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    Credit: TIM BOBKO

Pool and spa businesses have been buffeted by the economy, and while there are signs of a recovery, it’s not going to turn around overnight.

It’s within this backdrop that Pool & Spa News and the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo have joined forces to present an exclusive virtual conference titled “Thriving in Today’s Economy: Grow | Protect | Profit.” The virtual event launches May 24, and the courses will be available on demand for six months.

The program focuses on three essential concepts:

  •  Growing your business,
  •  Protecting your assets, and
  •  Profiting from emerging markets.

The “Growing Your Business” section will look at identifying new customers, and effectively marketing to them. Communication, including the use of technology and social media, will be covered in practical, usable terms.

But new business won’t be helpful if your company falls prey to ineffective contracts, lawsuits and other external forces. Thus, participants in the “Protecting Your Assets” sessions will get assistance from legal and insurance professionals. Among other topics, attendees will learn the best way to shield their companies from payment disputes, benefit from recent legislation affecting the industry, and obtain the right insurance for their businesses.

And, finally, the “Profiting from Emerging Markets” presentations will provide an insider’s view on two markets: Solar products and pool renovations. Topics will range from marketing and technical data to personnel requirements. Attendees also will get critical insight on avoidable obstacles and pitfalls.

“Our aim with this conference is to give participants the information and tools they need to protect and increase their bottom lines during these trying times,” says Erika Taylor, editor of Pool & Spa News.

“We also recognize that resources are scarce, and that it’s important to keep expenses to a minimum,” she continues. “It only made sense for us to use state-of-the-art tools to create our first virtual event. There is no travel expense, and very low time requirements. Anyone with an Internet connection can participate — and benefit from the combined knowledge and expertise of some of the industry’s leading authorities.”

Here, we present a detailed look at the courses. For more information — or to register — visit www.poolandspaeducation.com.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS

Supercharge Your Marketing & Advertising Strategies

Instructor: Tom Shay, president

Profits Plus, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Social media Websites such as Facebook and Twitter have become powerful tools for staying in touch with, and marketing to, customers.

After all, “it’s easier for you to sell five things to one person than it is to sell five things to five different people,” explains Tom Shay. While your firm may have shied away from these high-tech options in the past, it’s not too late to add a few tech-friendly tools to your marketing arsenal.

Key Concepts:

  •  It’s critical and profitable to build relationships with existing customers. After all, you probably already know a lot about them — information you can use to sell them additional goods and services.
  •  Social media, blogs and Websites can supplement your traditional marketing and advertising. Not only are these outlets successful at delivering your message, they also have the added benefit of being cost effective.
  • If you have a Website, make sure its name is on everything from your pens to your vehicles. And, if you have a social media site or blog, be sure to link to it on your Website.

Identify, Target & Capture the New Customer

Instructor: Beverly Koehn, president

Beverly Koehn Associates, San Antonio

Attracting customers depends on developing an accurate understanding of who they are and what they want. Professionals need to get a clear picture of their customer’s needs, preferences, prejudices, comfort zones and discomfort zones. As Beverly Koehn puts it: “Do you have a portrait, or do you have a caricature of the person? The caricature rarely looks like the real person.” 

Not only will you learn how to effectively communicate with customers, you also will see how to identify those you don’t want to do business with — the ones Koehn calls “vigilante customers.” These are people who will drain time and energy out of your business for little or no return.

Key Concepts:

  •  Asking the right questions, listening to the response, then restating the answer in your own words to check for understanding are three powerful communication techniques.
  •  A key to getting to know your customer is adhering to Koehn’s “95/5 Rule” — listening 95 percent of the time and only talking 5 percent.
  •  Use “TouchPoints,” (individualized messages, delivered verbally or in writing) to connect emotionally with your customers, and to make them feel important and appreciated.

Bolster Your Online Reputation with Review Sites

Instructor: Todd Bairstow, co-founder

Keyword Connects, Waltham, Mass.

Are you familiar with Yelp.com? If not, you should be. With 41 million visitors a month, its consumer-generated reviews of local and national firms has the power to tremendously help — or hurt — your business. Add in similar sites, such as Kudzu.com, and social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, and those reviews become even more important.

“We all remember the childhood adage, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ If you think that holds true [in] the Internet age, think again,” Todd Bairstow says. “What people are saying about you and your company online may well be costing you business.” It’s crucial to know what to do if you get negative feedback on a public Website. And, it’s equally essential to have a strategy in place for using your customers’ rave reviews to your advantage.

Key Concepts:

  •  Stay on top of the message. Encourage your satisfied customers to write a positive review of your business on Yelp and other sites.
  •  Harnessing the power of Facebook, Yelp and other social media sites does not have to be time consuming. You can take less than an hour a day to make a big impact.
  •  If you find a negative review of your business, one of the best things to do is publicly apologize and make sure the person who wrote the review (and anybody who reads it) sees you and your business as honest, ethical and responsive.

PROTECTING YOUR ASSETS

Write a Contract that Protects Your Company

Instructor: Mark Stapke, partner and construction department chair

Michelman & Robinson, LLP, Los Angeles

There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” contract when it comes to pool and spa businesses. For one, different states have different laws, and there are diverse considerations affecting construction. 

