Human Resources

SBS 304: Conducting an Essential Small Business in the Wake of COVID-19

Hey Compliance Warriors!


This week Lisa & Mason have Weston Toth, owner of Aqua Tech pools on the show to discuss what makes a small business work during the pandemic of COVID-19. Learn about the importance of communication and customer safety while operating an essential business. Watch on the new YouTube video section, listen, or read the transcript below.



Audio Only:


Lisa: Today we are so excited to number one, be recording in video for the first time. Give a shout out for that. You can finally see that we don’t actually look like our logo.

Mason: Yeah, I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing, but I’m going to get it anyway.

Lisa: I know, right. One way or the other we’re doing this thing. The other reason we’re super excited today is because we are interviewing a small business owner who lives in Austin, Texas. His name is Weston Toth and he is the owner of, well, I’m just going to let him tell you about it. But he does a pool and spa maintenance type business, which is an essential business in the time of COVID and a lot of you out there in listening land. And now watching land are in the same position as Weston, you’ve got a small business, you’ve got employees you’re essential and you’re battling a lot of staff that COVID throws at you. So, like, we’re so excited to have Weston with us today. Thank you, Weston, for being here.

Weston: Happy to be here.

Lisa: So, we just start off the bat, like fill in the gaps I’ve missed and tell us a little bit about your business and what all you do.

Weston: So, my name is Weston. I started Aqua Tech pool service about four years ago and the greater Austin area. And what we do is basically from the time a pool is, built and even right before inspection, we do the startup, cleaning maintenance, and then all the repairs, including plumbing, electrical work. Then if we don’t do something personally, we work with just a kind of a team of contractors that can, can help you with anything, the decking, the equipment, all of that we take care of.

Lisa: Wow. So, you do a lot, you’re very busy. So, you said something right off the bat that makes me like have a hundred questions in my mind for you, but let’s just start with the basics. Like how this COVID-19 thing has changed the way you operate?

Weston: Probably the biggest thing is we’ve elected to follow all the CDC guidelines from day one. Even though it wasn’t mandated in Austin to really do that yet, or it wasn’t principled is we decided to make sure that we follow those guidelines. And then, also since we are essential and we did work throughout the entire pandemic, having the appropriate PPE for all our, employees and made sure they follow that as well. And then probably the biggest thing that changed from operations is normally, we would go into like stores for, parts and inventory. And now I’ve tried to switch 90% of all of that to either getting a delivery to our shop. So, there’s only one person that obviously comes in and places the materials. And then, if we need something to just be very, planning more than anything else ahead to make sure I can get the most inventory, if I do have to go into a store, to be able to get all the essential things so that there’s just least contact as much as possible. Then also we’ve turned down some work to, to make sure that my team stays safe. So, safety is just the most important thing while delivering, the best thing that we can for our customers.

Lisa: Wow! So, that must be kind of a hard decision to make some time when you talk about turning down work, has that been a struggle to have, to make that call? Weston: Yeah, it is because obviously this is our livelihood and as a business owner, I want my business to continually grow every year. But one thing I have done is for a lot of job sites, there has been multiple crews that would normally be on there the same time. Well, what I did is just told the contractor is, Hey, if you want us to be there or, me or another technician, we just need to make sure that we have this window available to do our work. And no one else is going to be on site and 99.9% of contractors and the people that I work with in the custom home building space, they’ve been fine about it. They respect that decision. And they’ve actually said they’ve kinda of learned to do that more because it’s just better planning, which all it takes and it leads to a better product in the end, really, instead of the trades, just being on top of each other and people being kind of upset.

Mason: Yeah, that’s a good point. So, what type of safety measures have you taken just as far as your employees go? Being obviously doing pools, you’re in a lot of different places at once. So, what kind of safety measures have you taken as the business owner to make sure your employees are doing the right thing?

Weston: Yeah, so thankfully enough my employees are really good about following protocol, but number one, is just wearing a mask whenever their safe distance can’t be maintained because we mainly work outside. And it’s easy if we see a client or customer or another contractor to stay at least six feet apart. But having that mask and offering it, even if, the other person doesn’t have the mask on the client or if they’re staying far away, we just go, Hey, would it make you feel comfortable if I put this on? And then a lot of times when, I’ve told the guys to keep it obviously on your persons, even though they work alone. So, they don’t need it on all the time, to keep it on their persons and then to make sure if they feel uncomfortable, if there’s, more people around. They need to just put it on and be safer than sorry. And it’s not the easiest thing for them sometimes, or myself, because it’s hot outside, it’s a hundred degrees in Austin, but to me, I’d rather them take more breaks or be able to take a little bit more time on a job and, but still be able to maintain their safety standards. Then of course, hand sanitizing but, more so than anything else is just planning our jobs. And if we do have it to have the appropriate PPE, when we have to be around people, and we just try to plan for that.

Lisa: Yeah, one thing that we get a lot of questions on is from people who are in similar type businesses, is that they’re working with, like you said, different contractors and different trades people coming through. So, you do have to coordinate, and you have to be aware of things. Do you have like one person normally that sort of oversees, like if there’s been an exposure or is it sort of all the company heads working together to coordinate if there would be an issue like that?

