Thursday, February 11, 2016

What Does President Lincoln Know About Pool, Spa and Pond Repair and Service Companies?

It is hard to consistently generate great content. Today I ran across something in honor of President's Day that moved me. This blog is taken from an email I got today from Larry Szala of Central Roofing in Gardena, CA, Larry agreed to let me share it. I've adapted it for our niche but it can really apply to any endeavor. It is about motivation.

February is the month we celebrate two great Presidents, George Washington & Abraham Lincoln. Most would agree they are two of the greatest Presidents we have ever had. A look at Lincoln’s life before 1860 would make most give up in life and settle for mediocrity.

A few facts about our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln: Many professional and personal losses, including a nervous breakdown early in his career.

  1. Lost his mother at age 9
  2. Lost his first job then lost a run at State legislature in 1832
  3. Lost his business
  4. Lost his sweetheart
  5. Lost a run for a US Senate TWICE in 1854 and again in 1858.
  6. Lost a nomination for Vice President
  7. Lost two of his four sons
So what motivated Lincoln to push on to greatness? Despite these and other setbacks in his life and with only one two-year term in the US House of Representatives, Lincoln took his positive attitude and strong determination to run for and become our 16th President in 1860. Lincoln never lost sight of his goals; never let personal loss, personal problems or any circumstances deter him from his positive attitude and focused determination. And as they say the rest is history.

So what does this bit of history mean for you and your pool, spa and/or pond company?

Inspiration: Most leaders and those who work for you will feel and sometime succumb to feelings of loss and defeat in the workplace. When that happens don’t let the setbacks and excuses be the reason for your business slowing down. You can personally choose and motivate those around you to have a positive attitude and the resilient determination to overcome any obstacles that will lead to success! 

Use Abraham Lincoln’s life to motivate and inspire your employees so they may envision themselves succeeding in spite of setbacks. Another great example of how attitude and determination can work for anyone that is willing to choose so is Kerri Strug’s story. Kerri was a member of the US Olympics team 1996 and this is part of her story: “Kerri, listen to me, you can do it!" said USA coach Bela Karolyi as Kerri Strug readied for her second and final vault during the team competition at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The only problem was that Strug had felt a pop in her ankle on her first vault and could barely walk, let alone sprint down the runway and fling herself up and over the horse to land with great purpose on only one good leg.  Somehow Strug gritted her teeth, thinking that the team's gold medals all depended on this final vault (in actuality they didn't, but no one knew that at the time), and got the job done with a solid landing before collapsing in pain onto her hands and knees. Strug, suffered two torn ligaments in her ankle but left the floor with courageous effort and a gold medal plus a rousing ovation from a packed house!

Strong determination and a positive attitude has helped Advantage Manufacturing grow from a small family business in pool, spa and pond products to become one of the most respected names in our industry. Our success over the past 23 years is predicated on our determination to provide the highest quality and customer satisfaction. Check out what our customers say about us @ or call us at 800-636-8866
I leave you with my favorite quote about attitudes

 “The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past.  We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.” --Rev. Charles Swindoll

 Well said Larry. I will leave you with my favorite Lincoln Quote; 

"Folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds up to be."

 Abraham Lincoln
Written by:
Lyann Courant
CEO, Advantage Manufacturing.
Feel free to share and reprint as long as you attribute it to Larry. Thanks.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

2016 Hot Trends for Pool, Spa and Pond Retailers and Service Companies

1) Wikipedia describes The Internet of Things (IoT) as the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data. Wah? How does this apply to pools and spas you may ask? Sutro is the first product I've seen that actually delivers this capability. At this time, the device, which goes in the pool alerts the service tech or homeowner that the pool needs some chemicals on their mobile device as a text alert. I imagine in the future, it will allow you to turn up or down the speed of your pump and be a portal into a pool supply distributor or store. Think this is years away? Check it out at Follow developments in this area as there will be more.

2) Think meditation and yoga. For visual merchandisers creating Outdoor Living showrooms, the Pantone colors of the year are a very soft blush pink and a light blue. The vibe is peaceful outdoor sanctuary with arabesque structures and mandala motifs like the one found in the image below. Natural woven fabrics and Indian/Moroccan themes are trending. Spice, neutrals and indigo blue are still popular.

The best way to arrange products is by lifestyle, meaning don't have a candle department, have an area that shows the lifestyle. Big sellers in this space will be outdoor art pieces - UV protected paintings and prints are available now. All kinds of wall art are hot and climbing gardens and pots of succulents will be trending. Of course, the sound of trickling water is a must and I highly recommend an Advantage Pump be driving that water feature!

3) El nino is predicted to dump lots of water nationwide and that means dirty pools & spas overflowing ponds and dead pool motors. Why do the motors die?  Usually it is because it is attached to a timer, the homeowner forgets to unplug it, the motor gets underwater, the timer comes on and shorts it out. And no, that is technically not covered under warranty. What does this mean to someone running a pool maintenance company? You are going to need more replacement motors than usual, so be sure to have some on hand. And make sure you have all your equipment ready to go to clean the pools - Portable Vacuum Systems are the very best way to save time and money while removing even fine particles from the pool and sparing the main filter. Companies like, Leslie's Commercial Division, Brock Enterprises and Doheny Commercial all resell the Advantage Port-a-vac

4) Make sure you build enough margin into your contracts to handle the following increased costs next year;
  • Forbes says we should anticipate a 35% surge in health insurance premiums. If your company is covering this, check it out.
  • Minimum wage laws are set to change in many states. Take this into account
And as it relates to labor, more and more companies are rehiring people that worked for them before. The percentage that will now rehire a boomerang worker has moved from 48% to 76% according to Forbes. More and more workers are flexible and working "Gigs" instead of jobs. Consider employing people on this basis - it is now 40% of the work force. Dashdoor, uber, taskrabbit and the like are driving the independent contractor movement. 

5)  Solar will continue to gain traction in the water filtration industry as new products enter the market and consumers continue adopt the carbon neutral lifestyle. Induced by tax credits and the some very slick sales operations, solar panels are being installed on roofs nationwide. There are a number of products out there and if you are installing pool or pond products, you should be carrying items that will run on solar and/or wind power. Advantage has a unique inverter (converts solar DC power to AC power) that produces 750 watts (other sizes can be ordered) and runs our low amp pond pump the ESS6400 on just 3 panels - it draws from the grid when there isn't enough sun. It even runs on wind generated power.

6) Automation will become even more commonplace. If you are running pool routes and not automating the payments from your customers, consider doing so. If necessary, give your customers a reason to agree to it, like a free week or a special cleaning. You won't believe how much time this will save you and your route will be more valuable should you ever want to sell it. Automating marketing campaigns with tools like mail chimp and constant contact are easy. Start to get as much of your office processes online and as automated as possible. 

7) Social media is growing and growing in importance for businesses. Timing is everything. You might have set up a Facebook page, got a few followers and kind of let it languish. We did that. It just didn't seem to have any business utility. That situation has changed. Google's new algorithm weights your social media presence as part of the SEO calculation. And between Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook, people are now spending an average of 2 hours a day on these platforms. You can now sell (click and buy) products on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest (via eBay) and Facebook. I posted a blog about some simple tools you can use to get going a few weeks ago. Get links to your social media on your emails and start to familiarize yourself with how it works. If you aren't already generating leads and sales using these tools, you are doing something wrong. Now is the time to really focus on getting your business executing best practices for social media marketing. 

8) Mobile is still growing and has surpassed desktop. Make sure your sites are not only optimized for mobile but consider making a stripped down, flat, simple version of your site to be used on these devices. Google will punish you if you don't have at least a responsive design and make certain you can be found. And not only in listings but on Digital Assistants like Siri and Cortana. Also, it isn't crazy to make sure people can find you if they misspell your name.  Users are looking everywhere, optimally you are ready for a customer that searches and finds you in his phone in the morning, checks you out your video from his desktop at work and requests a service call from his iPad in the evening. 