While that doesn’t mean you have to consult a lawyer every time you prepare a contract, you should have an attorney review your standard contracts for legality and coverage. “It costs about $500 to have an attorney review a contract and tell you if it’s legal,” Mark Stapke says. “It’s a false economy to write your own contract and not have it checked by a lawyer.” Here, you’ll learn the elements of a good contract, and discover what not to do.

Key Concepts:

  •  While it’s always important that a contract contain a well-defined “scope of work” (a list of all the tasks you are going to perform), it’s especially important on a commercial job where other contractors and subcontractors are involved.
  •  Fit and finish details (down to the color of the grout and plaster, the kind of metal fittings, etc.) are often the cause of disputes with customers, and should be described precisely in the contract.
  •  The contract should determine when you’ll be paid, as well as what your rights are if there is a disagreement about the payment. Making sure the payment terms are clear will help prevent disputes in the future.

Choose an Insurance Policy that Protects You & Your Company

Instructor: Ray Arouesty, president

Arrow Insurance Service, Simi Valley, Calif.

In this presentation, tailored specifically for pool and spa service providers, attendees will learn that not all insurance policies are created equal. These businesses need customized coverage that most general liability policies lack.

As Ray Arouesty points out: “An ordinary general liability policy covers nobody very well. Service providers and techs need specific, specialized coverage.” For example, chemical damage to an expensive deck is considered pollution damage, which is not covered under general liability policies. Neither is mold damage that happens as the result of an over-filled pool or spa. Both of these should be included in a customized policy.

Key Concepts:

  •  Plaster damage is one of the most common claims, but this is usually excluded under ordinary general liability insurance policies if the incident occurred during an acid wash.
  •  The best defense a pool service tech can have is a log of chemical readings and a record of communication with the customer regarding items needing repair. A tech lacking documentation is at a severe disadvantage in a case involving under- or over-chlorination.
  •  Many trade organizations offer the customized liability coverage that maintenance and service providers need as a membership benefit.

Avoid Entrapment, Drowning & Diving Lawsuits on Existing Projects

Instructor: Michael Haggard, partner

Haggard Law Firm, Coral Gables, Fla.

Michael Haggard is an attorney who has represented the families of drowning victims all over the country. “I’ve seen families who have been virtually torn apart due to the tragedy of a drowning,” Haggard says. “It’s my mission to educate the pool industry and our elected officials on how to prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place.”

This unique perspective will help attendees understand civil litigation as it relates to pool drowning. Course participants also will benefit from a closer examination of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act.

Key Concepts:

  •  The VGB Act may be applicable in a lawsuit even in a residential setting. The law establishes an industry standard that a court may find instructive.
  •  With proper follow-up and documentation, builders and service technicians may prevent a drowning and protect themselves against resulting litigation.
  •  It’s best to go beyond the codes. Not all drowning or entrapment hazards are addressed in codes and laws. Professionals should know about the less obvious hazards and address them — or at least alert the homeowner.

PROFITING FROM EMERGING MARKETS

Profit From Green Energy: The Sales and Installation of Solar Products

Instructors: Monica Kennedy, president; and John Kennedy, head of construction

Elite Solar Services, Sarasota, Fla.

Solar power isn’t just good for the environment; it can be good for your bottom line, too. Solar heating systems come with natural selling points, says Monica Kennedy. “A pool solar system is about the only product around that actually pays the customer back by saving them money on their heating costs.”

Topics in this presentation include an overview of solar pool heating and the equipment involved, and a discussion of the business and economics of going into the solar market.

Key Concepts:

  •  Adding a solar heating system can increase the size of a pool construction contract by 10- to 15 percent — and the systems themselves can have a 40 percent gross profit.
  •  A commercial client (such as a condo complex or hotel) can recover the investment on a solar heating system in as little as 18 months through reduced utility costs — and the system will continue to pay for itself all over again every year and a half after that.
  •  Residential systems typically pay for themselves within four to five years.

Rev Up Your Renovation Sales

Instructor: Brian Claffey, vice president

Claffey Pools, Southlake and Weatherford, Texas

Many homeowners are choosing to update what they have rather than moving on and building new.

“Renovating residential pools has become a core segment of our business,” Brian Claffey says. “And, done right, it can be profitable for others as well.” However, before taking on this sideline, pool and spa pros must differentiate themselves by committing to honesty, quality and superior product knowledge. 

The course addresses the renovation process — from preparing comprehensive bids to ensuring the job is executed properly so referrals will follow. “In many respects, you must know more to renovate a pool than to build a new one,” Claffey adds. “But if you commit to the entire experience, you will reap the rewards.”

Key Concepts:

  •  Set the quality standard. You will never have to make an excuse for a well-built product. Differentiate yourself with construction methods that are unique to you.
  •  Be thorough in your evaluation and proposal. Customers deserve honest and complete solutions. When bidding on a replaster job, for example, don’t overlook addressing the client’s broken filter grids.
  •  Execute with as much enthusiasm as you sell. If you can’t effectively manage the construction process, referrals will not come.