In our culture,
service techs often are portrayed as lackadaisical surfer-types who
slid into the job.
But some pool companies are making a real effort to redefine the
position. James Hawkins, who owns Pool Service
America in North Miami Beach, Fla., is trying to create a new
trajectory for the average pool man.
“The challenge we run into is the self-esteem of the pool
guy that’s out there — it’s the bottom of the
barrel in some regards,” Hawkins says.
Buying the business from Essig Pools in 2006, Hawkins has helped build a
new culture in the pool service field by introducing high-level
programs at the office. First, he developed a management training
course to provide a career opportunity for entry-level workers.
Hawkins also created a number of technologically driven strategies
to regulate his staff. Finally, Pool Service America has
implemented a simple code to improve the professional image of both
the company and the service sector.
With this multi-pronged approach, the company is trying to
change the attitude of both skeptical homeowners and disaffected
Pool Service America has an in-depth training program, complete
with a training center and competency exam for entry-level techs.
However, it’s the management track that truly sets the
Hawkins originally modeled the idea after Enterprise Rent-A-Car,
where democracy and hard work allow for plenty of vertical movement
within the company. Many of the trainees come from larger
corporations with established programs in management development,
and Hawkins aims to duplicate that success.
“From the counter, everyone [at Enterprise] has a
shot,” he says. “They’re able to hire a much
higher-caliber person than they would otherwise get because [the
employees] want their chance.”
Working with four to five trainees simultaneously, Hawkins
alternates their time between field management and business
“It’s getting into the active mindset of realizing
that anything you do, there might be a better way,” he
explains. “Not everyone is going to make it, but we want to
see if they can lead and learn those aspects of the
One strategy Hawkins has employed takes ideas from classic
business books and applies them directly to Pool Service America.
For example, using Kenneth Blanchard’s The One Minute
Manager, (HarperCollins, 1982) Hawkins challenges his trainees
to understand how the book’s recommendations can better the
“There are 20 modules and a short essay-type questionnaire
where you apply those theories to our business,” Hawkins
explains. “It’s specific to the art and science of
Managers are encouraged to pass this philosophy down to the
entry-level techs, continuing the culture of professionalism.
Part of the success of Pool Service America is the accountability
it demands from every employee, and Hawkins ensures all his workers
stay on task.
Within weeks of purchasing the company, he employed GPS systems
to monitor routes and take control of the highway-bound
“When we first turned that on, we had small, fully-loaded
trucks going 90 mph, and that’s just a disaster waiting to
happen,” he says.
Now, when a truck reaches speeds about 70 mph, an email is sent
to the tech’s supervisor. If someone exceeds 75 mph, a text
is sent straight to Hawkins’ cell phone.
The system is working.
“For several months now, 80 percent of the time, the
weekly reports that show all the alerts have been totally
blank,” Hawkins says.
This measure not only keeps employees in check, but reduces fuel
consumption by an estimated 5- to 15 percent.
Hawkins also monitors where the trucks are when they’re in
operation. Although employees are allowed to take their vehicles
home, they incur a hefty charge if the trucks are used for personal
“We also have alerts if someone starts a certain time at
night or before a certain time in the morning, or on a
Sunday,” Hawkins notes. “Sometimes those alerts will
come up for valid reasons, but it does come up and we can think
Furthermore, the GPS systems can alert managers to idle trucks
during normal business hours. If a truck is at a house for longer
than an hour for routine service, an alert is again sent to
management. This provides an extra motivation for techs to be in
and out of the backyard in an efficient manner.
While some may consider the measure a bit “Big
Brother,” the system has actually been used to defend the
company more often than to catch a careless employee.
For example, a customer may call with a complaint that a service
tech just came by with a door hanger and didn’t take the time
to clean the pool. In most cases, the GPS system shows the tech was
not only there for service, but spent more time than the company
would have liked. This kind of ironclad proof protects the company
against increasingly demanding homeowners looking for a free
Policies to professionalism
Ultimately, Pool Service America is trying to raise the profile of
pool service firms.
The company demands tucked-in shirts, clean uniforms, organized
trucks and a friendly demeanor. Hawkins stresses the acronym ARC,
which stands for attitude, reliability and competency.
“People really appreciate the fact the equipment looks
good and we wash our trucks every week,” he says.
However, appearances aren’t everything.
“If people were to view the criminal backgrounds of some of
the people working in their backyard, they would be stunned,”
That’s why Pool Service America conducts thorough
background checks for all prospective employees. Furthermore,
employees are drug-tested to again raise the standards of the
The company also strives to increase its profile with technical
know-how. This starts with the training center, which features a
variety of fully functioning models from all major equipment
“When they press a button…the actuator valves will
actually change,” Hawkins says.
After spending time in the training center, employees can be
confident of a repair before going out in the field.
Pool Service America also has become a warranty service center for
many of the major equipment manufacturers, including Pentair ,
Hayward and Jandy .
“You get guys who live under bridges coming out and doing the
work, they bring the whole industry down,” Hawkins says.
“Trying to bring all that up is what we’re trying to