We had a banner year in 2015 as far as increased sales. The first in a long, long time. We're determined to continue on this trajectory and hope you'll join us. Our mantra for 2016 is "Profit". An experienced veteran once told me "Revenue is vanity. Profit is what matters." Isn't that the truth. Let the force be with us.

Written by:
Lyann Courant
CEO, Advantage Manufacturing.
Feel free to share and reprint as long as you attribute it to us. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What I know for sure about running a small business in the Pool, Spa and/or Pond space.

Today I am feeling philosophical. This blog post covers what I've learned as an entrepreneur that I am 100% confident is true.  It is applicable to any small business or in a broader sense, life in general. Certainly, the leisure water market is the primary laboratory where I learned what I know, but there were other venues too, including software, home decor products and raising four sons.

Unless you are Oprah, it might sound arrogant to say you know anything for sure. Let me assure you, many of these lessons I've had to learn over and over again.  I humbly confess, many of these facts were not easy for me to accept and much of this knowledge came at a very high price. Like most people, I don't always do what I know I should do and it dangles out there as what I would call, a goal.  Hopefully, if some of my observations are things you aren't sure about yet, my personal experience will clarify it for you.  

Entrepreneurs by nature are more likely to test assumptions and less likely to take advice from others. I'm no different. I've been resistant to conventional wisdom all my life and usually have to experience things firsthand before I accept it. It is a good news/bad news thing, the very traits that drive you to develop your own independent business can be your achilles heal. People who will run through walls, need to be very determined. Determined is very close to stubborn. Stubborn is not far from bull-headed which is closely related to closed minded, once under sail. I'm not saying change your nature, don't, somebody has to burn the boats on the shore but be aware of your weaknesses.

1)  Don't try and do everything yourself.  Sure, you can do it exactly the way you like it done, it won't get screwed up, you can do it faster or cheaper and you remain in control but eventually, there is too much to do and the things that are most important for you to be doing won't get the priority they need. Learn to delegate and free yourself to see the forest through the trees.

2)  Hire great people. This might the most important lesson of all. You will not meet a successful small business person who doesn't acknowledge that the key to his/her success is the team they assembled. If you do meet that person and they don't admit that, you are dealing with an egomaniac who is lying to himself.  

3) This would seem like common sense but it isn't something I've always done and I should have. If someone isn't working out, if an employee doesn't seem able to do their job well, if somebody violates your trust, if you are trying to "fix", motivate or change someone's bad attitude, STOP. Cut bait and move on. Could you be a better boss and inspire people more? Is there always something you could be doing to help this person to perform better, be happier, more appreciative? Sure. Of course. But it is never the right call. It will never be what it should be and that goes back to number 2 - Hire great people. The opportunity cost of having a less than great performer on your team is way too high. And it goes way beyond just that job. It impacts the whole team. Cut bait. 

4) Trust but verify. Have checks and balances built into your processes. Have inventory controls. You don't have to run your business like a diamond mine but you can't afford to leave everything to trust alone. Over the years, we've had long time trusted employees we thought were family steal from the company. People get addicted, develop gambling or financial problems, or just aren't who you think they are. A few years back, the topic came up at a social event and I heard 6 different small business people recount their stories. You could hear in their voices that the money hurt of course but not as much as the betrayal. I wish this was uncommon but it isn't. My advice applies to everyone at every level in every department, accounting, warehouse, sales people, managers, VPs and drivers . . . everyone at every level needs to have checks and balances. Bake in systems and procedures like random audits in order to catch problems early on. Don't leave the company vulnerable. A camera system with audio accessible from your iPad or phone is less than you might think and helps protect against theft but also captures any work injuries or situations that could result in a lawsuit. People behave differently knowing that they are on camera.

5) Another obvious truth but one I personally took a long time to accept, is that you have to choose not to dwell on negative thoughts but to focus on positive ones. It is a very deliberate decision. Why did it take me so long to see the correlation between positive thinking and outcomes? I'm not sure. Maybe because I thought it sounded like new age bullshit? It isn't. Truly believing in your mission, passionately sharing the good news with co-workers, suppliers and customers, envisioning success and inspiring your team to do the same, is the basis of Leadership. Can your business function without it? Maybe. Would it perform better with it? Yep. Is everyone happier with this mindset? Yes.

