PoolWerx - Franchisee in Action

By Business Franchise Magazine

This article appeared in Issue 3#4 (May/June 2009) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand


With prior pool and spa experience limited to swimming, this fun-loving couple has well earned their 2009 PoolWerx Franchisee of the Year Award!

What started as a modest team of mobile pool cleaners in the early 1990s has  become the world’s largest pool and spa care network of retail stores and mobile vans.  Offering pool products, equipment installation, maintenance and repairs, chemical delivery and expert regular servicing, around 250 franchisees are spread out across Australia and New Zealand.

Terry and Lynda Dwyer bought their first single van mobile operation in April of 2004, buying out a competitor just six months later.  They have now developed their PoolWerx empire into six mobile units and two retail stores in North and South Townsville.  Mt Louisa is a stand-alone outlet in a semi-industrial area, while the Douglas store is part of a small shopping centre.

The 55-year-old award-winning franchisees have been united in marriage a little longer than their business partnership.  As a result of first marriages, Terry and Lynda’s family is larger than The Brady Bunch, with seven adult children and 4¾ grandchildren.

Friends first, the couple works well together says Terry:  “I love it.”  Lynda agrees, “Being second time around for both of us you know what you’ll accept and what you won’t.  What we have between us we actually bring into our work environment:  it’s a journey and we invite our staff and customers to come along with us on that journey.”

Before PoolWerx, Terry worked in the mining industry for 30 years while Lynda was a specialist Department of Education teacher for 21 years.  Both West Australians, the couple defected to Queensland five years ago.  The move to Townsville was initiated by Terry’s employer.

He explains, “I was transferred over here in the mining industry, but then the company wanted to change direction, which meant us having to move back to WA.  We decided that we’d like to stay in Townsville a bit longer so we bought the PoolWerx franchise!”

Looking for a business in general, a broker led the couple to an established PoolWerx mobile operation but, Terry explains, they had to act quickly due to the unfortunate situation:  “It was a bit of a rush due to the fatal illness of the previous owner.  Our circumstances were different and it didn’t allow us a lot of time for research.”

Terry still managed to gain some first-hand experience prior to the purchase, “I went up and spent a couple of days in Cairns and saw what they did.  With our gut feel, Lynda and I were confident that together we would make it work.”

He continues, “We were conscious that we didn’t want to buy ourselves a job.  We wanted to buy a business so we could develop it - and that’s where I think we’ve come from.  We bought a job but we’ve taken it through to it actually being a fully fledged business now - and a leader in our franchise system.”

In 2007, the couple had cause to experience the strength of their franchising system during a difficult personal period.  Support from their franchisor, master franchisee and fellow franchisees during this time went beyond the couple’s expectations.

Lynda explains, “We had an incident a couple of years ago where Terry was very ill.  Our Master Franchisee came up from Brisbane to assist and help with the business for a week or so, while Terry was in hospital.”

Terry declares, “I went through a stage where it was a bit frightening - I had to have a kidney and tumour removed.”  Initially, Terry’s medical team indicated to him, he might only have six months to live.  Fortunately the 1.3kg tumour was successfully removed and Terry’s been given the all clear.  Annual checkups ensure further peace of mind.

At that time, Lynda was still teaching, waiting to join the PoolWerx business once it required more of her attention.  She goes on, “I wasn’t actively working in the business on a day to day basis.  For everyone to come and help out, was amazing.”

The support of fellow franchisees via emails and cards was also appreciated says Lynda, “It was two years ago but you never forget things like that.  That’s what the ‘PoolWerx Franchising’ is all about – a team helps each other in good and bad times.”

Lynda says she then came on board full-time around November 2007:  “As the business grew, there was a need to be on site with Terry more often.  I used to work school holidays and weekends in the business anyway, but we just wanted to keep growing the business and we’re both very passionate about what we do.”  They have owned their second retail store in Douglas since April 2008.

The Dwyers now work hand in hand in their franchises.  As General Manager, Terry overseas the entire business structure, while Lynda is the Hub Manager, concentrating on the two retail operations including staff management.

Lynda comments, “We’re very much a hands-on team, so we also help out with admin and banking and invoicing.  We have a daughter in the business as well, so it’s very much a hands-on family concern.”

They all get in and get their hands dirty, no matter what is required, says Lynda:  “We’re either in our office or out serving clients or Terry’s out installing.  We do a lot of work commercially and with real estate agents around town as well.”

Terry adds, “Real estate is a big part of our business.  It’s also about being very good at what we do – rather than being the biggest at what we do.  We’re also very conscious about doing a lot of development work with our technicians.”

Terry and Lynda are ecstatic with all their award wins, which confirm they are on the right track.  Terry comments, “It puts us out there.  In our shops we promote that we are the National Franchisee of the Year.  We’re also the North Queensland Regional Franchisee of the Year, the Brand Excellence Award winners and we won the SPASA award for the Best Pool Shop in Queensland.” Lynda quickly adds, “That was for the new shop that opened last year - so that was a great one to win.”

Terry is also a member of the PoolWerx National Advisory Council and often takes what he learns from his own business dealings and shares his knowledge with the other members, which in turns helps other franchisees.

Another example of the couple’s proactive business approach is their involvement with the Royal Life Saving Keep Watch program.  Terry says, “PoolWerx has been a sponsor for two years and we promote the program vigorously.  Our technicians do safety checks on gates and pool fences and get pool toys out of the pools, so that the temptations are limited for kids.

