The Pandemic Pool Pro

Regional hiring trends in the COVID era

The home improvement sector is slaying it. The pandemic has resulted in many people having more disposable income, and more time at home means the Honey Do list grows. Travel budgets have been reallocated to home renovations.

I reached out to a few in the industry for an hour-long video chat in September: Jerry Wallace of Swim Chem, Inc., in Sacramento, California; Dan Lenz of All Seasons Pools & Spas in Manhattan, Illinois; Ken Scott of Aqua Bliss Pool Service in Deerfield Beach, Florida; and David Rockwell of Liquid Paradise in Murrieta, California.

Right off the bat, the unprecedented nationwide growth theory crumbled, with two of our four heavy hitters reporting residential flat when compared to last year and even trending downward. Due to smart changes in service processes, they were still able to recognize cumulative growth. However, this is not what the word on the street (and by that, I mean social media) would have us believe.

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Rudy Stankowitz

We extrapolated that the differences in sales direction, which seemingly varies state to state, is directly related to the protocols employed by local government when ‘Rona first hit the fan.

In some areas, cabin fever seemed to lend toward a much more demanding and perverse clientele. “Churning customers” is the phrase that came up, and these businesses are gaining new customers as quickly as they are losing them. In other areas, it’s growth without customer attrition. Our “nationwide” trends, in reality, are regional at best.

“People aren’t just using their pools; they’re abusing their pools,” was also cited as a COVID-era issue. “People are putting two and three families into residential pools designed for one.”

Even more alarming, we are facing a new wave of low ballers nationwide, dropping rates below market value to poach clientele with pandemic pricing. However, this practice has created a one up, one down customer loss/acquisition. “Many of the new customers gained are coming from companies that had offered a discount service fee,” one told me. Did it take a viral outbreak for homeowners to finally learn that they get what they pay for?

When the conversation shifted to hiring, the additional $600 in unemployment immediately came up as a deterrent for would-be employees to inquire about jobs. But this too seems grid specific. All agreed that ads don’t work, but we run them anyway. We unanimously agreed the best means of locating people was through employee referrals.

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Despite all this, none of the members of our forum have gone short-handed in 2020 — though the fact that it would take hiring four to get one to stick seemed par for the course.

Employee morale is a huge focus, and in unprecedented times it needs to be. We can’t lose sight of the elements of the position that the team member finds rewarding. Recognizing the adverse conditions and conveying appreciation is enormous.

Everyone on the call, in one form or another, added an unadvertised bonus structure to their 2020 compensation plans. This incentive was unadvertised, as the intent is gratitude and not to create a more attractive new hire package. Employer-paid COVID testing has also been added to the mix.

Tying directly into recruitment/retention is a direct concern for exposure. All team members are provided with the recommended PPE (personal protective equipment) and instructed to take extra precaution in locations where infected clientele are known to live. Of course, this burden does not lie 100% with staff; communicating to the customers that they must NOT get within six feet of a service tech has become pandemic protocol.

This left the rumored missing demographic cohort to discuss. Some say the industry is failing to attract a particular generation and that if this continues, being short-staffed will become normal.

 For 2018 through 2020, our new hires are primarily in their mid-twenties. In 2009 and 1999, mid-twenties happened to be the job seeker market where we have appeal. Have no fear: Just as Millennials reached age 25 in 2011, Gen Z will hit 25 next year, coronavirus or not.

Now we just have to make it past The Great Double-Aught Chlorine Tablet Shortage. Ugh, what next?

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