6) While small business people are "Question Authority" types by nature, there is one Authority you should NEVER mess with. I'm talking about "The Man", the Tax Man to be exact. Endowed with unlimited power and the ability to destroy your life's work and whatever you may earn in the future, you simply can't afford to run afoul of this adversary. And their power grows daily. You're supposed to 1099 your Landlord now (even if a corp), CRTs on all business transactions over $10K and so on. My Grandfather Cray who was a very experienced Entrepreneur used to say, pay them just a little more than you owe and pray they leave you alone. Believe me, if Eugene was intimidated by the power of the state, we should all be. Take care of Uncle Sam.

 7) The best way to decide how to handle anything, is to apply the "Golden Rule." Sometimes people are confused about what that means. An important clause in the rule is, "if you were in their shoes." In other words, you don't just think, "How would I want to be treated?" You think, "How would I want to be treated, if I were in that situation?" For example, a customer owes you money. I've owed people money before and like most folks, I like to be treated fairly, with respect and understanding. And that is how we approach collections at Advantage. Now, if person makes a commitment to send a check and doesn't honor their word, I think, "How would I want to be treated if I had lied to somebody?" Well, I would hope the person would explain what they are going to do next if the bill isn't paid immediately, accept my sincere apology graciously and give me an opportunity to do the right thing. And if I didn't pay the bill then, my expectation is that they would send my account to an attorney for collection and report me to D&B or whatever. The Golden Rule, is simply accepting that out of fairness, the same rules should apply to all. I don't get one set of rules and everyone else another. There is no decision I can think of that can't be made applying this code of ethics.  To be clear, like most of my advice, the "Golden Rule" standard is something I aspire to but sometimes fall short of. It is a goal. 

8) Anvils fly out of the sky on a regular basis when you run your own business.  Of course, the ones you didn't see coming are the ones that hurt the most, as you didn't have time to brace yourself. What can you do about it? Not much. I wrote about this in a previous post. Get good insurance. A good broker will advise you on what type of coverage is best and work with you to find something you can afford. It isn't a luxury.  Nobody likes to think about bad scenarios and as small business owners we are hard wired for risk. But some risks are just too high. I hope you are never sued, an accident never happens or the fire sprinkler never activates but in the event it does, you are going to need a carrier that covers the legal defense (doesn't burn it out of the limits), responds quickly with a professional crisis management team and covers the actual cost of you continuing to operate.  A fly by night insurer will charge less but they won't deliver what you will need. Don't be a cheapskate on insurance. 

I could go on and on. And maybe I will, next time. I made a commitment to write two blog posts a month for a while to see how well it works. When I was young, I wrote an advice column for teenagers. Guess I've always been full of opinions! If you are an entrepreneur in need of advice, ask me a question in the comment section or email me and I'll give you my two cents. I'm not an accountant, an investment expert or a lawyer and I don't play one on TV. My response will be based on whatever my personal experience has taught me. My last piece of advice is this; keep your sense of humor. There will be times when laughter is all you've got and it will be enough. 

Written by:
Lyann Courant
CEO, Advantage Manufacturing.
Feel free to share and reprint as long as you attribute it to us. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

5 Secrets to Launch a Social Media Strategy for Pool/Spa/Pond Supply or Service Companies.

When you run a family owned business, you end up learning how to do many things outside your comfort zone.  I am by no means an expert on Social Media and am just scratching the surface.  On the other hand, I learned a few valuable things last week when I fired up Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and this Blog.  I've got some tips that might help you do the same thing for your business without too much difficulty or expense.

If you have the time and money to manage Social Media as a big project with actual experts from a Digital Marketing Agency, I have no doubt they will do a better job overall and keep you at the cutting edge of developments on all things relating to the technical side of this.  Although, I wonder about how they will produce great content specific to your market? Anyway, for everyone else, here is another approach.

Truth be told, I intentionally avoided delving into this and we've had a few half-assed attempts here and there.  In fact, we had two ancient Facebook pages and no idea how to access them and nobody remembers who set them up.  In spite of my complete lack of experience, to our delight, we gained two good new Retailers who placed substantial orders and several serious prospects from our efforts Week One. If I can do this, anyone can.  Dive in, the water's fine!

