Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Whose Training Does It All?

Finding good talent is a challenge, but it’s not hard to retain if you foster a training-oriented culture at every level and share the rewards. 

Honest self-reflection

Many employers think they excel at training — even when they don’t. It’s not about bad intentions. Often, you’re simply too busy, tired or focused on other priorities. But remember the monarch in “Snow White,” who only looked in the mirror to be reminded of her unsurpassed beauty. That old German fairy tale is a vivid reminder that vain leadership yields poisonous fruit.

In contrast, honest self-reflection reveals fresh opportunities. As Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” put it, “Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems.” 

You’re the foundation

Employees are like hot tubs — they need a solid foundation. Namely, in leaders who are open to change. 

“This industry is constantly growing and expanding,” says Cheyenne Mahncke, sales manager at Haven Spa, Pool & Hearth in Clackamas, Oregon. “When you don’t think you need to know anything more, that’s when you’re really in trouble.”

Guided by new owner Rafael Augusta, Haven’s executive team is learning the Entrepreneurial Operating System. It is a program of simple concepts and practical tools for improving leadership teams. 

“The resources within the EOS program are limitless,” Augusta says. “When you run up against something, you can always find an answer within the system.” 

And Mahncke believes it’s working. 

“It’s only been a few months, but it’s a 180-degree change from where we were … It’s exciting,” he says.

The wall of pain

Training identifies barriers to growth that must be overcome — year after year — to reach our full potential. The most stubborn barriers can be summed into one concept: The “wall of pain,” representing the limits of our talent, ability and knowledge.

Eric Neel is president of Clearwater Pool & Spa in Manchester, Tennessee. During the recession of 2008-09, nine years into building his business, Neel hit the wall of pain at full speed while trying to manage 32 employees across multiple divisions and dealing with millions in debt he could no longer cover. It was a problem and a learning opportunity.

After weathering the crisis and rebuilding the business, Neel decided to look for a coach. Phillip Jackson, a local business consultant, was one of Neel’s personal advisers. Personal coaching turned into professional consulting, with Neel eventually hiring Jackson as vice president. Both men emphasize the importance of effective leadership. 

“If you don’t have it, you can’t give it,” Jackson says.

Through some soul-searching, Neel realized he needed to be more effective in leading and training his employees.

“I thought I was a pretty good leader, but I had to realize, ‘OK, I really don’t know how to do this — how do I lead this staff?’ ” he recalls. “I started to figure out how to lead people. I started reading books on it.”

Relearning to build the business paid off, including its debts. What began with Neel, his wife and Jackson has grown into a business with higher revenue and 34 employees.

But Neel also learned to share the harvest. He credits tactful advice from a local businessman he admires. “It was one of those things that really changed my view,” Neel says. “When you find good people, you need to compensate them so they’re motivated to stay around.”

To Jackson, reaching out to others for advice about leadership is just as important as training employees.  

“Identify five or ten people you respect in business,” he recommends. “Once a month, go to one of them and say, ‘I’ve admired you from afar. If I buy lunch, will you go?’ And pick the nicest restaurant in town.” In his experience, the ones who can teach you something become apparent.

Improving the new-hire experience

Whether they are seasonal employees or seasoned professionals, it’s important to consider how to improve the onboarding process.

“It’s all about clear and concise communication,” says Mallory Bjekich-Wachowski, co-owner at Toolbox for Excellence. Using the analogy of SMART goals, she recommends making sure every new hire gets: 

  • Specific expectations
  • Measurable progress
  • Achievable goals
  • Relevant feedback
  • Time-bound milestones

“There is so much to learn; it can really overwhelm people,” she says. “But it helps if they see the baby steps and the accomplishments they make, and you give them that pat on the back.”

She also recommends carving out little moments for training. 

“I always joked with my team that I was the master of the five-minute training session,” she says. “Once the store clears out, just sitting the team down for five minutes — without calling anybody out — and saying, ‘Let’s talk about that really quick and review our process.’ ”

Toolbox for Excellence

Many retailers wish their trainings were more structured, but they lack enough time to make it happen. To fill this need, Bjekich-Wachowski co-founded Toolbox for Excellence. Among its paid services are two online training courses:

  • New-Hire Training & Train the Trainer
  • Owner Essentials: Elevate Your Leadership

For details, visit toolboxforexcellence.com

The company also offers in-person consulting services from identifying key performance indicators to developing better lead generation and tracking processes. 

“We teach people to know their numbers and show them what their return on investment will be,” she says.

Bjekich-Wachowski has a master’s degree in management and leadership, but her career started during college, doing seasonal work for a spa retailer in Illinois. “They really valued education and offered a program for their summer employees, where the top salespeople were awarded a scholarship,” she says. “That was motivation for me to keep coming back.”