Weston: Yeah, thankfully enough, we haven’t run into an instance, at least, the people that I work with, the trades and the contractors, they are pretty, I think they care. So, if there was some sort of instance where one of the people that was on a job site had COVID, the right thing to do would be tell all the other trades. So, they are aware of it and we can monitor symptoms. So, I work with some really good people, but we haven’t had any instances like that, yet. But it’s kind of like an honor-based system that someone would have to honorably say that they had someone on their crew that was contracted. So, I think, just working with good people, it really helps.

Lisa: Have you had any, like feedback from homeowners or anyone that’s been nervous about who you’re bringing, or have you had to face anything like that?

Weston: Yes, so definitely, especially when the pandemic first hit, I got multiple emails saying, Hey, if you could please just send the same technician every week, we’re comfortable with him. And that’s completely fine. And if we did have an additional job, just basically people that they’re comfortable with. That’s taken a little bit of, extra due diligence on our part, but in general, I have a smaller team here. So, they, most of my customers are familiar with almost everyone. And it’s just essential that before even COVID that the same technician would pretty much work on the same property. So, they’re familiar, the client’s familiar with them. And because of that, it hasn’t really been a problem, but at first there was some worry about who’s going, they don’t want anyone random at all.

Mason: Yeah, I wanted to ask you just a question, as far as dealing with your employees themselves. You know, we talk a lot about communication with communicating with our employees on this podcast. Being an essential small business and having guys that are running different directions, what have you found the best way to communicate with them And, what have you said to them regarding all this kind of stuff that’s going on and in handling. Obviously, we’re communicating now more than ever through digital devices and things like that. So, do you have any insight on that?

Weston: Sure. So, the way that I’ve structured my business is right now, I’m managing my team directly. And if I can’t be reached immediately, then basically the person right underneath me can make the call and make the decision. So, while the guys are working, the technicians are in the field, there’s an open line of communication constantly. And then not only that is, we normally have a meeting, or I go around to each individual technician, just not as a group and meet with them. We discuss concerns about each job individually or client, and then upcoming jobs. The communication and, customer service and safety really are the biggest concern, for my team. So, we talk every week.

Mason: Yeah. So that’s good. It seems like you’ve kind of put like a chain of command in place there too, with your team there. And that’s a commendable quality to have, going forward and managing a business. Like you have right now. Do you have any kind of specific advice you would give other small businesses kind of in your position? In general, with dealing maybe with difficult customers or, difficult situations, being in different things.

Weston: I think the best thing, maybe advice just now and just in general is just superior customer service. You want to make sure that, all your customers feel comfortable, that you’re delivering, a good service, even though it may put you out a little bit, it always comes back around. I felt like in the service industry, at least is you can extend yourself a little bit. And then, that one extension and the people really appreciate it. And that one job will turn into 10. And, in my business there’s a lot of turnover. We’re companies gain and lose customers constantly. But for me, I have about 90% retention rate, which is really high for the service industries. And that’s because customer service just comes first and that’s what I would give the advice to people is going that little extra mile really pays back in the long run.

Mason: Yeah, that’s such a great point because, we talk about communicating with our team, but also when you think about these customers, you’re seeing on a daily, weekly basis, communicating with them can even sometimes be way more important than communicating with the people that you work for. So that’s really good. I know down there Austin kind of been a roller coaster with the news and things like that. How have you been affected, anything that’s, kind of hindered your operations in any way? or just maybe even some help you’ve gotten through, government systems or anything like that?

Weston: A couple of things, first things first would be, the crime in Austin is very, very high right now. It’s a lot higher. I mean, it’s been growing, but especially even the pandemic crime is high. So, we’ve had to deal with that just a little bit just by taking some precautions because we have had equipment stolen out of our trucks. And then also our clients are more nervous about, who’s on their property. So having marked vehicles, having the normally about the same technician come on their property and then having a uniform that makes us look professional and everyone knows who we are, even though they may even see it, if a technician. And then again, communication, if someone, we’re going to be on your property on a non-scheduled time, they’ll get an email beforehand. And it’s just a little things like that that makes people feel comfortable. And, I think really sets us apart because everyone is very appreciative just knowing, it’s not the biggest deal if someone comes in at their equipment for a couple of minutes or an hour on a day, not scheduled, but it makes a big difference when you just give them a quick email or a text, just letting them know.

Mason: Yeah, It’s a great point. Appreciate you bringing that out, setting yourself apart from the competition and things like that. It’s especially important.

Lisa: Now did I hear in a pre-interview process that you did apply for and get the PPP?

Weston: Yes. We did apply for and receive the payroll protection. I was able to do that. And if you are a small business and you have your books in order, and you’ve had payroll for, I believe it’s, one year and you could speak on that, it’s about one year and I had all that. And I recommend anyone who is running a small business that get a payroll service and be completely good with your books because that process for me was extremely easy. I applied and then pretty much, I think seven, maybe 10 days later, the money was in my bank account and I can ensure to pay my guys, their salary, even though our business may dip their same salary. And then, being able to give them a bonus even potentially too.

