Friday, March 28, 2014

My go to, "Nick, you knock yourself out." Read Part 8 of my business journey.

Now I confess, I'm writing this from memory because I had no intention of ever revisiting these times for any reason. So, at this point the pool seasons kind of blend in for few years. Basically though, I kept paying our debts, making payroll and all the tax payments that go with running a reputable business, being thankful that I had found Don and he was working out so well, learning from Don more than any one source about pools, sharing the profits with my partner, accepting that I basically am running the company in spite of my partner rather than with the help of my partner, and feeling blessed and fortunate and smart for owning a profitable small business. I was now seeing first hand, capitalism. I liked it.

Summers began to get pretty stressful. We were making good money, I had taken to driving around to all our pools in a random fashion to keep our young employees on their toes as best I could. I pretty much isolated my partner and took over the entire operation. If you know me, you know I am confident but I am not full of myself. I was in fact, running the show. All the while splitting the profits 50/50. Now, in a perfect world, I could solve the employee/hiring/training/ dilemma. I asked old Don one day if he had any retired, semi-retired, friends who might want to work cleaning a couple of pools,  a couple of days a week. Sure enough, he did have a friend. I hired, Nick, and as I write this he is still working for me. I realized very quickly that Nick, though he was overweight and out of shape, understood the concept of daily maintenance, working smarter not harder, calling me to report repairs necessary that he didn't do and making minor repairs himself and just letting me know what he did. At first I had him get everything approved by me. The routine, because I'm a simple guy,, was Nick would go to Home Depot, buy whatever he needed, make the repair, send me the receipts, I reimburse him for his Home Depot purchase, I pay him for his time, I don't make anything on the Home Depot purchases because I would be adding on to the retail and I just don't operate that way. I have said this to Mike recently quite a lot. I have always "left some money on the table" before I get greedy. It's worked well for my credibility, which as we all know, is the most precious commodity to the customer. Because this is a blog, I am omitting a number of steps it took to get to this place. Suffice to say, in a service business, employees will make or break you. After writing that, I realized that could be said about all businesses! That being said, I also made a little money in my hourly charge after I paid Nick and paid all the required taxes. I could have done some things to make more money, I suppose, but at that time, I was just realizing that I actually do have the ability to organized and run a small business profitably. I may not have said this enough. No one was more surprised than I. And, part of my never being greedy was because as a teacher, with no real business education, I actually felt guilty charging what I was. Sure, I read all the articles about what my time is worth, and expertise, blah, blah.. I was afraid someone, somehow, would figure out I didn't have the slightest amount of confidence that this would succeed, that I seemed to have all the answers. Wow, I'm just writing randomly here. If this were a book, I would have this edited, But it's not. So, things just started to become clear to me. My original vision of how this would look a few years into it, was nowhere close. I started thinking I was going to do my thing, and Jerry, would do his. I mean, I was hoping we would make a little money like some of our other teacher friends that were out there madly aerating lawns after work for $25.00.

From that vision, I started seeing things differently. Mike tells me a lot, I'm great at explaining, and putting a plan in place, keeping all informed of status, and executing. This is so simple. I had read about this in the many books I read as mentioned earlier. Axioms are true for a reason. I already saw that we had found a need and began filling it with quality service. Haha, the hilarious part is I can't begin to tell you how our young adults were still doing a better job than our competitors. I knew I could improve. I had to. There were lots of emergency things that would come up and I would panic having to deal with them, all the while slowly, silently, seething that I was splitting the profits.

Then I realized I can make money having Nick and good old Don do the work that came up. Duh! With that, the next axiom has to do with yes, a pyramid, but not the Amway kind of crap. No, this axiom is the basic concept that I can make that repair myself, and pocket all the money...if you see where I'm heading here, you see the premise that is yes, I could do that. Or, I could spend my time getting more business, and making more by increasing volume. Yes, I may only make $20.00 only their labor, but if I have Nick and Don and more, I could have five guys, making me collectively $100.00 an hour. A point I valued watching my teacher friends, aerate, mow, house paint, for $25.00 an hour. I'll say it again, I felt guilty for some reason learning what I was learning and fearing it would explode at some point due to some idiotic thing I did. With this plan I completely changed my plan of attack. I went about looking for more Nicks to replace the young adults. I worried, for good reason, about our young adults getting up early enough to service the pool before the swimmers showed up. With Nick, one of the first things he said the day I met him at a McDonalds, was, "I know you said I should be at my first pool by 6:00 am in order to be done with the other 2/3 pools on my route by our 10:00 am open pool time. But, could I get to my first pool like 5:00 am?" I remember my answer, it has become my go to. I said, "Nick, you knock yourself out. If you want to be done by 9:00 that works for me." Here's the punch line...Then Nick says, "I realized some times because my pools are so close to each other, I can leave one pool filling while I run to another one to get the equipment out instead of watching the pool fill. And, if I need to make any repairs, I will likely have them done before opening." Is there a Double Duh???? Heck, that is not the conversation I would have with a 20 year old! It would have been more along the lines of, "Well, I didn't get home til late last night, then I forgot I needed to get gas in my car, and my mom made me drop my brother off at his friend's, but I was only done an hour later than I should have been.
Yup, only an hour.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Community Manager/HOA board swimming pool beginner's guide

An easy to understand guide for community managers and HOA boards summarizing different swimming pool terms, repairs, operating procedures and all things community swimming pool related. This is not a how-to for industry professionals. This is a "Dummies Guide to Pools" effort for communities.

Pool Opening:

Since we are seasonal here in Colorado, the pool has been dormant for the winter months. The hope is that last year's pool company properly winterized the pool. This can go both ways. Essentially, depending on the water quality when the safety cover is removed, the pool needs to be thoroughly cleaned and  vacuumed. Often, the pool is drained (not by the pool pump) and power washed to remove surface grime and algae. A plaster pool may need to be "acid washed" which is a method of diluting muriatic acid with water and spraying on the pool surface to remove stains, algae, scum lines, etc. This is like bleaching your teeth. It eats away at the plaster like bleach eats away at your enamel.

The pump room is put back together. All drain plugs are installed, unions connected, hoses checked and connected, electrical connections checked, the filter inspected and cleaned or new filter media added, the heater is checked, the chlorinator and it's hoses are inspected, the submerged pool light breaker works and the light and timer work properly. It is much wiser to replace bulbs while they are not under water. Rarely is there not a few minor repairs that need to be done during opening.

All the pool hardware is installed. This includes all ladders, rails, steps, fill spout and life-hook.

The safety cover is folded and stored and the cover anchors are screwed down.

The pool is filled with water and hopefully, circulates when the pump is turned on. It can take from a day and a half to four days to fill a pool depending on the size of the pool and the diameter of the main fill line.

The heater is turned on and tested. Adjustments to heater are made to insure safety and constant pool temperature. The chlorinator is charged and begins chlorinating the fresh pool water and the service tech begins adding chemicals to maintain industry standards.

Any/all pool furniture is brought out, cleaned and staged around the pool.

A daily sign in sheet for the service techs is placed in the pump room, usually on a clipboard. Chemicals are delivered, tiles are scrubbed, deck is power washed and the pool heater gradually brings the temperature up for opening day comfort. Many people think a pool can be filled and brought to 83 degrees in 24 hours. This is not the case. It takes a couple of days when starting from 40 degrees or so. Any pool operator that doesn't have the pool a few degrees higher than normal on opening day is foolish and either doesn't care or didn't start heating the pool soon enough. There is a huge difference between 82 degrees (industry standard), 80, 79, yikes.  Why not open at 84 degrees, all the parents are happy because they can easily get into the pool for the first time, the kids get in and stay in because it's warm. People only notice that the pool they pay HOA dues for was and is cold. So, no complaints, parents happy, kids happy, community manager happy, pool guy happy.  Win, win, win and win.

Occasionally, there are some major surprises that arise. There's always a solution, it's a matter of time, cost and type of repair. If a community pool is 30+ years old, it is tantamount to a used car with 120,000 miles on it.