Training for PHTA members

Free online training courses are available through PHTA Class Pass, a new resource for Pool & Hot Tub Alliance members. It features more than a dozen on-demand training courses, such as how to sell big-ticket items, basic water chemistry and a session on how the pandemic has changed the industry. It provides the ability to earn continuing education units.

For details, visit phta.org/education-and-events/education/class-pass.

Seth Ewing, PHTA’s senior director of member programs and services, recommends the association’s Certified Retail Professional program. “This certification teaches you to confidently assist customers and ultimately increase sales by gaining a deeper understanding of the pool and spa industry, retail housekeeping, customer service and sales best practices and more,” he explains. 

On the servicing side, the PHTA also offers a Certified Hot Tub Technician program, covering the essentials of hot tub servicing, equipment repair and replacement. 

Fees vary for these pro-level certifications, but PHTA members receive discounted rates.

Keeping your sales team engaged

Sales training often focuses on product knowledge. But will that transform a typical salesperson into a superstar? Will it take a 10% closing rate up to 50%? Not according to Steve Hasenmueller, owner of Effort Today Enterprises where he has many roles, including sales trainer, keynote speaker and author.

“Seth Godin says 90% of salespeople are below average,” Hasenmueller says, quoting the well-known author and business executive. “In my 40 years of experience in the pool and spa industry, I can’t say that has really changed.”

To support the statistic, he cites the dumbing down of products across many industries — including hot tubs — so they’re easier to sell. “If above average is atypical, that’s a big opportunity in a $23 billion industry. Imagine being better than 90% of your competition. But it takes effort.”

Effort Today Enterprises

After retiring from Marquis Hot Tubs as director of global sales, Hasenmueller now coaches salespeople who want to step up their game. In addition to speaking at events like NESPA’s Pool & Spa Show, he offers paid online interactive workshops, including:

  • The Cycle of Effort
  • 7 Deadly Obstacles for Salespeople and How to Overcome
  • Sales Skills for Service Techs

For details, visit effort-today.com

Happily retired from traditional sales in Belize, running his company and writing a forthcoming book on sales, Hasenmueller shares his motivation: “I just want to provide value.”

He says increased productivity more than pays for the workshop, and he challenges dealers in his trademark no-nonsense style. “When’s the last time you learned something new?” he asks. “If you haven’t been to a seminar in the past five years, don’t expect anything to get better. That’s my slogan.”

BONUS TIP: See the books your peers recommend for salespeople and leaders. Depending on your business needs and culture, consider making one or more of them necessary reading. Schedule a series of training sessions around a book, and review one chapter at a time.

What resources are available?

A wealth of resources is at your fingertips. The key is picking something — even one thing — and putting it into action. Will you wait until you hit the wall of pain? Or will you heed what you see in the mirror? Either way, you will reap the fruit of your decision. Choose wisely.

Recruiting Resources

• Work In Aquatics

Self-guided Online Training

• PHTA Class Pass

- Sponsor -

• Toolbox for Excellence

• SMM Connect Webinars

Interactive Consulting Services

• Business & Sales Training (Mallory Bjekich-Wachowski)

• Sales Workshops (Steve Hasenmueller)

Books Recommended By Your Peers

*contains affiliate links

For the entire team

• “The Five Levels of Leadership” by John C. Maxwell

• “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey

• “Atomic Habits” by James Clear

• “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott

• “Linchpin” by Seth Godin

• “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson

For building (or, rebuilding) organizations

• “Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values” by Fred Kofman

• “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman

• “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

• “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz

• “Invent and Wander” by Jeff Bezos and Walter Isaacson

• “Necessary Endings” by Dr. Henry Cloud

• “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek

For Leaders and Managers

• “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

• “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John C. Maxwell

• “The 360 Degree Leader” by John C. Maxwell

• “The Art of War for Small Business” by Becky Sheetz-Runkle

• “The Crux” by Richard P. Rumelt

• “How to Be a Great Boss” by Gino Wickman and René Boer

• “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

• “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute

• “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek

• “Tools Of Titans” by Timothy Ferriss

For Salespeople

• “Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life” by Arnold Schwarzenegger

• “The Curve” by Nicholas Lovell

• “Tribe Of Mentors” by Tim Ferriss

• “The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino

• “Negotiate to Close” by Gary Karrass

• “The Obstacle Is the Way” by Ryan Holiday

• “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel

• “Selling the Invisible” by Harry Beckwith

• “What Customers Really Want” by Scott McKain

For Marketing

• “The Algebra of Happiness” by Scott Galloway

• “Authentically Social” by Corey Perlman

• “Building a Story Brand” by Donald Miller

• “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr.

• “Expert Secrets” by Russell Brunson

• “The Icarus Deception” by Seth Godin

• “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

• “Marketing Made Simple” by Donald Miller

• “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World” by Michael Hyatt

• “Universal Principles of Design” by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler

• “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield