September 2017: Closing Time
Surviving the Pre-Winter Rush in the Northeast
Few industries are more cyclical and seasonal than the pool business.
Homeowners naturally want to extend the season and close their pools as late in the year as possible. This forces pool companies and their service departments to cram the critical closing season into a short, frantic, whirlwind few months. In regions where savage and sometimes early winters can brutalize pools that aren’t prepared for the deep freeze, the stakes are raised — and technicians are under even greater pressure to perform.
Business owners rely on a blend of creative scheduling, staff juggling, and raw experience to persevere through the annual ritual of scrambling to close every pool by winter. Most can claim success only if they emerge in the spring to answer just as many phone calls from the same customers who now want to reopen their pools for the summer.
Limited Time, Infinite Challenges
Michael Giannamore is the vice president of Aqua Pool & Patio Inc., and the president of the company’s service division, which services pools across Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
Giannamore wastes no time identifying the biggest perennial challenge of closing season: Unreasonable customer expectations. “The typical consumer doesn’t understand that the rain we had last Friday pushes everybody off,” he says. “Even though the rain stopped at 2 p.m., all the guys who did go out in the morning to work in the rain were soaking wet and freezing cold and went home — and I can’t force them to work in the rain.”
The solution to soothing impatient customers, Giannamore says, is communication. It starts with the inclusion of clear “weather permitting” disclaimers on every document. The dialogue continues throughout the season, however, on a one-on-one basis.
“It’s about taking the call, hearing them out and telling them where we stand,” Giannamore says.
In many cases, however, the real obstacles can only be solved with technical know-how.
Mike Giovanone is the president and CEO of Concord Pools and Spas, which has three locations north of Albany in Upstate New York.
Giovanone, whose team winterizes roughly 5,500 pools every season, knows the right way to close a pool depends on which pool you’re closing and when.
“There’s a science behind it,” Giovanone says. “If you’re closing a pool in November, you’re going to close that pool differently than one you close at the end of August or the beginning of September. You know the November pool is going to be frozen in a month.”
Giovanone describes the importance of venting pools that are closed early in the season. If a tech skips that step, harmful gasses can build up between the water and airtight cover.
“That gaseous buildup can just destroy any pool,” he says. “Your guys have to know how to manage it.”
Dozens of Days, Thousands of Pools
During the busy fall season, Giovanone’s teams close more than 100 pools a day. The only way to manage the workload is with a rigid schedule based on a geographic grid of his territory.
“When we have a crew go out and close a dozen pools in one day, they’ll never leave the neighborhood,” Giovanone says. “I’ll have one truck in one quadrant of about a square mile all day.”
The trick is only giving customers options that work within his predetermined itinerary.
“When a client calls in, we offer them the two days a week when we’ll be in their area,” he says. “And that’s it.”
True Pros vs. “Two Guys in a Truck”
You Are Who You Hire
Every pool closing is only as good as the people who perform it.
“You just can’t send out two guys in a truck to close a pool,” Giovanone says.
Training, technique, and knowledge of machinery and systems can make or break a season, which can, in turn, make or break a business. Giovanone says many failures can be attributed to ignorance, shortcuts or a combination of the two.
“I’ll see pool guys towing out diesel compressors,” Giovanone says with a chuckle. “They’ll put 200 pounds of pressure in a line when it actually has nothing to do with pressure. It has to do with volume. I’ve seen guys take a paint compressor from Sears or borrow one from Uncle Joe, and blast 120 pounds of pressure with such low volume that it’s not vacating the water.”
To finish reading Andrew Lisa’s article, visit PoolProMag.com.