1) The primary reason I didn't get into all this sooner is because I was worried we won't have time to manage all the content and keep it fresh.  I found a cool tool, ($39/Month) which allows me to manage all the SM communications from one place. Basically, you set up your pages on all the platforms, link them up as services in sendible and when you have something to post, you select which places to send it and it routes them to all the places in one click of a button.  In other words, you only have to manage one feed every four days or once a week and you're done.  Yes, if you get more into this, you might customize the message to the platform demographics but what I am doing is "good enough" for now and certainly a big improvement over nothing.  One caveat is that Instagram requires you to manually post a photo from your phone and that is the platform I am struggling with the most.

2)  As entrepreneurs, especially those of us that don't use these sites in our personal lives, it is easy to miss technological advances as far as appreciating what they mean to our bottom line.  I knew what Twitter was but I really didn't appreciate how it could help us develop our business exactly.  This is a good time to talk to younger people.  My 16 year old son, Neil explained how you get relevant followers in a few minutes.  Once he told me that you don't want to have a much lower number of people following you than you are following, I realized I had to figure out how to unfollow people who didn't follow me back in a reasonable time frame.  I found a free app (it costs a little bit more if you want more functions) from that helps me manage the follower lists easily and much more.

3)  So, you don't want the people who signed up to read your feeds to see just sales pitches or they will unfollow or unfriend you or worse, you might find yourself violating the policies of some applications regarding SPAM.  The content you put out should be relevant to your target audience and genuinely funny or interesting.  I did a couple posts where I re-posted news stories about hazards in the water with the tagline . . . The Pool Looks Good - one featured a Hammerhead Shark at the surf line in Newport Beach and one showing Toxic Yellow Bellied Sea Snakes on the beach in Oxnard.  I thought this might be something pool supply stores or service pros would want to share with their customers as it makes pools look good.  One expert recommended that 3 out of 4 messages should clearly not be a veiled sales pitch.  Sendible has features that help you monitor reviews, tweets, Facebook postings and more as well as help finding appropriate content.  You don't have to noodle around the web wondering about what people are saying about your company or the competition, Sendible automates the search and emails you the results as often as you like. 

4)  The number one most successful thing we did was a blog post.  Using the free app from google, Blogger, I wrote a piece called, "The Ten Biggest Mistakes Pool/Spa Retailers Can Make." Articles that include a list of mistakes or secrets are very popular and perform well according to the experts. I put it on our website,, emailed a link to it from a constant contact campaign we sent out to our list of B2B subscribers and I posted it on sendible which sent it out to all our SM pages.  Apparently, these take on a life of their own over time and are a key piece of a successful strategy.  I was skeptical but the results already suggest this is true.  Can I keep writing articles on a regular basis?  I'm going to try as the price is right and I can see that it actually produces measurable results.  Sendible has a Measurement tool that is kind of like a google analytics for social media, it is great way to see what exactly drives traffic and even measures what time of day produces the most action for you. 

5)  I was shocked to see how many people had looked at our Google+ Profile page over the years and disappointed that I hadn't created one earlier so that they could find the contact data they were looking for.  I didn't realize how much traffic google drives there.  It is free and simple to do.  Make sure you claim yours and populate it correctly.  LinkedIn was the only social media system I was regularly using and understood the importance of before I got into this.  If you want to start off small, I would strongly suggest this be on your short list. When it comes to finding candidates for jobs, building your professional network and just getting great advice on a regular basis, LinkedIn is invaluable.  Number two is Twitter followed by Facebook, particularly if you target consumers. It is a pain to set up these accounts and add them to your signature lines on all your company emails and websites.  But once you've set up your accounts, you have the ability to get your messages and branding in front of a large audience of relevant prospects at a no cost over and over again.  In fact, I am looking at adding a little widget thing called Sniply that lets you customize the button that shows on your posts with a call to action and our branding to increase conversions.

