Every year, Pleatco conducts its Pool Tech Search, in which industry peers vote on service professionals for their excellence in a number of categories.

Two individuals boast the top title, now called Grand Finalist. This year, Cristina Forcione and Wes Kane hold that distinction. They and the others were honored at an event in January, held in Atlantic City, N.J. at The Pool & Spa Show.

Forcione and Kane found their ways to pool service via unconventional paths. Here’s a look at each:

Cristina Forcione
Service Technician and Service Manager
Seychelles Pools & Spas
Lasalle, Quebec, Canada

If not for a soccer-related head injury sustained three years ago, Cristina Forcione might never have become a service technician, let alone Pleatco’s Grand Finalist.

That injury spurred a move back to her home in Montreal, where a friend needed help with an acid wash. “I thought, ‘Sure, I have nothing better to do,’ and I was excited to try something new,” Forcione recalls. “It was definitely a challenging day — pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But ultimately, I loved the fact that I was working outside. Within a week I was hired as a service tech.”

From there, Forcione was quickly thrown into the deep end, not just cleaning pools but also troubleshooting pool equipment and learning the temperamental nuances of water chemistry.

“I had a very brief introduction to how everything worked ...” Forcione says. “But I got the hang of it faster than I would have with traditional learning.”

Along with her new Grand Finalist honor, Forcione is now a PHTA Certified Service Technician, which she says taught her the theory behind the practices she was already doing. “There were definitely some ‘aha’ moments,” she added. “And I actually managed to teach my boss a few things.”

That’s no small feat, given that said boss has been in the industry for 20 years.

Though she’s “gobsmacked” about winning the Pleatco award, Forcione believes it reflects the intensity she’s put into learning everything she can about how to be the best service tech she can be.

“I think my passion was apparent in the interview,” she says. “I have put in a lot of sweat, tears and effort to reach this milestone, and this recognition validates my unwavering belief in my abilities. It is a testament to my skills, knowledge and expertise in the field, and I am truly humbled by this honor.”

Forcione’s passion extends to the customer service aspect of the job as well.

“Customer service provides a lot of character development,” she says. “I’m surprised how many people don’t understand what goes into taking care of their pool. But it’s great to see the smile on their face when you take the extra time to explain it so they do understand.”

Going forward, Forcione wants to delve more into the troubleshooting and the construction side of the industry. The Vancouver, Wash. native is even considering a move stateside, possibly somewhere in the South, where the pool seasons are longer and she has more opportunity to practice her craft.

“I definitely want to stay in the industry, but I haven’t made a full decision of where I want to go,” she says. “I’m open to trying everything and seeing what works.”

Wes Kane

Service Tech

Pools Unlimited Incorporated

Elliot City, Md.

After growing up in his family business, Wes Kane was ready to make a break from three generations of pool and spa professionals. His family even encouraged Kane to go to college and do something — anything — else.

“They definitely tried to steer me away from the business a few times,” Kane laughed.

But after earning his automotive engineering degree, Kane realized there are worse things than the “busted-up knuckles” of a pool tech.

“The turning point for me was when I got into the corporate world,” he says. “I saw all the people around me who were much older, and I just never wanted to be them. They were stuck in the same routine and the same cubicle. I didn’t do well being trapped behind four walls and a computer. I’m more of a risk taker.”

So, seven years ago, Kane traded in his corporate job and returned to what he knew and loved — the family business.

“People are kind of stunned when they find out I have an engineering degree,” he says. “But I have zero regrets about coming back. I like being outside and working with my hands. When you walk into a backyard, it’s a completely new environment and every day is different.”

Kane says he’s more surprised than anyone about being recognized as a Grand Finalist in Pleatco’s Pool Tech Search.

“This is the first time that I have won an award or been a part of such a prestigious event,” he says. “And it feels truly humbling and exhilarating at the same time. Being acknowledged for my work in this field is an incredible honor, and it gives me a renewed sense of purpose to continue striving for excellence in everything that I do.”

Kane sums up that excellence in two words: customer satisfaction. “The customer is your boss,” he says. “That’s who you need to make happy at the end of the day.”

This goes beyond maintaining pools, the service pro adds. He also takes care of “little things” such as putting chairs away. “We have to do whatever we’ve got to do to make them satisfied,” he says.

Kane credits his father for imparting those values by example, in the way he built the business and its reputation with a combination of leadership, mentorship and plain old hard work.

“Being a business owner is probably one of the toughest jobs there is,” the service professional says. “It’s really rewarding to see what you can accomplish with a good attitude and good people.”

As he looks to the future, Kane hopes to take over the family business, just as his dad did from his grandfather. “I’m looking forward to the day that I’m in charge,” he says. “In the meantime, I just want to keep making a good name for our company and doing a good job for all our customers.”