Whether the economy is working in the industry's favor or presenting headwinds, two prevailing and seemingly evergreen issues continue to challenge it: staff shortages and competition created by the internet and big box stores.
“I think the market size has been increasing but, unfortunately, our business is unable to capitalize on it because of labor shortages,” says Tracy Bond, Owner/CEO of Great Valley Pool Service, a PSN Top 50 service and retail firm in Frazer, Pa. “We actually turn away customers because we don’t have enough manpower. I could easily double the size of the business if I had 10 techs walk in here who could do pool work.”
To deal with these challenges, Bond and her team have placed special focus on finding ways to streamline employees’ jobs, show existing staff that they're appreciated, and honor customers’ time.
For Great Valley, accomplishing these goals has often meant incorporating technology.
As an example, the company created a website for the customers in its service area. Through this site, all orders are input by customers online, rather than being placed over the phone. This eliminates the need for a staffer to manually type it in.
“It’s all been automated to allow us to handle a high volume of customers and service them more efficiently,” Bond says.
Some of these technological additions help the company provide that extra level of service that customers won’t receive from their big-box store or favorite websites. For instance, Great Valley recently adopted a platform that enables it to communicate back and forth with customers via text.
“Customers can text us and get a response right away,” Bond says. “It’s also great for us because the whole conversation is documented, so there’s a lot less conflict.”
This move toward technology also meant that Great Valley kept some of the measures it had taken – temporarily, it originally thought -- to get through the Covid lockdowns. For instance, it has continued with a system through which customers can make appointments for their water tests.
“People’s time is valuable,” Bond says. “This way they don’t have to wait in lines.”
Then the company has promoted these services, as well as new products and events, on an electronic bulletin board, displayed in the store on a television monitor to keep customers informed.
With the pool industry being so seasonal in the Northeast, it’s become especially important to incentivize new employees to stay or -- in the case of seasonal help – to return. The Covid lockdowns lead to seasonal employees looking elsewhere, throwing off the company’s hiring cycles.
For this reason, Great Valley’s management instituted a new bonus system for first-year employees, hoping to motivate them to return for a second year. A bonus system had already been in place for staffers who’d been with the company a year or more.
“[First-year employees] work as hard as our one-year staff,” Bond says. “So we created this unique program so they could reap the benefits at the end of the season like everybody else.”
Through this program, new employees start with a “pot” containing a certain dollar amount for every hour they work. Their performance determines how much of that pot they will receive – call-outs might result in a subtraction from the total, while they might see an addition to the pot after receiving positive comments from customers.
It seems the measure has helped. “This year will be the first time we have returning new help coming in,” Bond says. “So we hope we’re in a period of growth as far as the labor force goes.”