Pool Nation, which started as a podcast in 2020 has become not only an industry media sensation, but a full-blown educational institution, with the ambition of becoming more as it progresses.
In its three short years, the trio of pool-service professionals has expanded the organization to also host an awards program dedicated to promoting and elevating the pool/spa service segment, as well as sponsoring a women’s summit. The co-founders and co-hosts — John Chakalis, Edgar De Jesus and Zac Nicklas — are increasing their presence at industry conference programs. And, most recently, partnering with several vendors to operate a smartphone app that hosts virtually all of its seminars and videos for quick reference and education.
Here, we talked to the trio about their vision and things they’ve picked up throughout their professional journeys.
PSN: How did the three of you come together?
DeJesus: In Spring of 2020 I started doing Instagram Lives, answering questions sent in by pool pros. They kind of took off. We had a lot of people tuning in every Wednesday. I met Zac through the Instagram Lives, and we hit it off. Zac charged high rates for his services, and a lot of pros had questions about how to do that. At one point, I wanted to do some Instagram Lives on borates, and I was introduced to John. We did two episodes on borates. We all hit it off like high school buddies who hadn’t talked in 15 years.
We were asked to do the Lives in a podcast format so pros could listen more easily on the job. I said, “I’ll call John and Zac, and if all three of us can’t do it, it’s a no.” We had formed a great bond, and all our visions aligned. Plus, we were all in a different place in our businesses, so we could offer different points of view. We don’t always agree on how things need to be done, but it gives different perspective to our listeners.
Over time we’ve figured out who we are and what our spiritual mission is. We want to better the industry, and the way we do that is making sure pool pros are financially successful. If we can help them do that, everything else will start to fall into place. And it’s our job to create a safe space in the industry — an environment where people can ask any question.
PSN: What industry gap were you trying to fill?
Nicklas: We recognized that education in our industry is very fragmented. Whether you’re a business owner trying to get employees trained, or you’re out there doing it yourself, it’s hard to break away to attend training. From my perspective, trying to find training to engage my team and help them improve their craft, it would be hard because I’d have to source YouTube videos and vet them. Or I’d have to register at a website, and my employees would have to register under my registration. So there were barriers. We thought there was a need for a hub with more centralized education, and more education.
PSN: Where do you think pool pros need the most help in learning to run their businesses?
Nicklas: I think the first thing pool pros need to understand is that you’re running a business. It’s not just a job. That’s a transition I had to make after starting my company. My business partner and I had been spinning our wheels. We were making money but not really growing. We were surviving financially. We were just creating full-time jobs for ourselves. In 2017, I went through a business program that opened my eyes to the fact that there is a lot more to it. The company needed structure and a budget, we needed to be looking at our expenses and finances. We started focusing on the financial success portion of it — getting comfortable with your accounting, learning what a profit and loss statement is and how you can utilize it.
PSN: Since starting Pool Nation, what were the biggest lessons you’ve learned about the industry and its professionals?
DeJesus: It is a huge community. We get a lot of people who are very, very smart. And when you go seek help, there are a lot of people who are really willing to help — they’ll take the shirts off their backs. You have to go seek those relationships and partnerships, but you can have two competitors help each other because they believe they’re going to be more successful if they’re working together. You don’t see that in a lot of industries.
PSN: What would you say are the biggest challenges for the pool/spa service sector right now?
Nicklas: Now that we’re in a post-COVID economy, with a lot of inflation, consumers are really starting to look at their budgets and be more conscientious about spending money. As an industry we’re going to have to work for it again — relying on good sales practices and good customer service to differentiate ourselves.
Chakalis: There’s still a lack of respect for what we do, the importance of it and the skills and knowledge required to do it properly.
PSN: Where are the biggest opportunities for the pool/spa service sector?
DeJesus: There’s a generational change happening. A lot of the younger people coming into the industry are very hungry, and they want to do things different than they’ve been done through the years. Multiple parents come to me saying, “My child listens to the podcast or watches videos, and they’re changing the way I look at things.” These younger pros want to run their businesses like larger companies, and that helps them elevate their businesses — and the industry as a whole.
PSN: Pool Nation started as a podcast, and has grown into an educational operation. What are your plans for Pool Nation in the near future?
