Pushing Forward in 2013
By Ralph Raub
I have a lemon tree in my backyard and it makes me think about my business every single day. Should I eat those sour lemons and bring a sour attitude into my business which would match the current economy and the expectations of many of my employees and customers or do I make lemonade and sweeten the pot for everyone? Or...could I even go further...
As president of Horizon, I have never been shy about voicing an opinion or saying what I believe in. Business in 2013 seems to be getting off to a slow start and as owners we need to get in gear and get our people motivated and engaged. This is our season! It is the ideal time to push forward, to create excitement, to generate energy and to be proactive to go after more business. The excitement and enthusiasm starts at the top every day.
We grew Horizon’s business through the recession because we refused to participate in it. I got my people together and told them we had an opportunity to grow while our competition was cutting back and waiting to see what happened. We were NOT going to let something as nebulous a down economy get us down as a business! Yes, it is all about the decisions we make followed by the actions we take. Once you make statements like that, you better be prepared to come to work every day with a positive attitude and develop the tools with your employees to make it happen.
ENERGY (or a lack of it) is contagious! If you believe in this industry, you better be able to convey it to those who work for you! The pool and spa industry offers consumers the opportunity to enhance the aesthetics, safety, health benefits, social/recreational and environmental aspects of their homes. These are ALL positive benefits for consumers. We need to define, understand, and take care of our customers’ needs and have each of our employees understand that they are providing a service they can be proud of. They should be energized when they talk to customers, when they enter a backyard, when they see a customer in a store. They should be eager to listen and to observe and to think forward and ask questions. Not just, “what can I do?” But, “what can I do next?” Be a problem solver BEFORE the problem surfaces. Explain the “whys” of a product, not just the “need and cost.” The “WOW factor” is left with a customer by an employee who knows his product and goes above and beyond to provide for the customer more than the customer expects!
Most of our customers are either Baby Boomers (ages 55+) or Generation Xers (ages 35 – 54). The Boomers require direction, assistance, and guidance to a better happier retirement. I am one of them. Many of them are just retiring and just learning about their pools, spas and equipment. Many are doing upgrades or special needs adaptations. Many Boomers and Xers are Going Green and are much more energy/environmentally conservative. We need to understand the needs of these groups and provide target marketing for these specific business opportunities.
Many times our industry has felt threatened by government regulations when we should embrace them as opening the door for more business. The Virginia Graeme Baker Act (VGBA), signed into legislation in 2007 by President Bush, created opportunities to modify many safety vacuum releases and replace main drain covers on many pools and spas. While consumers and industry spokesmen initially viewed this legislation as “more money for not much value,” we should have been explaining that it really does create safer pools and spas. We should be using the opportunity to do an overall safety assessment of the pool and spa and to check for outdated equipment and chemicals, safety hazards on the decking and potential energy savings to enhance the value of our service to the customer while doing the right thing. While we may be “upselling,” we are also providing a service that others aren’t.
Any time an employee is in a backyard, we encourage them to take off the blinders and see everything that will help the customer have a better experience with their water products. Pool openings bring many opportunities that the home owner may have put off at the end of the season that require you as a professional to point out and take care of. Some examples are:
- Old chemicals that may not be the best for water treatment
- Old test reagents
- Deck coatings in need of repair or replacement
- Brush and net inspection for holes and loose bristles
- Time clock insulator missing. I have had many customers thank me for putting a plastic insulator in their time clock that gave them a much safer time clock to manually turn off and on. Most of the time I didn’t charge for the insulator. It did get me more business.
- GFCI inspection. An easy sell if not working.
- Pool light and landscape lighting functionality check.
- Gate latches, locks, and self closing devices inspection.
- Spa and pool cover inspection.
- Seasonal time clock adjustment
- Filter Pressure gauge check and an explanation why a functioning gauge is so important in saving them money and keeping the water inviting.
- Filter cartridge inspection and providing a backup clean cartridge.
- Handrail inspection and installation. Us Baby Boomers need a safer more stable way of getting into the pool.
- Diving board inspection. Does the pool meet current diving pool standards, are the deck bolts rusted and need replacing, is the board installed correctly and in the correct location, is the proper board installed on the correct stand.
- General electrical inspection. Are there any exposed bare wires, rusted out conduit, Romex wire used where there should be flexible conduit with water tight connectors, indoor boxes used in an outdoor application, proper grounding and bonding of equipment and metal within 5 feet of the water surface, I could go on and on.
We have found inventory lists to be very valuable for our employees. We have developed an inventory list of all the equipment in EACH OF OUR CUSTOMERS’ BACKYARDS that allows for better customer service when the customer requires a new part or service call. You can take a motor with you and fix it in one trip. When the customer calls or visits your store and they need a filter cartridge or a pump basket for their black pump you don’t need to play 20 questions, you can pull their inventory list and just sell them the right stuff. You have removed the need for the customer to have to know about what they have so they can just pop in or call and be assured you will get it right the first time and in a timely manner. Customers also get more enjoyment out of their back yard because you take care of them. I have made a lot of money on backyard inventory sheets, gotten the “WOW factor” and even increased the extremely valuable word of mouth advertising. Not only are we excited and energized, so are our customers!!!
So, the lemons are growing bigger. They are still sour, but we are no longer making lemonade...
We are making Margaritas!!! It is a Southwestern Tradition...and it’s time to celebrate!