The Canadian Pool & Spa Expo 2016
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The 2016 Canadian Pool & Spa Conference and Expo in Niagara Falls Ontario at the Scotiabank Convention Center was from December 5 to December 8 this year. As usual this was a very large event which attracts manufacturers, distributors, retailers and contractors from across Canada and up from the USA. In addition to classes for continued learning and CPO (Certified Pool Operator) certification training, the trade show is a perfect environment for sourcing new products and new suppliers, as well as scoping out what pool equipment will be available next year. It was a good year for companies driving in from the surrounding areas. In previous years, and in previous locations, weather has been a factor that strongly affects attendee turnout. While cold and windy, this year in Ontario winter is late in arrival and optimum driving conditions were in effect for the entire week of the convention.
Many contractors that I know choose not to attend events like the Pool & Spa Expo. Not attending these events can actually put you at a disadvantage next season. If you are a custom pool builder then events like the Pool & Spa Expo are where you should source new and interesting products that you can offer to your customers next year. If you happen to be the only contractor able to offer a specific product or feature then this alone can help you to land jobs that you might have otherwise missed the opportunity for. Another huge advantage for coming to an event like this is that you get to meet, face to face, most of the people that you might need help from during the busy season. Having direct face to face access to the best technical support agents within a company is a great opportunity to get answers to difficult questions that could benefit your business. Do you know how to control pool and spa features from a smart phone? Do you know exactly which components you need to buy for this kind of functionality? The Pool & Spa Expo would be the perfect place to speak with manufacturers and get detailed answers for questions just like this - information that you can directly apply to your next business season.
The #1 Question That You Should Ask Your Product Suppliers
Most of the pool contractors that I know are leaving a LOT of money on the table without even realizing it. If you find that you do most of your purchasing for your
pool company from one main supplier, then you need to ask your sales representative a very important question:
How much product do I need to purchase from you before I can qualify for a rebate at the end of the year?
A rebate on the total dollar value of your purchases throughout the year is actually something that most large accounts qualify for. Most mid to large tier retail stores will already be receiving a rebate at the end of the year. What many contractors and pool installers do not realize is that their volumes may very well be high enough to warrant similar treatment...and all you have to do is ask. The bottom line is that wholesale distribution operates with very narrow margins. A distributor that buys direct from the manufacturer and sells to pool companies and contractors will typically only earn a 5% to 10% margin on the product for larger ticket items, and more on smaller ticket items. Still, if you are purchasing vinyl pool steel kits, liners, safety covers, heaters, variable speed pumps and more all from one supplier then you may very well be close to having purchasing volume that might qualify for additional rebates.
Pool Equipment Purchasing Rebates
Depending on who you purchase from, and how much you spread around your purchasing power, your supplier may be willing to give you an additional cash incentive in
order to get your business. Starting around $100,000 in annual purchasing, and for sure by the time you are purchasing $200,000 annually, you should be putting
pressure on your supplier to grant you a rebate on your purchases.
While not every supplier, and not every sales person, will be willing to give you a rebate on your purchase, the reality is that once you are over $100,000 in annual purchasing this represents a significant volume of business you are giving your supplier. Since they are earning somewhere in the range of 5% to 10% on your purchases, at minimum, then it is totally reasonable to request a 1%, 2% or 3% cash rebate on your total purchases at the end of the year. Your supplier then must decide whether to make slightly less margin on your continued business, or risk losing your account to another supplier that is willing to dig deeper on year-end rebates.
Based on my experience in the industry working in retail, contracting, and in wholesale distribution, $100k annual purchasing should qualify for 1% cash rebate, $200k annual should qualify for a 2% rebate. The top end of the rebate incentive is reserved for only the largest of accounts however by the time you are purchasing $500k of product annually or more you should be pushing for rebates at or near to 5% of your gross purchasing value.
$100,000 @ 1% rebate = $1000
$200,000 @ 2% rebate = $4000
$500,000 @ 5% rebate = $25,000
While this amount of money is not enough to make a huge difference to your company, why would you leave any money on the table when you don't need to? The biggest reason that most pool companies are not getting a rebate on their purchases is simply that they do not know that you should ask. If you have never worked in wholesale distribution or in product manufacturing then you might not realize just how valuable your account is to your supplier. Those who are best at negotiating are almost certainly getting rebates on their business purchases - and you can also. Even if you do not currently qualify for rebates with your supplier, you should still have this conversation so that you can establish what milestone you do need to reach before you can enter into the rebate conversation. Any time you are looking at a new supplier for your business, the conversation of rebates is one that you should have.
Resolving Problems Face To Face
The swimming pool industry can get very stressful during the busy times of year. During these times it can take a long time to reach technical support, warranty
support or to have a manufacturer answer an important question that you have. The Pool & Spa Expo is a great opportunity to speak with the sales, technical and
warranty representatives face to face. Since the Expo takes place in December this is the perfect time of year to try to work through existing issues that you have so
that you can avoid a repeat next season. It is very easy for someone to ignore a difficult email from you during the busy season, but asking your difficult questions
in person is absolutely guaranteed to get some immediate action, and answers.