DeJesus: We don’t want to be known only as an education platform. Ultimately our goal is to elevate the industry. We want to be the premier industry that everybody looks at. So we’re looking at what things that we can do to that end.
Nicklas: Creating community is a big component, too. We’ll keep working to create an environment of support and positivity.
POOL NATION TAKES
PSN: What was your first job? What lesson or skill did you learn there that you use to this day?
DeJesus: My mom and stepfather opened a grocery store in the small town where I was raised. I worked there, and was treated like a regular employee. From that I learned the value of hard work. I saw my mother and stepfather work seven days a week to provide for their family, so I got my work ethic from them.
PSN: If you had a career before the pool industry, how did those skills and knowledge help you in the pool industry?
Chakalis: I worked in retail management. I’ve interacted with thousands of customers, hired and fired hundreds of employees. I’ve interviewed thousands as well. I was very familiar with labor laws and how to manage a profit and loss statement. It doesn’t matter what industry you come from, they all have one thing in common — human beings. I’ve always been fascinated with people, their minds and what makes them tick. I believe if you can understand people, you can be great in any business you own or work for.
PSN: How old were you when you decided to go into business for yourself? Why did you want to have your own business?
Nicklas: I was 21 when I started my company, The Pool Boys. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. I think it was in my blood, just being around business and seeing it. When you’re that age, one of the driving motivators is financial wealth. Now I really thrive on strategy and trying to figure out how to build processes. If we’re having a recurring issue, what plans can we put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore?
Chakalis: I was 35 years old. In my previous career, I was doing very well financially, but I learned that money isn’t everything. I was responsible for more than 150 employees, five salaried managers and over $50 million in revenue. I was working six to seven days a week, 70-plus hours, and always on call. After about a decade, it took its toll on my family. I decided that preserving my family was more important than money and my career so I took a leap of faith and left to work for myself.
PSN: Why did you choose the pool industry?
Chakalis: One day, I was driving home, brainstorming ideas for a business to start, when I noticed a pool truck. Once I noticed it, in the 5-mile drive home, I saw at least 10 trucks. Every one looked terrible — all beat up and dirty. The closest thing they had to branding was their company name written in sharpie on an 81/2-by-11-inch paper that was duct-taped to their truck door. At that moment, I knew there was an opportunity. I started my research when I got home. I spent more than a year studying, reading, learning the trade and getting any and all certifications I could before I officially published my website and turned on the phone for J&J Flawless Pools.
PSN: Tell me about the proudest day of your career, or your single biggest achievement.
Nicklas: It was my graduation day of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. I’m naturally introverted, and I don’t like speaking in front of people. It’s something I’ve struggled with. But to pass the program, I had to give a final presentation in front of all my cohorts and instructors. It was very formal. I was scared and nervous. But I planned and prepared and practiced, and I knocked it out of the park. That was a huge stepping stone in my personal growth.
PSN: What is your motto or favorite saying? Why is it so meaningful?
Chakalis: “The hardest part about learning, is unlearning.” Bad habits die hard, and the ability to learn how to do things right the first time is so valuable.
Nicklas: “Operate with purpose and intention.” I wouldn’t call myself book smart or educated in the traditional sense, but one thing I do is operate with purpose and intention. It’s been a successful tactic for me. Sometimes when opportunity comes along, people aren’t ready to take advantage of it, because they haven’t been preparing for it by operating with purpose and intention.
DeJesus: “Be the hardest working person in the room.” I think that goes back to watching my parents be as successful as they were because of their hard work. Throughout my career I’ve worked with very smart people, who I knew were a lot smarter than me. But I knew that if I was always the hardest worker in the room, I could succeed.
PSN: What’s your favorite business book? What is the most important thing you learned from it?
DeJesus: “Good to Great” by James Collins. One of the sayings that I’ve never forgotten is that you need the right people on the bus, and you have to make sure you get the wrong people off the bus. If you want to go from good to great it’s about having the right people on your team and managing them well.
Chakalis: “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson, because it shows how to embrace and deal with change.
Nicklas: “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber. The book really talks about thinking like a business, and creating systems and procedures to provide a consistent level of service or whatever your company provides.