Blog question regarding comments

I am so thankful for the number of people reading my blog,

I can not tell if the comment section is available as no one has left a comment. I don't expect lots of comments, but I thought I would get some chances to "meet" people who like my story. If you are reading my blog, will someone or two please leave a comment so I know if it is allowing comments.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

From Classroom to Pump Room Part 7: How desperate was I?? Prettty desperate!

So, what was my plan for the following summer. I was going to go around with him once or twice a week to check our pools. I was going to basically manage around him and work with him like I would with a student who couldn't write, or a basketball player who couldn't shoot a free throw. I told myself, if I assemble a better support team of employees, all he had to do was take and make the appropriate phone calls. He assured me, looked me right in the eye, and swore he could and would do this.

Another ad in the newspaper provided an older gentleman, Don, who also happened to be a part time school custodian, knew pools backwards and forwards, had a pool in his backyard, had actually been in charge of a couple of small mountain towns' water supply and in general is just a great guy. I had, at this point, given up on my partner ever actually fixing anything. All I hoped was that he could coordinate repairs and communicate with all involved. How stupid am I? Extremely. But in my defense, I was completely ignorant but fiercely loyal to my friend. What was I going to do? Fire my partner? Start a business without him? (Through it all, there was always a little bit of strength in numbers, even if one of the numbers was mentally compromised. I admit it, I was afraid to go it alone.)

That summer actually ran pretty smoothly using Don to make our repairs while moonlighting from his school custodian job. Now, the problem was our terrific, young student athletes we counted on to be terrific, young employees were not so terrific. In fact, they were horrible. There were, to be completely honest, a few that were just stellar and worked for me for a number of years. But, all in all, we could not count on them. As good a student, athlete, citizen as they may be, a kid will walk past a bag of McDonald's wrappers left from the day before all day, every day. He will then be pissed tomorrow when he's fishing it out in a thousand soggy pieces from the pool's bottom. I was never surprised that our young employees did what they did. They were in a situation, with little leadership, and expected to actually think and be proactive. Granted, I still didn't know much about the actual  pool servicing. That was my partner's job. Yes, I know, why would I think my partner would know anything at this point? I wish I had an answer. I think the best way I can describe it is to say that I had been watching a man deteriorate before my very eyes and was still hoping the young, enthusiastic teacher/coach I once knew, still had it in him. By now you should have already guessed how that worked out. So, our training program, my sadly sinking partner meeting them at a pool or two and showing them what he doesn't even quite know, wasn't exactly comprehensive training.
I keep stressing this because it's my truth. The whole point of this blog and my open, maybe biased, interpretation of  "my story" is to demonstrate that the possibility of making money and actually making money is what keeps a hopeless dreamer and "idea" guy going. I am now looking back and laughing at my dumb luck. I was too hungry to give up. I looked at it as a competition between me and the business world. I used to subscribe to Inc. magazine, used to subscribe to cheesy business magazines selling the "own on your business" dream like, Business Opportunities and Entrepreneur. I stayed up late watching what at the time was relatively new, Real Estate millions and the three day seminars. I never did actually go to one, but I would watch those shows and the millionaire would spend the entire hour giving away his only a smidgin of his secret formula, enough to entice you to spend the couple hundred for his seminar and failsafe book. I felt an urgency to make something financially positive happen. I took to reading books, usually more motivating than actual business X's and O's. I read success type stories at first. Then, as the years passed, I read more and more business strategy, marketing, personnel and other business detailed books and articles. One time I did actually send away for a free "sales kit" of a roof coating product either called "Pace" or that was the name of the company selling this amazing roof top weather sealant. I was going to take off driving the back roads of Colorado during my summers off from teaching, knock on business doors, especially large, flat roofed warehouses, demonstrate this amazing tar like substance by poking a hole in a styrofoam cup, lathering on the product and filling the cup with water to see the revolutionary sealant. Haha, I'm laughing at myself and the others who will read this and have similar thoughts. If you are a teacher, I'm certain you have.

But....we made even more money. This is more a comment on the poor service of other companies, that was industry standard, in our area.