On any given day, while driving from pool to pool along your route, it’s hard not to notice the abundance of competing service companies. Pick-up trucks of every make, model and color; some marked, some not; some old, some new; the telltale telepole extending beyond the gate. The experience level of the person behind the wheel as varied as the vehicles themselves.

The aftermath of the recent recession has crowded the market even further. A pool service business is a fairly low-cost start-up and is very appealing to those in search of work. Builders and pool renovators that have had to diversify during recent years as the demand for new pools and renovations have declined, adding weekly service to their offerings as a means of survival.

A saturated market can be intimidating, but it is actually a good thing. It is a key indicator that there is a strong demand for pool service. The temptation may be to undercut the market, offering prices far below the competition. This strategy is short sighted and unfortunately common among many small start-up companies, ignoring the actual needs of the business by growing in customer count versus profitable customer accounts. The longevity of those that undercut the market is short. Unfortunately, they do occupy and burn potential customers in the process.

Instead of competing on price, compete on service. Grow a customer base by differentiating your business, not by becoming the cheapest game in town. You may lose a customer from time to time that has been lured away by price, but is that a customer that you really want to have?  Differentiating your company by delivering value-added service will provide your business with a much stronger foundation and an extremely loyal customer base. You may want to establish a slightly higher price than your competition for the level of service you offer. People do understand that you get what you pay for.

Determined to offer swimming pool service second to none, we began with a “whatever it takes” philosophy: a price point slightly higher than the market average, and a commitment that we would clean every pool as if it were our own.

Knocking on the doors of homeowners may come across as desperate, however, commercial customers expect it. These are customer interactions of which you have control. To build a base of commercial pool customers you will need to allow for face time. Building a rapport is a process and needs to be nurtured. Sales 101: a prospect needs to see or hear your marketing message at least seven times before they take action and buy from you. The benefit is that most individuals are so intimidated by cold calling that they give up long before the Rule of 7 has been applied.

Networking will not only help you to build relationships, but will help to identify opportunities in your market. Once opportunities are discovered, develop a plan to service the underserved niche you have identified. Study the market and develop a strategy to fill the existing voids. My initial networking approach involved cold-calling Realtors (among others). My strategy was to develop relationships that would ultimately provide access to new home/pool owners. The referrals did come, but we also received valuable information which would help catapult our business.

Through my networking efforts with real estate agencies, I was able to identify that there was a shortage of individuals that offered pool service to foreclosed homes. Due to the recession, the number of bank-owned properties was growing at a staggering rate with a large percentage being pool homes. I concentrated my efforts on developing relationships with the real estate companies that handle these homes. The service would involve an initial treatment of the beleaguered swimming pool, bringing it to swimmable condition quickly (within five days maximum of bid approval), then ongoing weekly maintenance until the home would sell. Following the sale, direct contact with the new homeowner as the expert and the service company that already has familiarity with their new pool, coming highly recommended by the Realtor. To date we have transformed and maintained several hundred pools in this category.

What happens if you throw a party, but forget to invite your guests? Advertising in a recession, or in a saturated market, is a smart business move. Know your demographic and don’t be afraid to take risks with outside-the-box thinking. The goal is to stand out, not blend in. Advertising dollars are usually among the first cuts a company makes during a recession. This opens up the marketplace for companies that are willing to advertise. It is true that most service companies are found on the Internet, but if supported with advertising, your company name will be the one a pool owner recognizes as their search engine displays dozens upon dozens listings. Television, radio, print and direct mail – we have yet to use a means of advertising that has, at a minimum, failed to more than pay for itself.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

-       Martin Luther King, Jr

Rudy Stankowitz is the owner of Aqua-Caribbean, LLC, a pool service firm in Gainesville, Fla.