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Outsourcing specialized labour: Why professionals are subcontracting automatic pool cover services

Foreshadowing future challenges

If the potential for track repair is not properly considered during the initial construction, future maintenance often requires breaking the deck.
If the potential for track repair is not properly considered during the initial construction, future maintenance often requires breaking the deck.

Zach Stevens, an automatic cover specialist based in Detroit, Mich., says most service calls he receives are the result of construction that was not performed using best practices for these specific installs.

“It’s not that the builder did a faulty installation—they simply haven’t done enough of them to know some of the tricks of the trade to help avoid problems down the road,” he says.

While attending these calls, Stevens sees many of the same problems over and over. These issues could have been avoided if the initial builder had known to make certain allowances for these unique installs.

Motor mechanism access

The installation of the brackets that hold the stone lid that go over the mechanism is very important, says Stevens. While a builder may make this aspect look visually appealing, they may also permanently install these brackets without thinking about the necessity for them to be removable when they need servicing later on.

“In those cases, a fix that might take 30 minutes with a $50 part becomes a job where the client has to spend $1000 on new brackets, plus the labour to remove the old brackets—all because the builder didn’t plan for ease of access to the cover mechanism at the time of installation,” explains Stevens.

Many issues could have been avoided if the initial builder had known to make certain allowances for these unique installs.
Many issues could have been avoided if the initial builder had known to make certain allowances for these unique installs.

Another common (and avoidable) mistake occurs in the pool’s pre-pour stage. Often, an installation crew will build the mechanism box too small. This leads to future maintenance issues in which service professionals are required to ‘work around’ the tight space by installing pieces in backwards or upside-down to access the mechanism.

Track damages

One of the most common calls service professionals receive is the cover no longer glides (i.e. opens or closes). Often, this is because the retainer (or track) along which the cover moves has been smashed down. This occurs if the retainer is too thin for the application and the heavy concrete compresses the track. This compression prevents the cover’s ropes from being able to pull the cover open and closed. If this preparation is not considered during the construction process, the fix often requires breaking the deck to replace the track. Fortunately, this problem is preventable.

“Knowing the retainer’s specifications for the application is key to avoiding track problems,” explains Chris Hunt, an automatic cover specialist based in Wichita. “When we’re working on an install, we use small supports above the mechanism to stabilize and reinforce the track below it, ensuring the track isn’t compressed by the weight of the concrete deck above. Then, when installing the cover, we lay little pieces of track to act as a shim. That way, if we are called out for maintenance later on, we simply take out the shim, straighten the track, and make the repair. This is much easier and more cost-effective than having to break up the deck post-installation.”

Preparedness

Often, builders who do not specialize in automatic covers do not have spare parts on hand to repair potential problems with installations. Thus, they often need to order the part, wait for it to arrive, and then make a separate service call to make the repair.

“Those of us who specialize in these repairs keep parts for all makes and models of covers in our service vehicles,” says Hunt. “This way, the situation can be resolved in one visit. This efficiency keeps the customer happy and the pool safe. In the long run, this leads to clientele who are more satisfied with their pool experience, which reflects positively on the builder.”

Further, while the pool’s initial installer may not recall the specifics of the project when contacted with an issue, companies that specialize in these installations are familiar with all makes and models of automatic covers. This informed know-how helps ensure the client will be satisfied with the maintenance, which will keep them loyal to the builder for other product sales.

All-season access

When working in freezing temperatures, vinyl can be hard to work with, but professionals have tricks to work around these challenges.
When working in freezing temperatures, vinyl can be hard to work with, but professionals have tricks to work around these challenges.

Automatic cover professionals have proven tricks of the trade to make sure these covers are installed and repaired in a timely manner—even when weather poses a challenge. This often comes up in the winter, as the vinyl material of these covers stiffens in the cold, becoming heavy and difficult to manage. However, Hunt is prepared for this problem and knows how to handle it.

“When working in frigid temperatures, we keep the vinyl cover inside the cab of the truck and then blast the heat for an hour to really warm it up,” he says. “Then we run with the warm vinyl to the pool and install it as quickly as possible. That way it’s still pliable and can be installed into the track.”

Conclusion

Automatic pool covers are quickly becoming the industry standard for dealers and homeowners across Canada and the U.S. While these devices make owning a pool easier and stress-free, their idiosyncrasies can be a headache for those who do not specialize in them.

When pool professionals outsource the installation and maintenance of these covers, they find they can focus on their core business—whatever it is they do best. In most cases, this equates to building more pools and increasing profits. With the seasonal nature of this industry, there is no time to waste and it is vital to get as much work done as possible in those seemingly short summer months.

Jacob Bloss is director of operations at Cover Care LLC, which specializes in the installation/repair of automatic pool covers and services more than 20 major markets across the U.S. Bloss can be reached at jbloss@covercare.net.

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