features can be customized with logos, etc.

Features:

  • Customer portal
  • Media management
  • GPS and tracking
  • Designed to run on desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets
  • Detailed customer records and history
  • Estimates, payment deposits, invoicing and account balances
  • Field service app for technicians
  • Magic Scheduler that syncs with technicians’ mobile devices in real time and supports drag and drop reordering to quickly reassign and manage workflow
  • Integrates with QuickBooks desktop and QuickBooks online

“After the initial set up and personalization, it’s basically point and click. They have been extremely helpful with the implementation of Ignition at Adow Pools. They are open to suggestions on improving the program. Some of these new features have already been released and others will be seen in future updates.”
Bob Zajkowski, owner
Adow Pools, Stamford, Connecticut

iON Pool Care
FluidraRewards.com/iON
Cost: $15 per user, per month for the base product; optional module pricing varies; no setup fee
Customizable: Highly customizable including service checklists, a variety of templates and marketing materials

Features:

  • Cloud-based, real-time access; Offline access with the mobile app for Apple and Android devices
  • Route optimization with Google Maps
  • Set schedules and recurring routes, view daily appointments/service history and create instant reports of all jobs
  • Capture pool and equipment images
  • Track chemical readings and usage
  • Send service logs (electronic door-hangers) to customers
  • Add and view notes about individual customer requests or pertinent information like gate codes and entry instructions
  • Automatically generates estimates and invoices based on service visits
  • Syncs with QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online
  • Auto-Capture payments with PaySimple Merchant Services

“iON Pool Care has helped Aqua Shine become more organized, complete scheduled visits with customers, bill for work completed, collect money when disputed (due to records of visits etc), increase our customer satisfaction and customer base. We wouldn’t be able to operate with the efficiency we do without iON Pool Care or a tool that had the same features. We recommend iON Pool Care to anyone in the industry that we come in contact with.”
Shawn Miller, co-owner
Aqua Shine Pools, Phoenix, Arizona

LOU — EVOSUS SOFTWARE
Evosus.com/LOU
Cost: one-time start-up fee starting at $1,999, with monthly licensing starting at $49
Customizable: Users can customize items like digital door hangers, text, email and CRM. Features are not customizable and are built into each bundle option (Retail for retail, Service for service and Foundational for back office and billing).

Features:

  • Cloud-based, no servers
  • Work orders, recurring service orders
  • Invoicing/payments in the field
  • Licensing is seasonal — easy on/off option
  • Multi-crew routing via Google Maps integration
  • Multi-site inventory management
  • Scheduling by crew or route — daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly
  • Schedule mobile app launching 2021, including offline mode

“Everything is integrated into one software; we don’t have to use another accounting package, manually route techs, invoice, create P.O.’s, things like that.”
Dan Lenz, owner
All Season Pools & Spas, Orland Park, Illinois

PAYTHEPOOLMAN
Paythepoolman.com
Cost: $50/month plus $10 per employee with unlimited customers (30-day free trial)
Customizable: Functions of included features can be customized

Features:

  • Shopping list feature for tracking inventory
  • 125 how-to videos on company’s YouTube channel
  • Integrates online payments with billing system
  • One-click routing optimization
  • Chemical cost tracker
  • Mass rate adjustment tool
  • Custom push notifications, mass emailing feature
  • Customer-facing app — customers can make payments, approve bids, view service stops, report problems, add images or videos

“PTP lets you one-button push your monthly billing. Today I sold a set of grinds and filter cleaning to a non-service customer. Pulled out my phone, added them to my database and processed and invoice. Emailed it and they paid instantly. Service routing, profit and loss; it’s all there. It’s a time saver and makes me look professional with my customers.”
Greg Duncan, owner
Duncanc Pool Service, Jurupa Valley, California

POOL OFFICE MANAGER
PoolOfficeManager.com
Cost: $70 for the first user and $20 each additional (month-to-month, no commitment)
Customizable: customizable functions for included features

Features:

  • Seasonally based off/on option
  • Mobile app for inputting data on or offline
  • Schedule creation and optimization
  • Send quotes and invoices
  • Track customer data, including pool equipment
  • LSI calculator with customizable targets
  • Customize report template for recording service details with pictures
  • Inventory management

“We have been using Pool Office Manager since 2017. It was great to start on the ground floor with a company building a pool specific scheduling program. We have eliminated almost all of our paperwork from the service department.”
Paul Domey, owner
Heritage Recreation, Sutton, Massachusetts