My only regret is that I waited so long.  Based on the success of this effort so far, I know we'd have a much larger database of followers and fans if I had it in place two years ago.  We left some money on the table.  Hopefully, this blog will encourage you to learn from my mistake and get going.  I'm very focused on where we are going, not where we have been.  Social Media will be an important component of how business evolves and I'm thrilled we are finally on board. I will continue to study and learn about how to improve our efforts and will definitely be writing more about this in the future.

Written by:
Lyann Courant
CEO, Advantage Manufacturing.
Feel free to share and reprint as long as you attribute it to us. Thanks.

ps.  One more suggestion, we use a Review Management system from to generate and promote reviews from our customers.  Customer Lobby can be configured to automatically send positive reviews to all your Social Media pages.  This is a great way to make sure that the good news get populated all over the web.

Friday, October 30, 2015

10 Biggest Mistakes Pool/Spa Retailers Can Make.

1) Carrying the same things as every other store. Selling the same brands at the same prices as everyone else, does nothing to distinguish your store from the competition. Choose products that represent a special value or contain unique features. That way, when your customers need something, they know it is worth the trip to your shop. Private labels are a great way to offer something nobody else does. Independent manufacturers (hint –Advantage) can accommodate you by putting your brand on the product itself for relatively small quantity buys.
2) Letting the service aspect of the business slide. Servicing pools and spas on a regular basis can generate more profits than selling products. Also, service contracts that bring in money every month are critical for cash flow. Service can be a real cash cow . . . and someday, you can sell the routes if you like. Make sure your people have all the right tools to do a good job efficiently. Consider getting them a portable vacuum system. Pool Service Pros tell us that collecting the money is the hardest part of the job not to mention unpleasant. Encourage automated monthly payments with a free service call or something compelling, it will pay huge dividends.
3) Lowering your prices to compete with the internet. This is a recipe for disaster. You have to convince your customers that the installation and maintenance services and the availability you provide in your brick and mortar location are worth the cost. Always select vendors with solid MAP pricing programs to eliminate the problem altogether (hint – Advantage).
4) Oversizing the equipment beyond what is needed. It might generate more revenue to sell more pool pump than the customer needs but it is short sighted. Take the long view and explain to your customer how much energy and/or money your solution saves them and they will trust you year in and year out to be their pool/spa guru. Don’t oversell variable speed pumps. Most customers will do just fine with a two speed pump and a timer as they will only use the two settings anyway (yes, this is Title 20 compliant.) They will appreciate you saving them money.
5) Carrying too much inventory. There are vendors that will sell you the items as you need them with substantial discounts on a few as 6 items mix and match (hint – Advantage). Don’t tie up needed cash in mountains of products. Buy what you need when you need it or order modest amounts of product.
6) Flying without a net. Make sure you are fully insured by a reputable company. Insurance is not the place to cut corners as this is ultimately the only defense you have against all the things you can and can’t imagine. A little $60 rider for a product we hadn’t carried before saved our company . . . we wouldn’t have been able to afford the legal costs never mind the payout without it.
7) Not enough variety. There are customers at every price point and you should always have the alternative for them – Good, Better & Best. Select a product mix that offers a range of solutions and brands.
8) Lack of follow up/follow through. Treat every customer like the precious jewel they are. If today you sell a guy a spa pump, maybe next year he’ll buy a spa from you, if his experience was positive. Be over the top responsive. Thank you cards and referral programs are great ways to develop a relationship over a long time horizon.
9) Not enough training. Even veteran sales people can lose enthusiasm and focus. Keep feeding the sales staff a steady diet of encouragement and inspiration. Product and sales training are essential components of a well run retail establishment.
10) Let small details slide. How you do the little things speaks volumes about how you do the big things to a customer. When you go in a restaurant and the restroom is dirty and unkempt, how confident are you that the kitchen is clean? Same idea. If your store looks shabby and the stock picked over, customers aren’t going to have a good feeling about the items you offer or the quality of your service. Take the time to keep the store clean, bright and inviting. Small details matter.

Written by:
Lyann Courant
CEO, Advantage Manufacturing.
Feel free to share and reprint as long as you attribute it to us. Thanks.