This would also be a great opportunity to speak with manufacturers that you currently do not use. If you are a pool company then the manufacturer is interested in speaking with you whether you use their products or not. While obviously they want you to buy and promote their brand, it is also very valuable to speak with someone that does not use their products - as this can help them to understand what they are under delivering on and what areas they potentially need to improve. In my experience, there are many occasions where a pool technician will stop using a particular brand of equipment, but based on incorrect assumptions. Pool equipment is constantly being upgraded and being extensively tested through quality control and in the field. It is possible that the reason you stopped using a product has now been addressed on a technical level. Speaking directly with the manufacturers will give you direct access to people who want your business. Let them know why they do not have it currently, and what it would take for you to become more interested in promoting their products. Sometimes, you might find that a district sales manager for a manufacturer is willing to give you something in exchange for a chance at your business. If you could get a $1200 pump for a one time price of $400 just so you could try it out for yourself, or in the field, then this has multiple benefits to your business. You might end up finding that the product is better than you expected, and is something that you would like to incorporate into your business activities. In a worst case scenario you got your hands on a product well below your regular cost. Would a pool manufacturer be willing to do something like this for you? I have seen it happen, and you won't know unless you ask.
Networking With Other Pool & Spa Professionals
There is no bigger common thread between every pool company that I have worked with over the past 25 years than shortage of skilled labor. I very seldom have encountered
a pool company that is overflowing with talent, with little or no need for more, experienced technicians. The lack of talent pool for skilled and experienced
technicians has resulted in most companies investing heavily in in-house training programs designed to take unskilled workers and train them with task specific duties.
From my perspective, every pool company would benefit by networking in an environment like the Pool & Spa Expo where skilled and experienced pool workers roam the show
floor by the hundreds. Networking does not necessarily constitute poaching employees from other companies, though there is certainly a good amount of this that
happens at events like this. The best networking is to find other people who specialize in the areas that you are weakest.
When you are meeting and greeting new people at the Pool & Spa Expo, you can sometimes find yourself at a loss for how you should present yourself and your company. The best bet is simply to highlight briefly what your "bread and butter" is in terms of your primary work activities, and inquire what other people specialize in. For example, as a swimming pool installation company you might prefer new vinyl liner installations. As part of this type of work customers will often want you to do additional concrete work, patios, walkways, decks and driveways. Sometimes the scope of the flat concrete work can be almost as much as the pool installation itself in terms of work. While concrete work is within the scope of abilities of your company, many pool companies prefer to do as little extra concrete work as possible. If installing pool kits is your preferred work then consider looking for a company that specializes in nothing but concrete placing and finishing. You may find that they are so efficient with their process that they can do the job for you, at or near the cost you would need to spend to do the same work in house. In a situation such as this you would be well advised to consider partnering with another company which allows you to focus your day to day activities closer to your preferred (and most profitable) activities.
The more people that you know in the industry, the better. You never know when you might encounter a critical skilled labor shortage that might force your hand into making a strategic business arrangement with another company. Taking time once per year, or once every few years, to go and exchange business cards with others within the industry is a very smart strategic move for your business. At worst, the event is fun, filled with games and prizes, and filled with endless tables of coffee, pastries and catered meals. Not to mention the all-you-can-drink party that is usually put on by some of the larger distributors and manufacturers at least one night of the convention. This is actually where most of the bigger deals are struck, and networked friendships forged, unsurprisingly.
Get Educated About Swimming Pools
The swimming pool industry, at least in Canada, is moving towards recognized accreditation for swimming pool technicians. This is a welcome relief from the relatively
lawless method in which the industry has existed up until now. Part of this swimming pool technician certification, called CPO (certified pool operator) program
involves in-class training for many aspects of the industry. In order to attain CPO qualifications you are required to take a curriculum of classes designed to give
you a broad spectrum of knowledge about the industry. The classes offered in conjunction with the Pool & Spa Expo are where you (and your staff) can take these
classes in a condensed timeframe and get your certification.
In addition to the require CPO classes, you can simply elect to take classes on subjects that are interesting to you, or specifically relevant to your business. These classroom environments will grant you access to people within the industry that are experts on the subject that you are struggling with. The reality is that everyone has room to improve, and to learn, and if you are in business long enough you are sure to encounter things that you have never heard of before. The classrooms at The Pool & Spa Expo are the perfect chance to discuss complex pool and spa problems in a non-competitive environment.
One of the biggest things that holds back the swimming pool industry as a whole is the relative lack of congruency from one company to the next when it comes to technical process. Learning from people who have been active at the highest levels of the pool industry is a great way make sure that your company is conforming to established industry standards. Ask questions, learn, and apply this knowledge as an advantage that your business now has against other pool companies that are not making time for continued education and certification within the industry.
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