Service and repair call-outs represent one of the biggest marketing opportunities for pool companies. From building customer relationships to advising on new products, equipment, upgrades or refurbishments – today’s pool technicians are on the frontline of the pool business. While some companies are not maximising the full potential of the routine service visit, many switched-on business owners have made the connections between service, profitability, longevity and maintaining positive cash flow during colder seasons. For many pool companies, servicing and repairs can be a great boost during slow building periods, not only on pools they have built themselves but new service business on existing pools. Bedfordshire-based Blue Cube Pools have seen year on year growth in this area, with servicing now making up around 80 per cent of the workload and new builds making up the remaining 20 per cent.
“With loyal customers who return year after year for servicing and new customers joining us daily, we find that servicing and repairs are the financial backbone of the business,” comments Andrew Jones, Director of Blue Cube Pools. Further south, the team behind Home Counties Pools & Hot Tubs based in Horsham also appreciate the value in regular maintenance and service work. “Servicing and repairs are not hugely important in a standalone capacity for us, but by providing such a service they can often pave the way for the recruitment of new equipment and accessory sales,” comments Craig Trusson, Managing Director. “As stand-alone element servicing and maintenance amounts to around 11 per cent of our total business, but feeds the equipment and accessory sales which is around 30 per cent.”
For front-line engineers, a call-out for a repair or service visit presents an ideal opportunity to specify new equipment where applicable, and in doing so benefit from the installation and future servicing of the swimming pool. In some cases, engineers are incentivised for selling new equipment that is useful and sensible for the client. “Our frontline engineers understand our customers and their sets up; they also have a greater understanding of our products and therefore can recommend a product that will truly improve our customer’s experience,” says Andrew Jones of Blue Cube Pools. Glyn Lucas or DG Pool & Leisure agrees: “Some say that engineers make the best salespeople and they should be exactly that. They should offer expertise in repairing where applicable and only offer replacements or upgrades when necessary.” “Too many industry engineers get commission on sales so steer the client to replace rather than to repair.” DG Pool & Leisure is a one-stop shop for both commercial and residential swimming pool upkeep. While it is the front of house that undoubtedly brings the customers in, DG Pool & Leisure know it is the back stage engine room that provides the vital recipe for success when it comes to modern swimming pools. Glyn estimates that around 25 per cent of the company’s annual turnover is from routine servicing and another 25 per cent is from remedial works directly from the service visits, such as media changes or the replacement of failed dosing and UV systems. “The challenges we often face is when equipment has been poorly installed,” explains Glyn. “We often inherit service customers where UV systems have been poorly fitted and where it is not possible to remove the glass strainer for example. Other common issues may be that the UV systems are not fitted with a by-pass system so the entire pool plant has to be shut down, or problems with the orientation of filter manways and general poor plantroom layouts.”
In terms of pricing for maintenance and repair work it’s certainly not a case of one size fits all and pricing structures can vary significantly from company to company. Some work on a case by case basis whereas others have a set template that can be adapted accordingly. “To quote for a service contract either myself or one of our sales team will always visit site,” explains Glyn. “The reason for this is that no two pool plantrooms are the same and as such, factors such as access and working at heights have to be considered before quoting. Our philosophy is to provide a good quality service and strip/clean things rather than simply visually check things. This of course costs a little more but offers value for money in the long run as it limits breakdowns in-between services.” Craig Trusson of Home Counties Pools & Hot Tubs explains that they work from a published fixed menu of services and the relative prices. Anything outside the menu is quoted for on a case by case basis using experience relative to typical historical costings: “Should any unexpected issues arise we consult the client and discuss what the fair and reasonable additional costs would be before proceeding further,” says Craig. Bos Leisure in Bristol work to a similar structure as Managing Director Martin Ursell explains: “We have templates for most of our quoting which is carried out by our management team. Our experience has allowed us to cover for most eventualities. “It’s a very expensive process to put a fully trained service engineer on the road. We have to charge £58 per hour plus VAT plus travelling time to make it profitable. The cost of a van, servicing and running costs, insurance, tools, equipment, phones, software and traffic hold ups make it very challenging.” Martin adds: “Where possible, we try to diagnose and carry out the repair work in one visit so our engineers carry a good range of equipment and spare parts with them to help this happen.” The award-winning Bos Leisure boasts an experienced team of engineers who use a specialist service software package via smartphones or tablets. Each job is photographed before and after and the clients are asked to sign off the job on completion to ensure customer satisfaction. Martin estimates that servicing accounts for approximately 10 per cent of Bos Leisure’s annual turnover, with the majority of call-outs due neglected equipment: “Servicing and repairs are very important as our new pools are only as good as the way they are maintained after installation.
“We are fortunate to have a lot of experienced engineers but we also rely on our friends at Certikin, CPC and Pollet for advice if needed. We use the PWTAG book as our bible,” adds Martin. PWTAG’s Swimming Pool Water handbook is the essential guide for treatment and quality standards for pools and spas in the UK. The 2017 edition of the book recommends that pool operator training should be suitable and sufficient and should be accredited by the Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG). Training that is to the same standard as PWTAG’s, but is not formally endorsed by PWTAG, may also be suitable and sufficient. Many in the trade choose to go down the Institute on Swimming Pool Engineers (ISPE) route for training and qualifications. The ISPE offers a home study course for those new to the pool industry, or those who want to find out more about a particular subject area. The course covers the basics of filtration, chemicals, construction and heating. Exams are held each year and successful students, on passing the exams,become Certified ISPE Technicians. Other training offered by ISPE includes regular seminars, filtration workshops, technical publications and most recently the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) scheme to allow engineers to broaden their knowledge and skills in the field. SOUND ADVICE “Our technicians have a great deal of experience and will often share advice or guidance. The engineers regularly attend CPD courses to ensure they stay up to date with new technology and advances. We use ISPE for advice when needed,” comments Andrew Jones of Blue Cube Pools While training and qualifications play an important part in the capability and skillset of a pool engineer, practical experience is perhaps the most important tool. “Our engineers have a very vast amount of knowledge between them and they bounce of each other,” comments Neil Hastings, Service Manager at Buckingham Swimming Pools. “If they encounter a problem they can call each other or myself for advice. If it is a problem we have not encountered before then we go to technical. However experience counts for a lot.” Although primarily a domestic and commercial pool building contractor, Buckingham Swimming Pools also offer a maintenance and repair service which makes up around 25 per cent of the business. “Servicing and repairs are not the key to our business, as we are, however this does play a vital role in our aftercare and maintaining relationships with our clients,” says Neil. “Keeping an eye on workmanship is hard, this is why we send engineers to different sites so they keep an eye on each other and we also attend site randomly from the office to check. Our main strength is regular training from our suppliers so our engineers are up to date with how they should be doing things.”