The last three years have been some of the most turbulent in the history of the swimming pool industry. Early 2020 greeted us with uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic devolved into global lockdowns, which forced everyone to shelter at home.

For me as a pool builder, fear of the unknown quickly transformed into an uptick of nearly 600% in new-pool sales requests. But it didn’t take long before that euphoric feeling caused by a frenetic buying environment resulted in burnout for many business owners and staffers desperately trying to keep up with demand.

At Adcock Pool and Spa, we had an additional layer to add to the turbulence — succession.

In early 2021, I entered into an agreement to purchase Adcock’s. The company’s founders, Jim and Kris Adcock, were ready to enjoy their golden years free of the demands of business ownership. I had been seeking an opportunity to explore my entrepreneurial vision. Our visions aligned and, even with so much uncertainty in the world, Jim and Kris entrusted me with the reputation and quality they developed over the course of 50 years of blood, sweat and tears.

Quickly, we had to put a game plan together to help our company weather the turbulence caused by the pandemic and succession.

Double hit

To get through such an intense transition period, we had to rely on a fundamental element of biology — the ability to adapt.

When you are a business owner, the need to adapt or die continually rears its head. The ability to self-analyze is something that I believe differentiates long-term successful businesses from those that become a flash in the pan.

To help the business adapt, I first decided to assess the current landscape of the business by taking a survey. In the process of documenting the good, the bad and the ugly, I noticed that a pre-COVID trend had intensified. By early 2021, the pandemic had magnified the labor shortage to the point of hopelessness. Upon performing an analysis of Adcock’s, it was clear that I needed to focus on our culture, in part to attract younger workers.

I would have to evolve from a manager to a leader. Among other things, this meant I needed to do a better job of figuring out what motivated our staff and how we could better recruit new employees.

As an entrepreneur in my early 40’s, I am in a unique position: The generation that trained and guided me in my early years remains on our payroll, while the generation that I need to train and guide is now old enough to have leverage in determining our business’ success. So I’ve been exposed to both.

From my perspective, many from the generation ahead of me have the “work till the cows come home or the job is complete” mentality. On the other hand, the generation after me has a “tell me what you need me to do so I can go home and enjoy life” approach. Some of our staff from the older generation had a disdain for the younger staff not wanting to work the way they did. On the other hand, the younger generation couldn’t understand why their elders were cranky, stressed and worked all the time.

Bridging the gap

I felt that focusing on this dichotomy in perspectives would serve as a key component in our success in employee retention and recruiting.

I needed to do a better job reviewing our value proposition to our existing staff. I needed to review our employee handbook, policies and procedures to see if we were adapting to the change in values for our staff. With so many businesses seeking help, was Adcock Pool and Spa a destination for workers? I had to be brutally honest about what we offered. The allure of traditional compensation packages was no longer an advantage when it came to recruiting this younger generation of adults. In this process of being self-aware, we were able to uncover some uncomfortable truths about what made an employer a destination. Ultimately, we needed to take what had led the company to past successes and add to it.

We’ve found success in learning more about our employees and their motivators. This has had tremendous outcomes for revenue and units sold from many of our most important categories. Our employees are leading the way and blazing new trails for us.

Of our accomplishments, I am most proud that our employees seem happier. At a recent company gathering, we had attendance from 95% of staff. Employees interacted with those from different departments, instead of being huddled up in opposing corners. It was a true sight to behold, watching the new generation interact with the employees whom they once felt were abrasive.

I’m proud of our team. They’ve endured a change of ownership during some of the most challenging times of our careers. I am hopeful that we are well-positioned to take the impending recession head-on and come out with successful outcomes.

Over the course of the next few columns, I will share some of the tactics we used to establish a deeper understanding of our employees.