POOL PRO OFFICE
PoolProOffice.com
Cost: $45/month for the first user; $25/month each additional user
Customizable: functions of included features can be customized, open to suggestions that sometimes result in new features

Features:

  • Daily schedule view, calendar view and mobile service tech view
  • Service tech functions: view schedule, performance checklist, access equipment specs, see service history, send requests for additional service to dispatch
  • Dispatch functions: create work orders or proposals, optimize map routing, manage service calls, accounts receivable (syncs with QuickBooks)
  • New Trac4 GPS feature allows for tracking service techs’ locations and sending client email/text with location updates

“We are always learning how we can more efficiently use Pool Pro Office and as we have ideas of improvement, they work with us to develop them.”
Jim Barrett, operations manager
Aqua Blue Pools, Taylors, South Carolina

RB RETAIL & SERVICE SOLUTIONS
RBRetailAndServiceSolutions.com
Cost: Starts at $94/month, no commitment
Customizable: Yes

Features:

  • Trainers who walk all users through setup and instruction
  • RB Mobile Live app syncs with office software and allows techs to take payments in the field
  • Techs can view schedules in real time on mobile device and make instant modifications
  • Mobile tracking and GPS routing allows techs to clock in and out of jobs on site; reports by profits-per-tech and tech GPS tracking

“They are upgrading all the time to keep their customers happy. RB is easy, efficient and always there to help you.”
Susie Payne, vice president/business manager
Payne Pools & Spas, Culpeper, Virginia

SERVICE AUTOPILOT
ServiceAutopilot.com
Cost: Startup Plan – $47/month and $97 setup fee; Pro Plan – $97/month and $97 setup fee; Pro Plus – $247/month and $247 setup fee (30-day money-back guarantee)
Customizable: No, but users can choose which membership level best meets their needs

Features:

  • Job scheduler with SmartMaps for route optimization
  • Instant invoicing, estimation builder, auto-price jobs based on highest profit
  • Two-way QuickBooks syncing
  • Asset and chemical tracking
  • Client account history includes jobs, quotes, invoices, notes and pictures
  • Team app offers a mobile version for employees on the move
  • Marketing emails, two-way texts and lead automation
  • SA Accelerate upgrade automates more features
THE SERVICE PROGRAM
Westrom Software
WestromSoftware.com
Cost: Starts at $99.95 for one office user and 15 mobile users (price increases based upon number of office users); 30-day money-back guarantee
Customizable: Customer success department handles customizations

Features:

  • The Service Program is a QuickBooks Add-on software
  • Route optimization
  • Track chemicals by body of water and send electronic door hangers
  • Service department management — track work order and bill right into QuickBooks
  • Customer portal to view service and billing history, make payments and report problems
  • Equipment tracking
  • Monthly billing

“They are extremely quick to resolve any issue we have and are always open to suggestions. Anytime we have needed a new feature that was not currently integrated, I simply reached out to the development team and they have always implemented it for us.”
Robert Daniels, general manager
Pool Doctor, Cape Coral, Florida

SIMPRO
SimPRO.us
Cost: based on a monthly fee for all customers per-user license in both the office and the field app
Customizable: Possible for features like custom reports, forms or importing tools

Features:

  • Contract and asset management features
  • Project workflow, streamlining estimates, project management and progress billing
  • Scheduling tools for service routes
  • Inventory and equipment management

“SimPRO’s customer service is incredible; every single person from the team is quick to lend a helping hand and do whatever it takes to solve the problem. They have an ideas portal on their website where customers are able to submit ideas for new ways to make the software better.”
Elizabeth Donald, administrative assistant
Superior Pool Service, Lewisville, Texas

SKIMMER
GetSkimmer.com
Cost: 50 cents per serviced customer per month, minimum monthly fee of $29/month (no setup fees or contracts, 60-day risk-free guarantee)
Customizable: only service emails, service checklists/readings/dosages and work schedules are customizable

Features:

  • App built for back office professionals and pool techs; available on desktop, Apple and Android devices; offline capabilities
  • Manage contact and services information for customers
  • Mapping and optimizing service routes, listing items required for daily route
  • Track water test readings and chemical dosages
  • Access info on tech locations and service start/finish times
  • Send automatic service reports to customers
  • Integrate with QuickBooks Online

“When [I wrote] down what we spend on chemicals and what we use, I was sick. I made the early mistake of thinking I was profitable, when all I was doing was cash flowing and paying my bills. With Skimmer, we can track cost and usage, and I can make quick adjustments or review to see if we are profitable or not.”
Roger Neill, owner
iPoolsAZ, Scottsdale, Arizona

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