Pool service companies around the country are testing the waters in new niches, such as painting, plumbing and small household repairs.
Company owners say the additional work has provided a much-needed revenue stream throughout the current financial downturn.
“I’ve been doing landscaping, yard work, fence repair and so on,” said Lloyd Baumann, president of Spa Wizard in Roseville, Calif. “And it’s definitely helped as a cushion during the recession.”
Servicepeople said they began pursuing this diversification when they noticed their customers were asking for recommendations on other aspects of the backyard.
“When you get close to your clients, you can get an idea of what they need,” said Jenifer Angevine, president of Gold Coast Swimming Pools in Glen Cove, N.Y.
Because Angevine and her service technicians were already trained and licensed to perform minor electrical and plumbing work on pool equipment, they soon discovered an aptitude for working on similar sorts of projects throughout their customers’ properties. “We wear all the hats — we’re electricians, we’re carpenters … the more I can educate my guys, the more we can keep busy,” Angevine said.
Angevine and other service professionals emphasize that they’re happy to refer work to a more specialized contractor if they feel a requested job is out of their league. Still, they say they’re also eager to build up a referral base from customers and contractors with whom they’ve worked. “I’m always passing out my cards to customers, and to other contractors,” Baumann said. “We all try to share business.”
But unfortunately, legitimate service professionals aren’t the only ones trying to expand into new niches. Throughout the Sunbelt states, unlicensed independent contractors in a variety of industries have been working to grab a slice of the pool service market.
“I’ve been seeing flyers on doors offering landscaping, general handyman work like painting, electrical work and also pool service,” said Chip Krizan, owner of Klearwater Pool Care in Phoenix.
Krizan added that the price listed for pool service is usually less than $20, making him highly suspicious about the quality of this offering.
Many such companies cruise around town in trucks outfitted for lawn care, landscaping and pool service — storing all these chemicals and equipment together in the truck bed. “I’ve seen, many times, lawn maintenance vehicles that also say ‘pool maintenance,’” said Dave Allen, president of Erickson Pools in Clermont, Fla. “That’s common in this area.”
Pool professionals in these markets generally cite economic causes for this recent increase in independent “multi-service” companies. “It seems like everybody who gets laid off or fired from a job buys a route and becomes a pool cleaning guy,” Allen said. “It’s causing some sharp erosion in maintenance pricing right now.”
Despite this erosion, however, many service company owners say they’ve held onto accounts — and even picked up new ones — simply by being more dependable and trustworthy than their competitors. “Just wait them out, and keep in touch with the customer,” said Kenneth Minster, president of Sun Devil Pools in Las Vegas, “and you can pick up the account once the other guy stops showing up.”