WHAT THE HOME IMPROVEMENT BOOM MEANS FOR FRANCHISE BUSINESSES
CEO and Founder of Poolwerx, John O’Brien, shares why many trends that have surfaced over the last eighteen months will continue, and what it means to businesses.
Living in a COVID world has changed our attitudes to making travel plans. Not only has it meant no international travel, but it’s also created an environment of apprehension for domestic travel given the new wave of COVID cases around the country, with many people nervous about committing to going anywhere beyond our front door. Now, when we are weighing up either a holiday or a renovation, the latter seems the safer investment. Maybe it’s an extra bedroom or bathroom, an upgraded kitchen for entertaining, or a pool for family fun.
Australians are spending a record billion dollars a month on renovations in an absolute boom partly fuelled by COVID government stimulus and by continued lockdowns nationwide. In fact, the Swimming Pool and Spa Association of Australia (SPASA) reported the demand for new pools jumped 30 per cent YOY.
The home cocooning trend shows no signs of waning and as a result we’re continuing to see a surge in demand for home services. The broader pool and home improvement industry who were the beneficiaries of this trend throughout 2020 are still reaping the rewards in 2021. From our experience, the Poolwerx brand and what we stand for – maintaining healthy pools for families and friends to create lifelong backyard memories – is really resonating with clients in the current climate.
COVID has delivered multiple challenges for businesses in many ways. However, as we adapt to a BAU – Business as unusual with a new way of living, greater time working from home and even staycations, the business consumer supply chain is moving and fuelling local spend. National unemployment rate hit its lowest level in a decade at 4.9% last month and, despite the testing retail environment, many companies are reporting EOFY success.
These strong FY21 results reflect the trend of Australians investing in their own homes and backyards, generating a home servicing industry boom and proving that this is a recession-resistant industry.
Riding the Wave of New Opportunities
The pandemic and inevitable lockdowns have forced many people to examine their careers and it’s estimated 3 million Australians will consider a post-pandemic career change. People have become accustomed to the benefits of working at home – spending more time with the family, greater flexibility around working hours and no commute. For many, returning to the workplace is a daunting prospect, not to mention the job uncertainty now faced in many industries.
As a business we have received a record number of franchise inquiries from those craving a new start, wanting to be their own boss and to invest in a recession-resistant industry. We have never seen so many highly qualified franchise partner enquiries in our 29-year history.
Mid-tier business professionals are understanding the opportunities that are presented by starting their own franchise journey. Maybe their personal savings have increased, or they have greater equity in their homes and money to spend. A major benefit of joining the Poolwerx network is the different options available to join – such as buying an existing business, converting an existing business or becoming a mobile franchise partner.
On the other side, it seems the pandemic has brought forward the decision for independent pool store owners to sell. For many, without the support of a strong network, the world has just become a bit too uncertain for many small businesses and their nest eggs are now more vulnerable. This is where we can step in and help with succession planning.
Today’s average franchise partner ranges from first time business owners, right up to experienced entrepreneurs who manage multiple territories with multi-milliondollar turnovers. We see this latter trend continuing, and expect an increase in the number of experienced business people entering franchising as it provides the ability for an improved work/life balance while still building a successful business with the backing of our established support network. In New Zealand, Garth Parker joined Poolwerx as our first master franchise partner after leaving his job as executive at Nando’s NZ. Garth’s appointment came off the back of Poolwerx’ success through COVID-19, where New Zealand sales jumped 50 per cent.
Supporting Franchise Partners through every Challenge
Demand for home improvement, renovation, gardening and pool servicing has increased with many businesses extending their offerings to meet the demand. From our own experience, our DIY options continue to be in high demand for clients riding the renovation wave. We have been able to quickly extend our offering with new services, including home delivery and test and deliver, to support those affected by Government restrictions. Our extended range of contact-free services are proving popular across all locations and an excellent example of the importance of business agility in the face of adversity.
Throughout the last 18 months, we have increased support mechanisms, additional training, new product offerings and enhancing systems and processes to help franchise partners. Our diversified approach and business model, working across retail, servicing and commercial, provides partners with multiple revenue streams which can safeguard their business against troughs within the different sectors. Diversification has been key to success as we recently announced our most successful year in our history turnover 10% over FY21 forecast.
Evolution is Key
In a cascade effect, a higher number of partners in the network coupled with our commitment to innovation and entrepreneurial culture has meant a restructure for the Poolwerx Support Team, including our Senior Leadership Team. As a result, we created a number of new roles including Chief Innovation and Technology officers, a Chief People, Performance and Culture Officer, Chief Commercial Officer and are currently looking for a Chief of Franchise Development.
Since our inception, a key part of our ongoing growth is to constantly evolve and develop new innovations and initiatives. These new appointments not only mean increased support for our franchise partners but also ensures we stay ahead of our competitors and honour our key values – ‘dare to succeed’ and ‘find the better way’.
Success Begins Outside your Backyard
How can an established business stay top of its game after 30 years? At Poolwerx, time and time again we’ve found that life begins on the edge of your comfort zone. Whether you’re a fresh startup, established business or part of a bigger franchise group, maintaining entrepreneurial culture and spirit is essential to continual growth and openness to innovation.
We’ve found bold ways to inject new blood and ensure the business has a culture of constant improvement to maintain our spot at the top. We identified two key global macro trends to leverage across the business that are relevant, engaging and deal-breaking for our clients – health, encouraging family connections through creating a safe and healthy backyard; and environment, looking at the long-term sustainability of the pool industry encompassing chemical, water and energy use.
We also look to the US – who are experiencing everything six months before we do in Australia and New Zealand – and apply the experience of market challenges before they occur. Those early insights invariably benefit our network down under and act as an early warning system. Within this global scale, be aware of supply chain shortages – it’s amazing to see this boom in home improvement, but if we cannot deliver, then what’s the point?
Poolwerx has an advantage in the sense that we have greater stockholder capabilities than most in the industry, so we can order in bulk and in advance. If that means renting out more space, then so be it, there is too much uncertainty at present with delays in delivery and shortages in both stock and containers – work with your manufacturer and make sure your house is in order.
Contemplating the future
As we continue to navigate living a COVID normal life, I believe in order to plan our future it’s imperative to look at the past. We need to lean on our biggest learnings from the pandemic – and how these can be heightened moving forward. Future innovation is a no-brainer for us and we have been improving internal operations first, before looking outward. We are reimagining the way we educate and upskill our teams to improve the client experience, turning data into actionable insights to enable more informed decision making, and finding new ways to create efficiencies that achieve greater profitability for our franchise partners.
The pool industry specifically has seen a handful of trends grow in the innovation space such as smart everything, anywhere operations and hyper automation. I am the first to admit the industry needs to catch up with innovation to meet the growing needs of the business, and that includes a number of elements such as reporting, compliance and tech, along with apprenticeships and female focused recruitment. We are looking at all these components with a close lens and weaving into our ongoing plan for the future.
Home has become a place to live, learn and play, serving more than just a practical role. It’s a workplace, a classroom, a home restaurant to replace the special meals they once had dining out. We have an opportunity to continue from strength to strength – and we can all ride this wave.
Poolwerx is the world’s largest global franchise pool service brand. Founded by Australian CEO and entrepreneur John O’Brien in 1992, Poolwerx has grown to nearly 600 service vehicles and 160 stores in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Poolwerx has multiple revenue streams, repeat clients, limited competition, is secure in the growing home services sector and is a technology leader. Poolwerx also champions the importance of teaching life saving water skills through its annual community initiatives, Responsible Pool Person and Learn2Swim Week, in partnership Kids Alive.