How Service Challenges are Evolving—And How Pros are Coping

With pool opening season upon service pros, Craig Sears sat down with Pool Spa Pro for a revealing discussion about 2022’s ongoing hurdles, how customers are responding, strategies he’s using to cope and where he sees the industry going as the year goes on.

Gary Thill

March 24, 2022

4 Min Read
MicrosoftTeams-image (1)_11.png

Craig Sears is president of the Sears Pool Management, a pool management and renovation firm in Atlanta. Sears, who holds CSP and CBP certifications, has been a pool and spa professional for 25 years and been on the board of the Georgia’s PHTA board since 2007. While his business focuses on the commercial side of the industry, Sears has his finger on the pulse of the service industry as a whole.

With pool opening season upon service pros, Sears sat down with Pool Spa Pro for a revealing discussion about 2022’s ongoing challenges, how customers are responding, strategies he’s using to cope and where he sees the industry going as the year goes on.

What’s your biggest challenge this opening season?

No question, it’s staffing. It’s just gotten harder and harder to find people who are interested in pool work. In previous years, we could put out a job listing on Indeed and have 25 to 30 resumes come in. Now we have zero to five. And many times, the quality of the applicants is not what we were seeing before.

How are you dealing with those staffing shortages?

We increased our pay scale 8% to 10%. And we’re looking at whether we need to do more. We’ve also been talking with our competitors about trying to come up with a way to cobrand and market for jobs in the pool industry. The trouble is, the work from home paradigm has really become attractive to people. But when you’re in an industry like ours, where you have to be there to provide the service, obviously you can’t work from home.

How have ongoing supply chain and material shortages issues been affecting your business?

Getting enough trichlor is still the number one issue. But at the same time, liquid chlorine [bleach] has really gone up in price too, because the raw materials are needed to make other products that are in demand. So, I’ve seen bleach prices go up 90 cents per gallon since last year to $2.40 per gallon. Manufacturers and suppliers have warned us that those prices will increase with each quarter.

Clearly you have to pass some of these costs on to customers, how are they responding?

We have raised our prices about 20% to 40%—and in some cases as much as 70%—so we’ve had a whole lot of people price checking and kicking tires of competitors. Because of that, there’s a bit of a panic with customers who have waited around to sign a contract. Now the major service companies are full. And there’s some upstart competitors that are just taking bids with really no ability to deliver the service they’re promising. I anticipate we’re going to get calls from people pleading with us to help. This summer is going to be ugly.

What are some of the ripple effects you’re seeing?

For my business, it’s been very hard to calculate how much extra all these price increases cost. So we just have to estimate. But we’ve done it looking at our costs and really calculating as best we could. Other companies just kind of licked their finger and stuck it in the air and said, ‘We’ll go up X percent.’ We’ve also made a conscious decision that it’s better to have fewer customers and be able to handle the business rather than trying to pick up more business we can’t handle. If had the staff, I could have grown 25% year over year. In the blink of an eye, I could have increased our service routes from 12 to 15.  Instead we’ve gone from 12 to 10 on purpose to be cautious. This is happening industrywide. A number of mom and pops have just gotten frustrated and retired early. Other people are reducing their service area. So, it’s going to be a very interesting year on the service side.

How are you coping with all of these challenges?

It’s a lot of faith. I pray about it every day. I’m hoping things will get better, and I believe they will. My focus now is to be an educator for our clients and put the information out there to let them know this is what to expect and this why. I’m also hoping we get more folks joining the industry who are interested in getting educated. It’s really difficult to find young people who are looking at the pool and spa industry as a career opportunity. And that’s too bad, because it’s a great industry, and this is a segment that will continue to grow, because demand is exceeding supply.



About the Author(s)

Gary Thill

Gary Thill is an independent writer and editor with an extensive background in the residential and commercial construction sectors. He served as editor of the Replacement Contractor newsletter for five years and has contributed regularly to Remodeling and other construction-focused publications for several decades. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

Subscribe to get the latest information on products, technologies and management.
Join our growing community and stay informed with our free newsletters.

You May Also Like