Lisa: Yeah, I think that’s great. We also applied for PPP, it’s funny how, you’re essential, we’re kind of essential being in HR and everything that we’re doing these days. So, I think we’re essential. But even as essential and as hard as we’ve been working, we’ve still, I think maybe the common thread is no matter how busy you are, you’ve seen a decline in business. And so, the lower, the decline, the better bet the PPP has just been able to sweep in and give us all some good assistance. So, I’m glad that you qualified for that. And you were able to do that. And I think that your point about making sure your books are in order is amazing. And do you use like an online payroll company or is that something you do yourself or somebody local to Austin?

Weston: Yeah, I use a company called, I think I can hopefully just say this it’s a Gusto and that’s the company that was recommended to me by my CPA and he’s, on the same account. So, he basically kind of set it up so he can monitor it. Cause what Gusto does is, I run payroll every two weeks and it pretty much just does the rest. And then my CPA can be able to take all the tax documents that need to be filed. He needs to file or Gusto files them a lot of times for me. So, it’s overly simplistic. I know people used to always want to pay people as subcontractors because payroll was so messy and the taxes were high, but now it’s so simplistic. I completely recommend someone getting on a payroll service, I think the pay structure is you pay a certain membership fee and then per employee, you pay a little bit extra. So, again, going back to the PPP enrollment, it was so easy because I had that already done and I just had to show some payroll forms and those were already in my archive on the Gusto website. It was really, simple.

Lisa: Yeah, and same here. I mean, we use a different company, we use Sure Payroll, which is a division of Paychex, but it’s the same process. And so, it was great. Just being able to go in and push a button and get all the info you needed. We got ours, we applied on a Monday and got our funding on Friday. So, like, it was super-duper easy, but so many people struggle with that. So, it’s good to hear that, it’s not just the big, businesses with billions of dollars that get the money. Like it’s, all sizes of companies. And so that’s good. That’s definitely good.

Mason: Yeah and it’s very commendable that you’ve got everything in the right place. You know, some people running smaller businesses don’t think that’s as important, but look at this situation, that’s come upon us now and how much it benefited you it’s benefited us. So definitely having those ducks in a row and your books in a row to you and really keeps everything straight and that’s commendable there.

Lisa: Yeah, there are a hundred different things we could talk about, but, before we kind of get ready to wrap up, I wanted to ask you, I know you’ve talked a lot about different challenges and things, but like, is there one thing that just stands out that has been your biggest hurdle or have you pretty much found that you’ve navigated it all, whatever comes at you you’ve been able to, just to like bounce through it.

Weston: Yeah. You know, I think overall we’ve had a pretty successful year at Aqui Tech despite the pandemic, and there’s definitely been challenges like we talked about. But, probably one of the hardest things, at least for us right now is taking on new employees because in my business plan, which I think everyone just like, Mason was saying should have a business plan and have their ducks in a row is, plan to take on a certain number of employees because if a business isn’t necessarily growing, it’s failing. And this year we kind of did almost like a still where it was hard for me to take on and train employees and maintain both of our safeties. Because our work is very hands on and for me to train someone, technically they need to get their hands on it, and I need to be there to kind of navigate them through that process. And I couldn’t necessarily do that. And, because there’s a decline in businesses overall and our profits this year, normally I take that extra profit and I invest it back into my business with, a new truck and tools. And then also the training process and getting, my employees certified that takes extra money. So, this year we did fine, or we’re having a great year at least, but it wasn’t necessarily the growth year that I’d like to like to see. And it’s because of the things I named. So that’s probably been the biggest hurdle is I want, a good business should be even at a steady growth rate every year. And I think we’ve kind of just stance stood still this year.

Lisa: Yeah. I mean, there are some businesses that have just gone through the roof this year, maybe manufacturing or, some places like that. But, for a lot of us, we, had the projections, I mean, you can talk to any business 2020 was projected to be the banner year. And we were going to double last year and the COVID thing, even though we’ve been busy, we have seen a slowdown. And so that’s been a hindrance but, the good news is that we’ve all stayed together. We’ve all stayed in business and, you know, been able to do it. And thanks to the things like the PPP, for instance, that has been a big help, as well, kind of seeing us through those initial rough months. And so, yeah. So good. I’m glad that’s worked out for you too. So, Mason, did you have any other questions for Weston?

Mason: No, I think that’s it. That about wraps us, but if someone needs a top-notch pool spa maintenance service in Austin, how can they reach you?

Weston: Yep. So, my email is Weston@aquatechtechtx.com. Or you can, so you can just reach me there or a number (512) 766-5158. Give me a call. That’s my personal cell phone number and we’ll get you set up for the best pool service of your life.

Mason: Awesome. Well, we appreciate you being on the show this week and, man, keep slugging it away. That’s all I can say. That’s all we can do.

Lisa: Yeah. And I know that you said that you’re not weird, but keep it weird anyway, down there in Austin for us all. You’re a little bit weird. Okay. Well, so good. So, and say hi to your lovely wife for us too. Well until next time guys, I’m Lisa Smith

Mason: And I’m Mason Merrill.

Weston: And I’m Weston Toth.

Lisa: Be Audit secure.

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