Pool and Spa Services Owner The Buzz


Entrepreneurs can make a real splash -- and real money -- in the pool care industry.

No matter where you are, there are probably pools nearby. They all need to be cleaned and looked after. That's where pool service companies jump in.

Companies are crying out for experienced pool people. And there's room for new independent companies as well.

To take advantage of the opportunity, you'll need some formal and practical training.

Starting a business in pool maintenance requires specific skills, says Bill Howard. He runs an apprenticeship training program in pool maintenance.

"You have to know water chemistry, safety, entrepreneurship," he says.

So how does this line of work pay? "Studies we've put together show an average completer [starting] at $28,000. That's not bad," observes Howard.

Les Kowalski is the president of the National Spa and Pool Foundation. "The industry is changing....[It's] becoming computerized," he says. Electronic control systems are increasingly common.

"There are less maintenance headaches," he says. "You can measure the chemical levels automatically and feed chemicals automatically." He notes there are electronics for lighting, automated cleaning devices and devices for adjusting water levels automatically.

But that doesn't mean there are fewer jobs in the industry. Indeed, it's a good time to be thinking about pool service businesses. "They always need people. It's not like work goes away. This just makes it a little easier," he says.

And, he adds, trained people find jobs quickly.

"There's more need for them now than there ever was," he says. "Not only is there more need for them, but they're operating more costly facilities."

Looking after swimming pools is becoming a career, not a part-time job as it might once have been. No longer is the task of maintaining the pool given to the lifeguard.

"There aren't really enough [trained people] to go around. In some places, it's still an itinerant job -- from one season to the next season. But in most places, it's a permanent job, all year round. In those places, facilities are operated at the best level -- safely, economically and efficiently," says Kowalski.

From April to the end of October, Sandy Kneller and her husband employ about 16 full-time workers with their pool company.

Kneller agrees that it's hard to find trained people. As well, she says, there are a lot of untrained people out there who offer pool services. "Companies like ours are trying to make it more of a professional career," Kneller says.

Christina Bondy works for a pool service company. The company has 13 full-time employees in the summer. In the winter, though, "most people have other jobs -- the part-timers. The owners just get ready for the next season," she says. Hot tub sales help the company through the leaner winter months.

Bondy says there are a couple of other smaller firms serving the area. She estimates as many as half the homes in the county have swimming pools and more are being added all the time. "It's getting there. They're almost a need nowadays."

Customers need their pools started up in the spring and closed down in the fall. "There are a couple we vacuum every day," says Bondy. That work is normally done by one of the summer staff. They're usually high school students. Company owner Don Huson says student employees earn between $350 and $400 a week cleaning pools.

There's a big demand for experienced workers. "If we ever had our main guy out of commission, we'd be in trouble," says Bondy.

Cleaning a pool doesn't have to take a long time. "It's about an hour -- that's a good job," she says.

Huson says he employs one person full time on pool maintenance and two full-timers servicing pools and equipment.

Finding qualified help "is a big problem," says Huson, "and we're seasonal, so you can imagine what it's like.

"Experience is very, very tough to find. So you look for someone with a technical background. If they have that, then they can usually learn. It's not something you need a university degree to do -- pumps and filters, water flow and things like that."

Pools are "definitely" a growth industry, he says. "I think people are tending more to spend their time at home with their families. We went through that in the '70s, but I see it coming back -- stay in your own backyard, fix it up and put a pool in."

In Satellite City, Florida, more than 85 percent of homes have swimming pools. It's a year-round business. Bob and Althea Underwood recognized an opportunity 30 years ago. They started a pool cleaning business, and later began building pools. Today, their company is one of the biggest in their area.

"It is very difficult to find qualified people to work for us," says company marketing manager Terri Underwood. "There are very few experienced pool people who are not already in business for themselves. Since we were one of the first pool companies around, we are now seeing a lot of our old employees running their own pool companies."

Underwood agrees with predictions of growth in the field. "I do see the swimming pool service and repair business expanding," she says. "Consumers are turning to services of all kinds. Also, with each generation there seems to be a decline in the do-it-yourselfers."

While you may be able to earn a comfortable income, pool maintenance isn't going to make you incredibly rich. "It's still not a high-paying field. It's not like the stock market," Kowalski jokes.

Those who would like to start their own pool maintenance businesses are advised to draft good business plans, find good locations and get proper financing. Kowalski adds, "Become competent at the job -- be ready for ups and downs."

Links

The Lingo of Pool Service
Learn the terms used in this industry

Independent Pool and Spa Service Association
A group serving American pool service people

Association of Pool and Spa Professionals
An organization for pool builders and maintainers