“Lynda and I also had a meeting with the local Shire Council Heads of Pool Safety, and I think we were the only pool company that did that in Townsville - just to promote where we’re at and what we’re doing with pool safety.

“It’s such an important facet of our business - the child safety side.  It’s so critical and every drowned infant is one too many, so we work very strongly on that and we bring it up at our weekly technician meetings.”

Involving their employees in a brainstorming session a couple of years ago, the result was a set of Business Values and a Vision Statement.  Values include the importance of communication and professionalism, being honest and respectful, and having fun while getting the job done.  Likewise, their Vision Statement is clearly displayed so clients recognise their commitment to excellent client and pool service.

And the employees are an essential component to the Dwyers’ business success says Lynda, “We have a great team - we’re very fortunate in that respect.”

Terry says, “Telea, our daughter, works in the business.  She actually worked out on the vans and now she runs our Service Division – she’s a very good all-rounder from that point of view.”

Then there is Sharon who manages administration.  She is another extremely dedicated team member.  “Sharon’s very structured and organised – she keeps us in line sometimes”, laughs Lynda.

Terry agrees, “Sharon is one of those unbelievable employees that you could ever wish to have.  She’s so dedicated and passionate about the business - it’s a dream for us to be in business with someone like Sharon.”

Lynda continues, “Telea and Sharon are the sort of people who remotely log in at night time and do work - or all of a sudden Sharon will appear on a weekend.  People like that are few and far between these days.  Sharon’s also become a close friend, so we have a good business relationship and a good friendship.”

Efficient staff means happy clients, says Lynda:  “We always put ourselves in our clients’ place so it’s like a role reversal.  If you can meet the clients’ needs and they walk away happy and are confident in what they need to do, it makes our job a lot easier.  A great deal of that depends on the staff that you have and the way that your staff handle the clients when they come in - that’s what we work on constantly.”

Terry says, “One of the important things in any business is giving the clients your time.  We often hear complaints from people who are served in other businesses by someone who knows nothing about what they need.  We’re very conscious of that and we do a lot of training with our people to understand the products that we use and what they’re needed for.”

He continues, “We’re passionate about helping people.  When someone comes through the door, we automatically take over their problem.  That has made us as a leader in our industry here in Townsville, because we do give the clients our time and good information.”

Lynda comments, “It’s been a huge learning curve for both of us, but so many of our clients are good friends as well now.  That’s how we’ve built up our client base - by reputation.  As Townsville grows, word of mouth makes a huge difference.”

On having to be accountable to his franchisor, Terry advises future franchisees:  “Do your weekly sales and monthly reports, and all those sorts of things that have to be in on time.  That’s a big part of being in a franchise – you do have to report and that’s a good thing.  Sometimes it can be a pain, but it is a discipline that you have to learn.  I’m sure a lot of privatised businesses would be far better off if they reported like we do.”

Lynda adds her advice, “You need to do your research on what financial business you’re getting into. And you’ve got to have a proper plan in place commitment-wise and be realistic with the time that you need to work in the business.  You have to have a business plan in place; you can’t just make things up as you go.  You’ve got to set goals, work towards those goals, and when you achieve them, create new ones.”

Terry admits going through a stage in business where he looked at franchising against independent ownership:  “But franchising keeps you honest and keeps you working towards your goals in the system that you’re in.”

Currently averaging around 65-70 hours work per week, the couple are heading towards slowing down well before retirement age, but that itself presents a challenge!

“With business”, explains Lynda, “it’s not just a case of walking in the door and then your business starts.  We talk about it and plan a lot in our time at home; and we’re always throwing ideas around.  It’s something that’s ongoing – it’s a huge part of our lives but it’s an enjoyable part as well.”

Terry adds, “Part of our development now is to grow the business to a stage where Lynda and I can move away from the business and do the things we should be doing at our age.”

Working towards a self-managed business, with the couple gradually shifting their efforts into working on the business rather than in the business, Terry explains:  “That gives us an opportunity to take off for three months when we can.  We know that the business is going to still keep going and do the things we expect it to.”

Lynda confirms, “We’re quite active and love travelling.  We like to put in the long hours now but it’s worth it - and we get a lot of enjoyment out of it.”

So, are we talking overseas holidays?  Lynda laughs, “If you talk to Terry it’s going to be the big caravan and the great nomad scene around Australia, but if you talk to me it’s slightly different!”

Terry explains his plan, “I’d like to get to a stage where I can become a relief for other franchises around Australia, because we know how hard it is to get a break.  At some stage, I’d like to be able to have that caravan and be tripping around Australia, doing a three week relief here and a two week relief there - for franchises that we’ve become very friendly with.  We know they would love to have a break and know that their business is going to be well looked after.”

Lynda agrees, “It’s one of the many ‘Terry Dwyer brainwaves’ that he’s had.  It’s very, very workable.  Speaking to other franchisees, it’s hard whether you’ve got young children or whether you’re like us where you have adult family, to get away from your business for a couple of weeks at a time.  You think, ‘Who’s going to come in and do it? Who do you know that will run your business in the way that you want it to be looked after?’”

Since Terry’s health scare, Lynda says the couple appreciates that life is precious:  “We’re moving forward now so that’s why we’re making plans to travel as much as we can and do all the things that we want to do.  We’ve been given a second chance, so we’re going to grab it with both hands and move forward.”